The Christian Chronicle interviews Michael Medved
Why do Americans watch so much TV?
“For the same reason famously given by Sir Edmund Hillary when he was asked why he climbed (Mount Everest) – ‘Because it’s there,’” media critic Michael Medved told the Chronicle March 31 during a visit to Oklahoma Christian University, Oklahoma City.
The nationally-syndicated radio talk show host spoke with near-giddiness about a device that attaches to a key ring and allows its user to turn off any television in the room.
Medved, 56, and his wife, Diane, are raising their three children in a television-free environment. There isn’t a single set in the house. It’s an unusual stance for a film critic who hosted the public television show Sneak Previews for 12 years, but apparent contradictions have defined Medved’s life.
In 1992, after years of work as a film critic, Medved authored Hollywood Vs. America, arguing that the movie industry’s emphasis on violence, sexuality and vulgarity had broken faith with its audience. His latest book, Right Turns, describes his transformation from a self-described “punk liberal activist” to a “lovable conservative curmudgeon.”
A devout Jew, Medved nonetheless is a frequent lecturer at universities associated with churches of Christ.
He “asks all individuals of faith to know what they believe, why they believe it and then respond accordingly,” said Philip Patterson, Distinguished Professor of Communication at Oklahoma Christian and author of Stay Tuned: What Every Parent Should Know About Media.
“In all the presentations I have heard him make, he never challenges or ridicules Christianity,” Patterson said. “He simply asks Christians to live an examined life, and that includes a life separate and apart from the culture which consumes us.”
Medved acknowledged that the Federal Communications Commission has attempted to get tough on programming standards since Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2004 Super Bowl, but “the real problem isn’t TV’s low quality, it’s the high quantity we all watch.”
“The average American watches 29 hours per week,” he said. “Even if all that time were spent viewing the History Channel and C-SPAN and PBS, it would still be far too much – a paralyzing and corrupting force in our lives.”
Some parents have responded by tightly controlling the programs their children watch. Bravo, said Medved, who argued that such control does not isolate children from the outside world. The pervasive influence of popular culture ensures that parents “can’t possibly err in the direction of over-protectiveness,” he said.
“No one today runs any serious risk of ‘living in a bubble,’” he said. “Even kids who grow up totally TV-free (like mine) will, alas, be exposed to major elements of popular culture through billboards, radio, friends, the very air they breathe.”
Neither does faith-based education produce adverse “sheltering,” said Medved, who began his undergraduate education at Yale at age 16. Based on his own experiences, he said that it’s easier for the socially progressive and politically liberal – which he used to be – to live in seclusion from people with differing views than for the religious or politically conservative to do likewise.
“I think that there is a very real risk for people who are part of the secular, liberal mainstream … that (they) can grow up without any exposure at all to serious religious ideas,” Medved said. “It is not possible for someone in America – I don’t care if you’re home-schooled, if you’re a TV-free household – to grow up without knowing something about Madonna, and I don’t mean here the Madonna in the Bible.”
As a result, “there is more ideological diversity at a place like Oklahoma Christian or Harding University, where I’ve spoken many times, or at Abilene Christian … than there is at Yale,” he said.
The secular “bubble” also exists among television executives in Hollywood, Medved said.
“The problem here is that the media reflects the lives of a tiny portion of Americans, and then broadcasts that reflection to everybody,” he said. Bringing Christianity to Hollywood is like bringing it to “the most remote reaches of Ecuador, where people have never, ever encountered anything like this before.”
“The churches of Christ can’t significantly influence Hollywood’s programming decisions,” Medved said, “but you can significantly influence the decisions of your members in terms of what programming – if any – they choose to watch.
“In dealing with TV, we need more emphasis on demand-side solutions rather than supply-side, solution-less attention to what Hollywood makes, and more attention to what we take.”