Two Guys, a Girl and a TV Set

Three college friends out in the world, filling the void with television…and loving it.

How TV Can Save the World

Posted by CJ Cregg on December 18, 2009

No, really.

In his article for Foreign Policy magazine, economist Charles Kenny argues that it will be TV, and not Twitter or facebook that may be a ticket to a better global future.

Kenny asks:

“So will the rapid, planetwide proliferation of television sets and digital and satellite channels, to corners of the world where the Internet is yet unheard of, be the cause of global decay such critics fear?  Hardly.  A world of couch potatoes in front of digital sets will have its downsides–fewer bowling clubs, more Wii bowling.  It may or may not be a world of greater obesity, depending on whom you ask.  But it could also be a world more equal for women, healthier, better governed, more united in response to global tragedy, and more likely to vote for local versions of American Idol than shoot at people.”

The first revolution, Kenny argues, was the explosion of access.  An explosion of choice will be second.  An increasing number of channels and digital signals loosens the grip of bureacrats and state-controlled programming.

Some have even held up TV as a form of birth control.  The portrayal of plausible female characters in shows like Desperate Housewives, which is watched by almost 60 million people worldwide, is apparently an important social cue even without advertisements for contraceptives.  Indeed, when a woman reached the final five of Afghan Star this year, the director of the show said this would “do more for women’s rights than all the millions of dollars we have spent on public service announcements for women’s rights on TV.”

Scholars have long recognized that a strong press and TV can also cut down on state corruption, provide important health advice, and provide education for children.

Kenny summarizes:

“In the not-too-distant future, it is quite possible that the world will be watching 24 billion hours of TV a day–an average of close to four hours for each person in the world.  Some of those hours could surely be better spent–planting trees, helping old ladies cross the road, or playing cricket, perhaps.  But watching TV exposes people to new ideas and different people.  With that will come greater opportunity, growing equality, a better understanding of the world, and a new appreciation for the complexities of life for a wannabe Afghan woman pop star.  Not bad for a siren Medusa supposedly giving so little.”

One final interesting note.  The most popular TV show worldwide ever?  Baywatch.  It has been broadcast in 142 countries, and at its peak, had an audience of over 1 billion people.

Reaction to the article seems to have been mixed.  Check out the comments on the foreign policy website.  A common reaction seems to be ‘At what cost?’  Is it really worth having TV bring peace and prosperity?  I’m not sure, but perhaps we should think twice before we completely dismiss the boob tube.


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