‘But That’s My Show!’: Weighing the Value of Watching Television
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“‘But That’s My Show!’: Weighing the Value of Watching Television,” Ensign, Aug. 1986, 54

“But That’s My Show!”:

Weighing the Value of Watching Television

I am a sports fan. There are certain times when watching a basketball game on television is the most important thing in the world to me. I leave the dirty dishes on the table. I don’t talk to my husband or children. Only when the game is over do I return to normal.

I have a friend who is the same way about her soap opera. Usually she is an interesting, friendly, helpful person. But when “her show” starts, it is too late for any interaction. What happens to the characters on the program is more important to her than what is going on in the real world.

She cannot understand how I can become so engrossed in what she calls “silly games that have nothing to do with the problems of real life.” I cannot comprehend how she would want to sit through a drama depicting selfish characters involved in unreal problems.

“You should quit watching soap operas,” I told her.

“There is nothing wrong with watching soap operas,” she replied. “You should watch with me sometime, and maybe you would enjoy it.”

I met her challenge. We spent a few hours together watching the soaps, then we prepared a list of the values and standards that we had seen exhibited. Next to this list we placed the standards of the gospel.

After completing our list, my neighbor and I were amazed at how many undesirable standards and values were portrayed in some of the television programs we are exposed to. We wondered if these standards and values were affecting us adversely.

Can we be exposed to such values without adopting them? Perhaps we can sometimes learn by watching bad examples, but we do not need a steady diet of evil. As the Lord has told us, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (Matt. 6:34.)

Once we get to know people—whether in real life or on the television screen—we tend to excuse their shortcomings. The more we like them, the more tolerant we become, and the more influenced we are by their example. The scriptures are full of bad examples, but they give us the complete story and teach us that breaking the commandments of God never brings true joy. In contrast, many television shows suggest that the way to gain money, power, or the honors of men is to take moral shortcuts. We seldom see the emptiness that results from alienation from God.

Among the worst offenders in this respect are soap operas. Of the negative values portrayed in soap operas, perhaps the most dangerous is the attack on the family. Many characters in the soaps view marriage as semipermanent—lasting only until one “falls in love with” someone else or some conflicting goal. Relationships are most often built on lust rather than love, need rather than respect, manipulation rather than honesty, and doubt rather than trust. It would seem that loyalty, fidelity, and honor are less interesting to viewers than their opposites.

Although it is possible to watch soap operas without adopting the negative values and standards portrayed in them, the risk outweighs the benefits. Our ethical and moral sensibilities may slip without our realizing it. Why subject ourselves daily to erosive forces that go against our own values? Can the Holy Ghost dwell in our hearts when television sets are showing sin and we are being entertained by it?

If, then, we know—and most of us do—that many television programs often portray values and ideals that are contrary to the teachings of the gospel, why do we continue to watch them? Many of us do not attend movies that are offensive to us, yet we watch similar scenes on television in our own living rooms. Why do we view such programs? And why are they so addictive?

Perhaps one reason is that they provide a circle of dependable “associates.” The characters never miss visiting every day or every week, as scheduled, and they intimately share their lives with us—in contrast with our real-world, often-undependable associates who prefer to keep their lives private. Many TV characters are rich, attractive, or involved in desirable, unusual careers. Such characters often seem more interesting than the real people around us.

Soap operas, for example, are planned so that a character we have come to care about is caught in a crisis of some sort. We feel that we need to watch each episode in order to help avert disaster. And by the time one problem is resolved, another is already well-developed.

Perhaps another reason we become addicted to television might be an emptiness or lack in our own personal relationships. Drama is a wonderful medium for learning vicariously, but it can become destructive if it takes the place of trying to achieve greater meaning and joy in real relationships and experiences.

My father once told me that he hoped he could be a good enough teacher that I would never have to repeat any of his mistakes. He hoped that I could learn vicariously through him. The goal of learning vicariously accompanies maturity and wisdom. It is only the immature who want to discover the consequences of everything by themselves.

However, we must not confuse learning vicariously with living vicariously. Imaginary relationships can teach us, but they do not provide opportunities for love and service. To love and have joy are active, not passive, commandments that we can accomplish only by having real relationships—not by watching imaginary ones.

I have often defended my addiction to televised sports by saying, “I really enjoy seeing people who are the very best.” My neighbor replied, wisely, “Maybe you are spending too much time seeing the very best, and not enough becoming your very best.” We all need to spend more time becoming our best.

But there are other reasons people watch television. Some of the most frequently cited are:

“Television is a good family activity.”

It can be—if families are selective in their viewing and if parents take the opportunity to teach and discuss with their children while they watch. There are many excellent educational and cultural programs on television, as well as wholesome entertainment. But no matter what programs families choose to watch, they need to evaluate their television time to see if it is helping them to establish good family relationships.

Ask yourself: How many times during the program was a family member’s opinion or question about the program squelched so that the program could be heard? How often are conflicting television choices the cause of family quarrels? How much time do we spend discussing the meaning or implications of a program after it is over? Is the program used as a group educational experience in which family members learn together, or is it merely solitary entertainment watched with other people in the same room? While some television programs may help strengthen family relationships, others may be destructive. And perhaps other family activities would better help us to reach our goals.

“I don’t really watch TV; I just turn the television on and listen while I’m doing something else.”

Many people listen to the television while they are performing other tasks—doing housework, mending, reading the newspaper, feeding the baby, preparing a lesson. While watching or listening to television can make many mundane tasks more enjoyable, we need to be careful. It is often while we are doing tasks that do not require our full concentration that our minds can engage in creative, problem-solving activities. This is also a time when the Spirit can whisper to us. But our minds seldom flow into a creative mode when the television set is on, and we are usually not listening for the Spirit when we are listening for the TV. Our high-tech world is filled with such “background stimuli” that can often distract from our focus on things of significance.

“We have a right to a little relaxation and entertainment.”

Everyone needs to relax now and then, but is watching television hour after hour, day in and day out, relaxation—or idleness? The Savior promised peace and rest to those who follow him, but those words have little to do with idleness and being constantly entertained. If we find that we constantly desire idleness, we are missing the message of the Savior’s life.

“There is nothing better to do.”

While there are some wonderful programs on television that offer education, wholesome entertainment, or both, we need to learn to be selective. It is seldom true that there is nothing better to do than watching television. If television is frequently our first choice, we may be losing either our creativity or our desire to serve. Perhaps we could try to cultivate them a little more by spending less time sitting in front of the television being passively entertained and spending more time actively developing our talents and serving others.

What can we do if we find ourselves addicted to television? Some families have given away their television sets. Others set a weekly limit on the amount of time the set will be on and plan in advance for what they feel is worth watching.

A more positive approach might be to focus more on work, learning, and service to others. Many people find themselves so busy and interested in the other things they are doing that they seldom find time for television. Likewise, most of us will benefit, as we reach to turn the television set on, by telling ourselves that there is almost always something better we can do.

Soap Opera Standards

Gospel Standards

Soap operas commonly portray characters who commit adultery and indulge in premarital sex.

Chastity and purity are some of God’s most important commandments.

Many characters in soap operas live by the philosophy: “Eat, drink, and be merry, because you only live once.”

Jesus taught that if we would save our lives we must lose them in the service of others, rather than gratifying our selfish desires.

Soap opera characters regularly deceive and manipulate family and friends to get what they want.

Honesty and free agency are basic principles of the gospel.

Many soap opera characters’ ultimate goals in life seem to be wealth, power, and the satisfaction of lust.

The gospel teaches that the ultimate goal in our lives is eternal life with God and his Son, Jesus Christ.

Soap operas often portray that it is disloyal to expose the illegal actions of a friend.

Obeying the laws of the land is part of the teachings of the gospel. Helping friends repent shows greater love than helping them hide their sins.

Stealing, lying, arguing, threatening, bribing, fighting, and blackmailing are common.

We believe in being virtuous and in doing good to all men.

Illustrated by Scott Greer