But perhaps, in some ways, we’re being too hard on our TVs. After all, when compared to that other great time-waster known as “the internet,” is television really that much worse? The boob tube may have "Jersey Shore" and "Ancient Aliens," neither of which are likely to spark brain activity. But the internet has Reddit and Overly Attached Girlfriend Meme, and lots and lots and lots (and lots) of cat videos. Oh! And how can we (ever) forget that song that told us which day comes after Thursday.
So maybe it’s time to flip this old trope on its head. Over the past decade, TV networks and manufacturers have had to compete with the rise of the web, and it’s brought about some major changes in the ways we watch and think about television: Smart TV (while boasting a name that admits to an inherent idiocy and sort of undermines my whole argument) affords viewers greater control over their programming; networks, seeking relevance, have begun funneling mountains of cash into shows like "Game of Thrones" and "Mad Men"; and executives, at the behest of writers and developers, have relinquished something known as “creative control.” All of this has paid dividends to AMC, FX, HBO, and other acronymic progressives of the TV landscape.
I’m an optimist, and I like to think that your capacity “to think” has little to do with how much "Real Housewives" you watch, and more to do with how you watch said program. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of 5 ways TV actually makes you a better thinker.
1. Jeopardy! Is Still on the Air
"Jeopardy!" is that game show where really smart people get together and answer questions about Japanese folk songs in the form of a question. And then they get money for it, while you sit at home trying to impress your friends by answering questions before they do, and then you try not to embarrass yourself when you confuse Hammurabi for Samsu-Ditana in your answer about the Babylonian coded tablet in the Temple of Marduk.
Is there anything that isn’t intellectually stimulating about that?
Score one for TV!
(Photo: Flickr user Shawn M. Smith, Creative Commons license)
2. Not Everyone Watches "Honey Boo Boo"
Or "Real Housewives," or "Sarah Palin's Alaska," or "Ghost Hunters," or "Extreme Couponing." There are plenty of smart, albeit less sensational programs. In fact, we’d argue that TV shows, particularly dramas, are smarter than ever. "Homeland," "The Wire" (RIP), "Breaking Bad," "Mythbusters," "Louie," "Mad Men," "South Park"—these shows have enough intellectual and creative merit to engage the grumpiest, most cynical TV haters.
But will the recent proliferation of intelligent shows make you a better thinker? Damn right it will. I’ll speak for myself in saying that on many a work day, I’ve been distracted by the mental repercussions of last night’s "Breaking Bad," "Mad Men," or "Homeland"—and that’s time well spent thinking about molecular drug properties, 20th Century history, and the looming perils of U.S. national security.
Score two for TV!
*3. Smart TV Allows You to Do Crossword Puzzles While Reading up
on CERN’s Quest for the Higgs Boson*
We all have bouts of stupidity—those times when you’re content just sitting around watching "Judge Judy" while eating sticks of deodorant. Thankfully, for these moments, there’s Smart TV. While it’s not going to make you a smarter person, Smart TV does give you the opportunity to answer Google-A-Day puzzles, or read The Economist, or a host of activities which may contribute to a better, smarter you.
It’s true that Smart TV has suffered a long, slow growth, and there are still many kinks to be worked out. TV web browsers, for instance, are notoriously slow and difficult to operate. We at TelevisionInfo.com are of the opinion that Smart TV’s current web browsing capabilities are comparable to that of the mobile internet before smartphones arrived (the new Wii U browser hopefully throws a wrench in this analogy).
Nonetheless, the union of TV and web is inevitable; the progress has just been frustratingly slow. This means you’ll have to strain your noodle for a few more years while the bigwigs at Samsung, Sony, Apple, and Google figure out how to get along. And yeah, the irony of this is not lost on us: working around the stupidity of Smart TV browsers requires mental exertion, and that makes you a better thinker!
Score three for TV!
4. The Election is Over
Don’t worry, I won't get political on you, but I think it’s bipartisan to be happy that the presidential election is over. This means the influence of insufferably stupid 24-hour news punditry has been drastically downsized. It means another two years before you have to watch another scathingly dishonest and inflammatory political ad.
It also means, by virtue of the president’s reelection, that Sesame Street will live to see another day. It means the return of (slightly) more substantive debate on news programs, including the downright awful cable news networks (all of them). And most of all, it means you’re free to start thinking like a rational human being again. Remember that? Free thinking?
So, yeah, the end of election coverage doesn’t mean you’re going to get smarter, but it sure as hell means you’re not going to get dumber.
Score draw for TV!
5. Satire Has Never Been Better
Two of the smartest satirists in TV history have their own shows, and you should watch them, because it will make you a better thinker.
A 2009 Rasmussen survey found that nearly one-third of Americans under the age of 40 believe that "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" are replacing "traditional" news outlets.
Jon Stewart would be the first to tell you that relying on his show for news is probably a mistake. But his viewers tend to be better-informed than their peers: In a 2007 Pew Research survey of Americans’ knowledge of current affairs, "Daily Show" viewers scored highest among all major news outlets and programs, including NPR, TV news websites, and even magazines.
But perhaps it's not news content so much as the witty, sarcastic bent that stirs activity in the old noodle. You need to understand the underlying causes of a situation to appreciate its absurdity, it could be argued. If this is the case, those two other great boob-tube satirists, Trey Parker and Matt Stone (of South Park fame), are also worth checking out. Oh! And let's not forget "The Boondocks," "The Onion News Network," "Tim and Eric," "SNL," and "Bill Maher." Satire makes you, duh, think!
TV for the win!
(Photo: Comedy Central)
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