The “Real” Purpose of Television: Entertainment, Escapism, and Employment

On one of my trips a couple of months ago, I found myself at the hotel. I wasn’t feeling at my best, so I decided to spend some time watching TV. Now, this is quite an aberration for me because I haven’t had an actual physical “TV” to watch since before my days as an undergrad. I still catch some episodes of shows, but that’s mainly online and at my own convenience. The first thing that I noticed upon watching TV is that TVs have really changed. It looks like I really missed the boat on the whole revolution thing. It really is a much different experience watching TV now than it was years ago when I used to have a steady diet of , , , and .

Now, before I even turned on the TV, like I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t feeling very well. In fact, I was feeling kind of crappy and I thought that watching a little TV would be relaxing. Boy, was I wrong! After turning the TV on, I proceeded to (flip) from channel-to-channel for nearly 3 hours. I couldn’t watch just one thing, my brain wanted to keep tabs on three, four, or five different programs that were on TV. I think part of this is because I have trained my brain to be so attuned to different tabs (on my browser) as well as applications on my computer.

When I was finally shaken free from this never-ending loop, I noticed that I was more tired than when I had started watching TV — and it was the middle of the day! Taking stock of what had just happened, I wondered: what is TV really for? Is TV really meant to be a relaxing experience at the end of the night? Is it just a tool to escape reality?

As puts it:

Call me old-fashioned, but I still like to watch television to be entertained or escape reality. . .

And why is it that we need to watch TV to escape reality? Is reality so bad that we need to supplement our experience with television? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning those who would watch TV as an escape, no. Much of the way our society is structured, watching TV as an escape is part of what keeps some people ‘sane’ at the end of the day. Watching TV is part of the way they can get from the end of work to bed and then back to work again without having to think about the fact that they don’t like their job so much. But why is it that we work in jobs that we don’t like so much, to the point that we need to use TV as an escape from our reality (because reality is not enough or too painful)?

While I can’t say that I know the “real purpose of television,” I think it’s worth debating the effects of TV on society. I really think that watching TV is a mechanism that allows people to stay at jobs that they are otherwise less pleased about. Being able to tune into a created reality (or sometimes an actual reality) of a situation that they envy or can vicariously live through is something that I think allows people to feel better about themselves and by extension their life. Feeling better about one’s life makes one less likely to reflect on the things that aren’t going as well as they would have planned in life. So, like I said, I don’t proclaim to know the real purpose of TV, but I think that it can be argued that a fair majority of television is meant to entertain, allow for escapism, and sustain employment.

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9 responses to “The “Real” Purpose of Television: Entertainment, Escapism, and Employment

  1. I was speaking with someone about this post "offline," and they raised a good point that I wanted to add to this discussion. Control. By watching TV, one can gain a sense of control over one's life. How? They can exert control by being the decision-maker of what they are to watch. In the time that they watch TV, they have "full control" over their life, which may be something that they do not feel like they have working at their current job. As with all things, this aspect of control is just another layer to a complex system.

  2. TOTALLY agreed. I would go as far as to argue that most arts and media are being used for these purposes, actually.

    Does this mean- abandon TV? Abandon creative pursuits? Hell no. But we need to start recognizing our intentions- so thank you for writing this. Though the fact TV *is* such a powerful addiction is…well, powerful! So let's figure out how to use these things to wake us up, not numb us out, shall we? 🙂
    My recent post Do Artists WANT to Starve &amp other questions in light of recent events

    • I agree with you. I am by no way advocating that we abandon creativity in the form of the arts. I can't help but think back to times when there wasn't TV or computers? What did people do all day with their time? I think about some of the youth being born into this rapid expansion of technology and they can't imagine their day without using some form of technology that has only existed for the last 20 years. I'm not out to vilify TV, but I do think that, as with all things, "everything in moderation."

      With Love and Gratitude,

      Jeremiah

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