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December 04, 2008

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Chad Love: When TV Doesn’t Suck

The latest in a long line of reports that link childhood "media use" (that's TV, computers and video games for us Luddites) came out recently in the New York Times and the news is about as glum as what you'd expect.

From the story:

In what researchers call the first report of its kind, a review of 173 studies about the effects of media consumption on children asserts that a strong correlation exists between greater exposure and adverse health outcomes. “Coach potato does, unfortunately, sum it up pretty well,” said Ezekiel J. Emanuel, chairman of the bioethics department at the institutes’ clinical center, one of the study’s five reviewers.

The only thing that surprises me about the finding is that it took looking at 173 different studies to make an observation that's painfully obvious to anyone who's walked by the electronic aisle at their local big-box store and glanced at all the little future consumer zombies either staring slack-jawed into a television screen or building up massive thumb muscles on the video-game controllers.

But (with apologies for messing with Shakespeare) I come here to praise TV, not to bury him. I'm beginning to realize that sometimes it's not all bad, and in fact watching television can even stimulate a kid's interest in the outdoors. My oldest son, a typical seven-year-old who has always been an outdoorsy kid, has in the past year become an absolute roaming-the-woods, snare-setting, knife-wielding, BB gun-toting outdoors nut. When he came home toting a fresh road-killed squirrel and asked if we could skin it together and "fry it up" I knew the kid was going to be all right. A few days ago he got huffy because I skinned and quartered a deer before he got home from school. I'm OK with that kind of pouty insolence.

And while I'd love to take credit for the creation of this mini-Jeremiah Johnson, the two guys most responsible are Bear Grylls and Les Stroud.

If the names don't ring a bell, Grylls and Stroud host competing survival shows on the Discovery Channel. Grylls on  "Man Vs. Wild" and Stroud on "Survivorman." In a nutshell, Grylls and Stroud go out into the wild each week and film their attempts at surviving in various locations. The shows are entertaining, if a bit contrived. Many of Grylls' survival "tactics" are pure showbiz. And Stroud - while earnest - sometimes seems completely hapless. But who am I to judge when both shows have so obviously captured my son's imagination and inspired him to spend more time outside? Bear and Les have made me realize that television is a completely value-neutral device: it's only as good or bad as what you put into it or get out of it. A kid can use it to get inspired to go out in the woods and discover his own self-identity or he can use it to learn how to conform to what pop culture says he should be.

Here's hoping for more of the former and less of the latter,


rural mom

Bear Grylls finds a necessary reason to remove part or all of his clothing on almost every episode. My husband and son roll their eyes. I, however, have no complaints, until he follows it up by something like drinking his own urine. That's a bit far-fetched and repulsive, but still preferable to my son watching "The Suite Life of Zach and Cody", in my opinion.


Bear Grylls is certainly entertaining but some of his survival tactics are insane. he seems to always take the most dangerous route possible and at every opportunity gets himself completely soaking wet. Its always funny to see him choking down some absolutely awful "food". I bet the first good steak dinner he has after being out in the bush tastes amazing though

John C.

I too often find myself amazed at we Americans apparently consider entertainment, but I think television is like most things it can be good if used appropriately and in moderation.

I can't imagine what my life would be like if I hadn't watched PBS growing up. For me the science, history and cultural programs on PBS provided a window to the outside world and sparked a life long desire to see it and learn about it.


I enjoy "Survivorman" more because Stroud is completely on his own and does all his own filming. Also, I believe this Friday Stroud is doing an episode taking on the role of a lost hunter.


This is exactly what my 6th grade teacher said 24 years ago about TV

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