1 Iyar 5763
WHY is it Wrong to Watch TV??
Dear Rabbi Orlofsky,
I am a senior at Bais Yaakov High School and have listened to one of R’ Orlofsky’s lectures and enjoyed it and liked what was said. Now I have a question that has always bothered me. I’ve been told over and over again how watching television is detrimental to one’s spiritual level. Personally, though, I don’t feel any affects from viewing the “microwave” (as it is being referred to in school). I try not to watch that much besides the news despite this feeling. I know what you are probably thinking: I really don’t have a strong desire to grow if this is truly how I feel. But I do want to grow and in order to do so I need to have a clear answer as to what is the underlying problem of television.
Name withheld upon request
Let me begin by saying that I am a confessed TV addict. I grew up with a TV and to this day I find the effect on me hypnotic. As soon as I arrived home, I would flip on the TV regardless of what was on. The proof is that I can still recite entire sections of dialogue from “Gilligan’s Island”.
The easy thing to do at this point would be to quote many people smarter and holier and more knowledgeable than myself who say it is assur to watch TV. But that is not your question. You want insight into the why. So from personal experience let me share with you why people shouldn’t watch TV.
When the shows on television were “I Love Lucy” and “Father Knows Best” content was still an issue. Television has tremendous power to influence people with a message, sometimes good and sometimes bad. For example, when Fonzy, the near supernatural character on “Happy Days” applied for a library card, local libraries reported being flooded with requests for library cards. After all, who wouldn’t like to be like the Fonz? But of course, Fonzie was essentially a high school dropout involved in various illegal activities. Do we want him as a role model?
The message in the 1950’s and 60’s however was be an American. TV dripped Americana. Some of those values, like citizenship, were good. Some, like having boyfriends and girlfriends, going to dances, etc. were not. But the values came across and were incorporated nonetheless. Note the terrible problem mechanchim had at that time to get boys to grow payos! Crew cuts were in.
Today however, it’s not even a question. One would be hard pressed to find a sitcom that doesn’t have sex as part of the plot. Some more graphic, some less, but certainly prevalent. Network television has already relaxed the rules related to nudity and obscene language. Things will only get worse from here.
You say that you only watch the news, but what passes for news is somewhat questionable. I was in the US this past November and one of the major stories involved the fashion show that was going to be presented by Victoria Secrets lingerie. I had to turn off the radio; what it was like on television, I don’t even want to imagine.
Other stories that I wouldn’t want to read in a newspaper, never mind on television involves people like Monica Lewinsky, John Wayne Bobbitt, Donna Rice, Mrs. Guilliani, and unfortunately too many more that come to mind. Should we be seeing these things? Do we really think it doesn’t affect us?
The average Bais Yaakov High School today has many students wrestling with values that they have incorporated from television shows and characters. These attitudes carry over into our marriages, as many people want “TV marriages”. They want to fall in love, be entertained, and have everyone looking good. When their reality doesn’t meet their expectations, they feel unhappy, unfulfilled; many even consider looking outside of marriage for what they think reality should be.
Hashem blessed us with the ability to shut our eyes. We can’t close our ears – we need to listen. We can’t close our noses – we need to smell. But we can, and must, shut our eyes. An image, once seen, is forever engraved on our brain. We can never remove it. How many murders do you think we should see? I don’t mean hear about; that’s bad enough. I mean actually witness with our own eyes. I was once driving through Long Beach and saw some police cars. Out of curiosity I looked; and I will never forget the grisly sight of a dead human body. It haunts me to this day. Images appear quickly; often before we have a chance to turn away. Why play mind games with ourselves?
This I know personally; TV is addictive. In almost every home with a TV, people sit and stare at the tube for hours. The average child spends more time watching TV than they do in school. Now you may feel that you are not addicted. In that case it should be a cinch for you to stop!
Torah is based on facing the reality of life. Television, even the news, is based on escapism. People tell me that they aren’t really escaping, they are just relaxing. But I have seen time and time again that people don’t do what they are supposed to because the TV is on. “Just a second,” they say and continue watching, oblivious to the things and people around them.
Having made the above points, there is another point that is more esoteric. A home without a TV is a different home. Without all the other points, the fact is that when people choose to have a TV in their home, they are making a statement about themselves as people and the type of home they want.
I once spoke to a frum young lady who told me that she was about to get married and she told her chasan that she didn’t want a TV in the house. Instead she was going to get a VCR and a monitor and when they wanted to, they would rent videos. I told her I would rather she went to a movie theatre to watch movies and keep her home as a makom kodesh. Not in my house.
I hope some of these ideas will be meaningful to you and perhaps help you to make a positive decision in your life.
Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky