Tuning into prejudice in rants over TV

Our culture’s current obsession with fat people is deeply intertwined with, among other things, our fear of modern life. Conservatives and progressives alike imagine fat people as the archetypal modern people-people who are lazy, shallow, of lower intellect, and who don’t care about anything. They are represented sitting incessantly in front of the TV absorbing all its messages with nary a protest. Fat acceptance advocates do not appreciate the use of fat people to present this message but they more often than not agree with the message. Of course modern people are all of the negative adjectives offered above and of course the garbage that calls itself modern entertainment is to blame for that! The problem is that it is not just fat people who are victimized by this mentality but thin people as well Thin and fat people alike would benefit from watching fewer movies and reading more classic novels.

As a lover of modern entertainment and classic novels, I have an issue with this.

Just for the record, I feel that TV, movies, video games, etc. can be just as intellectual and artistic as more traditional media. Just because it is written or expressed in some other “legitimate” medium doesn’t mean that it is automatically good. That is a rant for another day, though, and I am not interested in arguing the fine points of that position here. My issue is that in the interest of finding common cause with fat hatred, many of us have decided to agree on the issues of the evils of modern life. Such a position is often taken in a way that reveals the personal prejudices of those taking it.

Without the tie-in to fat, you have accepted the idea that people who prefer visual over verbal communication are stupid and lazy. You might not have intended to communicate that message, but it comes through loud and clear nonetheless. Actually, thin people are hurt by this prejudice as well, particular skinny boys that are seen as too nerdy, geeky, or gawky to have real lives, athletic ability, or girl friends, so they resort to creating digital lives instead. But I digress.

Not everything on TV or the silver screen is particularly artistic or intellectual (in the broad sense of those terms.) Neither is everything that has been written. The point is that people automatically assume that the verbal is superior to the visual. You hear it when they proudly proclaim that their children read books rather than watch TV or that you won’t allow them to play video games as it stifles the imagination.

I read and write at an advanced level. I am an honor student with research skills and an appreciation for the written word. I also love, and in some respects, prefer visual media like TV.

Funny. We think TV is anti-intellectual, but that plays and paintings are mentally stimulating. We think video games undermine imagination, but we do not say the same of board games. They, too, tell you what to do and have pictures and pieces that reflect the game environment. Yet they are immune from this criticism.

I like all kinds of media. I learn from it and am entertained by it. I love watching TV or a good movie, and I have ever since I was a child. When I watched classic Disney movies like Pocahontas or The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I was very engaged in the message, the symbolism, the acting and the presentation. I learned the songs, I danced, and I learned new words and some things about cultures, histories, and lives other than my own. Was it a full, or entirely accurate, education? No, it was children’s fiction, but it was a start and it stuck with me and got me engaged.

Though I had always loved to read and was a strong reader, there was something special about TV and movies. Seeing and hearing these characters go through their adventures made them feel that much more real to me and it was easy to remember them and draw connections between their worlds and mine. I was socially delayed and had a speech and language disability when I was younger and I still struggle with those issues. TV and movies had a special power over me for that reason. I liked to self-stimulate, so while I liked to read when I was in the mood, I could never concentrate for long. Movies gave me something to ‘do’-act out stories, sing, dance, etc.

Reading books might require you to imagine the picture, but movies can just as well cause you to imagine the words to describe what you saw and heard. Have you never heard a child struggle to find the right word to describe that beautiful Esmeralda character with the angelic voice?

I do not necessarily learn from traditional media, but that does not make me of lower intellect, nor does it mean my way of learning is not legitimate.

I used to hate it when people would tell me what I should to reading or watching or doing because what I was doing wasn’t good enough. Predictably, it was tied in with the hatred that some people had for the fact that I was larger (and taller) than most other children. My constant sitting and absorbing would make my body fat and weak and my mind even weaker. Years later, it has done no such thing. It also did not displace other media through which to learn, like reading or watching plays, like so many fear will happen if kids like TV too much. Actually, technology EXPOSED me to media and works of art I might have otherwise missed and got me interested in them.

Ultimately, you do not need to like any medium or work of art. You do not have to like your kids being exposed to it. But those of us with learning, language or other disabilities, those of us who do not learn through traditional means, or whose cultures do not place the same emphasis on the written word as others will not appreciate the common admonition that we need to read more and watch less TV.

Especially if you blame that for us being fat.



  1. Rubyfruit · September 17, 2011

    This entry is so very awesome.

    The dislike of modern society and what seems a dislike of technology does tie neatly into fat hatred. I have a slightly longer rant on the “dislike of technology” thing and how both conservatives and progressives have fantasies of The Good Old Days when everything was supposedly “better”. My mom tells me about how things were when she was younger, and the “good old days” sounds like it downright sucked, and I don’t want to go there.

    There seems to be this idea that there is one Gold Standard for “worthy” mediums, that everything we (people in general) do must be “bettering” us somehow, as if entertainment for its own sake isn’t as legitimate as ~betterment~.

    Then again I was force-fed The Classics with a capital-C all through school, so I may be a bit bitter toward that attitude.

  2. Emerald · September 17, 2011

    For me, this hits home because as a kid, my house was the other way round: newspapers and the TV were necessary,media, but books were suspect; they were ‘make believe’, and they made you sit too much. I still read a lot, and I’m also a low-to-moderate TV watcher, and a huge computer user. So it’s interesting for me, seeing this prejudice played out in the opposite direction. I have wondered why books escape the health scare stuff as an equally sedentary occupation – although I heard that some authorities, in Australia I think, are saying kids should be discouraged from ‘too much reading’ (a concept I totally fail to understand!) too, in favor of more mobile leisure pursuits like sport. I also wonder how the advent of E-books will affect this, crossing over between ‘respectable’ literature and ‘suspect’ electronic media as they do.

    As for the ‘good old days’, Rubyfruit, they seem to me to have been the days when women, in particular, were saddled with a huge amount of extra work. Both the anti-obesity crowd and the Green movement seem eager to ditch modern labor-saving devices, without considering on whom, with the politics of domestic work much as they ever were, the bulk of that labor would fall. So, there are feminist implications there as well.

    I suspect a lot of the mistrust some people (certainly some governments!) have of the Internet is down to the way it can introduce people to new ideas they’d never have encountered IRL – and in an era when libraries are being scaled back like never before, and real-world bookstores find it harder than ever to survive, we have to accept that lots of people’s main source of exposure to information and culture is going to be via a screen.

    • Rubyfruit · September 19, 2011

      Emerald, that just sucks. I come from a family full of people, aside from my two brothers, who absolutely love reading, so I really don’t want to think of living in a house where reading was seen as suspect. The closest I had to that was living for over a year with an aunt who thought exactly that. Hopefully, E-books get a little bigger so that they can get a little less expensive. The fact that an e-book costs as much as a game console is what’s making me a little reluctant to invest in one.

      I find it kind of…odd that the Green movement wouldn’t be in-tune with the fact that without those labor-saving devices, women would be stuck with most of the work, given that a lot of the people I know of who are in the Green movement also tend to be feminist.

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