Watching my son James grow up has been a blessing in so many ways, one of which has been the opportunity to learn more about myself. Watching him learn how to learn has given me so many insights into my own childhood mentality and how those early experiences continue to affect me today.
Of all the things I have learned in my short time as a father, one of them sticks out like a sore thumb, and that is the remarkable influence television has on a developing mind. Television is not something I desired to introduce into my son’s life until much later on, but I’m almost glad I have because of what I’ve learned from watching him watch the tube. Of course, he isn’t sitting in front of it for very long, maybe an hour every morning to get through breakfast, but even in that time I’ve observed some things that I think are important to consider.
My journey with television also started at a young age. Mind you, I had three television channels while growing up, one of which could only be changed by someone going on the roof of the house and adjusting the direction of the antenna. Even though we only had three channels, I can tell you with certainty that I watched a lot of television. And my tastes were wide-ranging; from Oprah to Star Trek (the original and The Next Generation) to the great soap opera, Another World, to Spider-Man, Batman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Tail Spin… I grew up in a great time for great television.
The Simpsons was a hit in our household, at least for my father, sister and myself. Looking back with the clarity and understanding that comes with age, I realize now that I only ever watched the Simpsons as a way to connect with my dad and my sister; I didn’t particularly like the show in and of itself. I was my mother’s son while my sister was daddy’s girl, and I often found it difficult to connect with the two of them. Television acted as a neutral medium through which I could bond with them, though I only figured this out later in life when I began to live and breathe television.
As a self-reflective adult, I know I’ve undertaken a long journey of transcendence, transforming my subordination to authorities into independence and an entrepreneurial spirit. I chose to break the old paradigms of my life and find out what I can really accomplish. For a kid who grew up on TV, a career in television which started out literally living inside a television studio made perfect sense, particularly if that child hoped to learn how to grow beyond the magic of the screen. I had to understand how what I had watched had been made if I was ever going to get it out of my head.
I remember on the first day of my first real job in television, at Business News Network, I met the audio guy who worked on the original Sesame Street – a show I had watched often. What a bizarre moment that was! Here I am, meeting this slouching and overweight middle-aged man, who was an occasional cigarette smoker and regular complainer about all things audio and personal… and he is basically a parent of mine, however indirectly. I would liken the experience to meeting your childhood superhero in person only to find out that he or she is a complete asshole. Left in a state of shock, you immediately start to question your entire psychological framework, because the hero you have admired your entire life isn’t really the person you thought he was.
The fastest way to transcend your hero is to find out that they are a villain as well.
Unfortunately, that’s been a common theme through my television career. A career that is more often filled by suppressed entrepreneurs and dependent workers, not to mention job-hating borderline psychopaths whose idea of fun consisted of sending correspondence letters to serial killers in prison (true story). I have spent a lot of time wondering why a person would intentionally put themselves into a work environment where they have to get paid to do what they despise and then complain about it for free. It’s completely bizarre. Then one day my sister gave me a gold mine of wisdom that put it all together.
She sent me an old audio file, hijacking one of my Grandfather’s cassette tapes that he had made for us, narrating some of the stories he wrote about his life. I guess at that time in my youth I thought it would be funny to record, at the start of one tape, the phrase “You’re a dork. You’re a dweeb! You suck!”. I wanted to shock anyone who might in future listen to the tape, and did so in a tone of voice that could only be described as Bart Simpson-esque. Hearing that blast from my past stunned me. My plan for shock and awe had worked, although I never thought the person being surprised would be myself.
Modeling Your Masters
Well, my sister and I had a well-deserved laugh over that. I must admit it’s a really funny audio clip. But it’s really stuck with me ever since because it’s not something I’d consider doing anymore, as the person I am today; not for any reasons of regret, but because I simply would choose not to, given the choice. I’m a different person now, much more mature in some ways (and much more immature in others). But on that sound file I heard Bart Simpson, and this has confirmed a huge theory of mine that I have been confronted with time and time again while working inside the television industry– that it’s called television programming for a reason.
At our most basic level, we are simply slightly intelligent monkeys, and as monkeys, well… monkey see monkey do. Now, I know that’s tremendously judgmental but I must make the point that we model behaviors we identify with and are exposed to, and that includes fictional characters. A good example of this is my friend, who we’ll call Andy. Andy is an interesting friend of mine. He himself believes he is scattered in many directions and often asks others for their opinion of his behavior. I often get the sense that he knows something is not quite right and he wants to help himself, but just doesn’t know what’s wrong or how to fix it. I didn’t even know what his problem was until another friend of mine showed me a remixed episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, set to a music track. Watching this remix that compiled short clips of all the characters completed so much of my own puzzle about Andy. I recognized that Andy’s personality is built from the characters on that show. Everything from how he talks, walks, moves, sits, behaves, speaks, thinks… and so on. I confirmed with Andy that he used to love watching that show when he was a child and that again confirmed what I’ve suspected for some time.
When your parenting is fictional, you’re going to live a fictional life.
The biggest challenge most people have in life is not living the life they have. They are profoundly disconnected from their own existence and constantly distract themselves with sensory stimulants to prevent themselves from admitting the pain of their lifestyle. This in turn blocks them from the opportunity to accept the present as it truly is, and to see through it to the truth of their own magnificence.
Think about this for a moment: if you love your television characters, you’re not going to want to go beyond that for fear of losing the feel-good chemicals your brain releases while watching them. That in turn creates a fear of your own self, which is by default, an entity without these fictional personalities you have cherished. It’s exactly like an addiction where you fear the loss of the substance while simultaneously fearing the version of you that exists without it.
While on that topic…
Children’s shows nowadays look more like LSD trips with their flying smiling cars and buses and talking sponges… and that’s actually the point of it. If I have learned one thing through investigating psychedelic medicines, it’s that what you learn (or watch) while in an ‘altered state’ will stay with you in an unaltered state. I learned this professionally by hypnotherapist and seduction expert Ross Jeffries, who is a master of emotional and perceptual manipulation. Today’s television is literally a non-substance based psychedelic drug replacement with a narrative that fits the government guidelines for children’s television, and from my experience working a decade behind the scenes in television I can tell you with certainty that television has a political motive.
I’m not approaching this from a conspiracy theorist’s lens. I have literally been in the meetings where politics decide programming, and while you may not believe it, I don’t think it takes much to recognize what the narrative (or propaganda, if we’re being honest) of children’s television is preparing them for – unquestioning participation in a system which doesn’t work all that well or serve their best interests. But this new form of art is something that fixes itself from independent and inspired thought. It’s up to the visionaries to create the future and our visionaries are being lost watching the real desperate housewives of fill-in-the-blank, being programmed to think fake, act stupid, and complain a lot about personal drama.
Where has Star Trek gone?
And so I bring this story back to my son James. I grew up on Star Trek. As far as I’m concerned, Gene Rodenberry was an inspired visionary who saw beyond his time. Today we have laptops, cell-phones, 3D printers, and a host of other world-changing inventions that can be attributed to his creativity. I don’t see that in television anymore. What I see is desperate housewives and other cocaine addicted and mentally disturbed celebrities getting famous off of your time that you spend watching their lives instead of working on your own. What I see is murder being made into entertainment. What I see is rich duck-hunters taking your time and your money without giving you any sort of return on the investment besides a temporary emotional high. What I see now are shows about time-warps, demons and angels, vampires, the power of cops and the government, and an extraordinary display of how unintelligent humans can be. What I see is insanity entertainment and I believe it’s affecting all of us.
I believe that when Gene Rodenberry died, television died with him. It stopped being a vision, a program of what we can do as a species, and became a program of what we already dislike about our civilization. Put simply, if you keep showing a person the murderous side of our nature as entertainment, why would you expect them to value human life and their own life at all? Whatever we repeat we become good at and if we keep repeating the wrong actions, don’t expect to last very long in a world that is constantly striving to challenge us.
James gets his TV fix once in a while, but even on those few occasions I’ve seen a noticeable difference in how little he develops as a person the next day when compared to when he doesn’t watch television. I’ve seen it in other children as well and I’ve even seen it in parents who are struggling to raise intelligent kids. Every day, the same shows, the same songs, the same scripts said in a slightly different way. Eventually you need to have those songs in your phone to keep your kid quiet from having a tantrum while in a waiting room– just like an addict. Metaphorically, that’s equal to saying, “Watch your show and be quiet while I control your life with a super-stimulating medium made by people who are going to produce whatever they have to, to survive – not necessarily what you need to see to survive”.
Repetition wires your brain and can lead to great things so long as that repetition is great. That’s the insanity of entertainment and television as it is today. It’s less about being great and more about churning a profit for the production team. Meanwhile, you look up to your Kim Kardashian and want to be like her and meet her and love her and when you finally get the chance you get tackled down by her security guard. It’s insanity. I mean, just now I look on Google News for a headline about the Kardashian’s and the first headline is Kardashians Reportedly Hate Fat Brother for Being Fat.
Honestly, are you getting paid to care about that?
I apologize for this being one of the longest and by far the most ‘charged’ blog I’ve written, but I feel it must be said. Your time is your own. It’s your life. Use it wisely for your wealth and your health and if you want to help that along, turn off the TV and turn on your life.
Stephan Gardner is a Life Performance, Personal Development & Psychology Specialist who helps people achieve mental well being through a luminary understanding of human behaviour, emotions and life transformation. A teacher of personal and spiritual development and dedicated Yoga practitioner, his mission is to inspire you to reach life fulfillment through inspired work, wisdom, and love. www.stephangardner.com
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