Media Dumbing Down

When we first got satellite television some fifteen years ago, in the infrequent times we watched television, our tastes ran to channels like Bravo, A&E, History, and Biography. Now we almost never tune in those channels, or many others of the hundred available.  Why not?  Because over the last decade, those once-independent channels have been purchased by major networks, who changed the programming that made them attractive to us.

Where are the biographies of the Founding Fathers, the great industrialists, great painters, poets, revolutionaries, thinkers, architects, authors – or the other notables of the past and present?  They’re gone, replaced by hour after hour of “Notorious,” each hour devoted to some heinous criminal or another, or other uplifting shows like “Outlaw Bikers.”

As for the History Channel, where are the great events or pivotal points in history?  Also gone, replaced by documentaries on the history of plumbing and endless hours of “Swamp People” or “Pawn Stars.”

A&E used to provide a wide range of material, from architectural/history gems like “America’s Castles” to docudramas like “Catherine the Great” (starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, no less). Now what is there?  Six straight hours of “Storage Wars!”

I love science… but I can’t watch most science shows anymore, not when they’re presented at a third-grade level and when, after a commercial break, the narrator repeats the last minute before the break, as if the viewing audience were developmentally disabled.

And the commercials, endless minutes, each one ending, I suspect, with the immortal words, “But wait!  There’s more.  If you order now…”

The movie channels aren’t much better, except for TCM, because each channel takes its turn with the same movie.  How many times do you want to see “Secretariat”… and I liked that one a lot?  But most aren’t that good…

Now… if I wanted, I could subscribe to every sports event offered in the United States and hundreds more from across the world… but March Madness is enough sports for us for the entire year.

Yes… satellite/cable television once was a good thing… until the media titans took over and turned it into a true triumph of capitalism… dollars over quality, and while the dollars are rolling in and the quality degrades further, the politicians in Washington are trying to gut public television, which is about all that’s left with offerings that aren’t dealing in endless moronic variations on pop culture, sex, violence, or sports.  But then, public media channels, supposedly regulated by the FCC for the people, are only about the dollars, aren’t they?

11 thoughts on “Media Dumbing Down”

  1. Derek says:

    I stopped watching the History channel just in time to never be exposed to shows like “Ancient Aliens,” and the current lineup catering to that line of thinking.

    I grew up loving that channel.

  2. Mayhem says:

    Yeah, the History channel started off as really good, but lets face it, there’s only so much of WW2 you can watch before they start repeating footage.

    I’m really liking BBC Scotland at the moment – they’re putting out a lot of more unusual documentaries with a patriotic bent, like a recent four part series on relatively unknown Scottish figures from the Age of Exploration.

    We no longer bother with movies, and only really keep a few sport channels because my flatmate loves watching the IPL cricket in india.

  3. G.Thomas says:

    No music videos on VH1, no history on The History Channel, etc., etc., etc.

    We now watch more programming through Netflix than we do from cable. If that keeps up, and it probably will, we may just ditch cable all together. I would hate not getting the local PBS station for great programming like Nature and NOVA but I could probably pick up a hi def feed from it with a decent antenna. Might be time to save some money!

  4. Tim says:

    A media consultant once told me that the two things which always get good viewing figures are Ancient Egypt and Nazis. Sadly this appears to be borne out in the available material on some channels.

    The BBC has usually been a reliable source of good documentaries as it is funded from the TV licences in the UK and is devoid of advertisements or sponsorship dependent on viewing figures. This means that They have some ability to cater for minority interests. Their archeology and history programmes are particularly good – I remember the Chronicle programmes well, though nowadays they are a bit more dumbed down – such as Time Team – though still pretty good.

    The quality aspect tends to put some BBC programmes near the top of the list in spite of not having to worry so much about viewing figures. Particularly some dramas and historical plays. I will also state that the BBC makes some appalling programmes ( such as soap operas and game shows) watched avidly by millions.

    I wonder what will happen to BBC Scotland if Scotland secedes from the UK (a vote is due in the near future).

  5. Bain says:

    I grew up with PBS,my parents did not believe in cable television. We had one television set in the house. Education and chores consider the norm. Everyone in the household readers. Finally order cable to the household 1995 and the only things we watch was history and science channel. My parents calculated the cost yearly and was not happy with the cost. No more cable, went straight to Santa Moncia library for dvd’s at no charge.Now the family will set aside certain monies and purchase history,nature and science dvd’s via amazon.

  6. Ked says:

    I got rid of my cable T.V. and now just have a Kindle. This is better. Less is more. Despite the huge number of channels, there is not much worth watching on T.V. these days. I can order what I want on my Kindle. I think we can talk about T.V. in the larger context of “The Arts”. The “arts” presented in the medium of television is all, as noted above, much the same, designed to titilate and allure (like the “draggies” in Octagonal Raven) rather than to inform or to allow the viewer to partake in the pleasure of learning. “Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.” G.K. Chesterton. For major networks that line is the bottom line. And, as Mr. Modesitt has observed, “The more this gospel of greed is adopted, the more quicky a society loses any ethical foundation – and the more rapidly it sows the seeds of its own destruction.” (The Ethos Effect).

    Happily, what I notice is that Good Art perennial – BUT it seems to jump around a lot. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8 It is true, what T.V. has to offer is currently bad – not worth the cable bill.

    But happily, Good Art can be found in literature (like SF) and the visual arts. For example, see how how well the function of good art in the medium of visual arts is discussed here: “Art is this rich way of thinking and talking about ethics that is accessible. I think most people understand how fascinating ethics is. It’s one of those things that seems a bit daunting and pious, but it’s really about complexity and difficult choices. Art is a good way to see that tension…” Christian Ferney,

  7. Ked says:

    For example, take some time to google Frida Kahlo or modern/recent Native American Art (Kiowa Five / Michelle Sisneros Tsosie/Katsina masters). Their art really informs and delights. Or, Dandelion Wine by Bradbury. I can read it over and over again and feel refreshed, stronger. All have at their core that tension.

  8. Ian K says:

    I would get rid of cable if it wasn’t for a few Television programs only found on cable.
    Breaking Bad:the first few seasons are actually great TV but i fear may become a zombie show in that it has no more intelligence it used to have but just shamble along anyway

    A Game of Thrones: I fear i too have jumped on this band wagon and i am loving the series almost as much as the books.

    The Walking Dead: I love this show to me it actually represents how humanity would react to the breakdown of society.

  9. Wine Guy says:

    I used to watch Discover, but now it’s all about motorcycles (donor-cycles, we call them).

    I used to watch the History Channel, but my daughter’s social studies book does a better job at presentation these days. I wrote the History Channel to ask them to show ‘World at War’ and ‘Victory At Sea.’ The informal reply I received said that they were ‘too controversial.’

    Now, I watch the community arts channel that shows Opera, ballet, and symphony snippets. I donate to it regularly – it’s the only reason I watch cable (though I desire/need my cable for the high-speed internet connection).

  10. Ked says:

    Too controversial?! Whoah…

  11. Dan E. says:

    I agree with the general sentiment here, and, I too, used to be an avid History Channel watcher. Ugh! How can Ax Men, Swamp People, etc. be on there? Why don’t they just change the name to THC like The Learning Channel did?
    However, I think we could all do with some fluff in our lifes. After a particularly long day of wrestling with algorithms and tracking down software bugs, my brain can just be too tired to want to think deeply about societal issues, etc. What’s wrong with sitcoms now and then? Although, I admit, there’s so much just….crap out there. Still, I think Pawn Stars is kinda fun, and at least you learn a little history. I dunno, maybe I’m just lazy sometimes 🙂
    As long as it doesn’t dominate your entertainment time, I think it’s fine, imo. I’m gonna keep watching some fluff sometimes, as well as reading light fantasy like L. Sprague DeCamp or watching some “fluffy” comedy show or action movie….it’s the people who have drudge jobs and watch nothing but crap and read nothing -not to mention some people who get very snobby about “I don’t even own a tv”, rather than just honestly not enjoying it – that I worry about!

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