Magazine April 18, 2011, Issue

Tocqueville and the Tube

TV makes us dull and fat, and bad citizens too

Television makes us fat, lazy, inattentive, unsociable, mistrustful, materialistic — and unhappy about all of that. It cheapens political discourse, weakens family ties, prevents face-to-face socializing, and exposes kids to sex and inures them to violence. Yet Americans can’t get enough. In 1950, just 9 percent of U.S. households owned a television; by 1960 it was 90 percent, and by the year 2000 TVs were just about everywhere. Now the average U.S. household has more TVs than people.

High-quality programs may enrich us, and moderate viewing is not so bad. We do not view moderately, though. According to the Nielsen Company,

Ben BergerMr. Berger is an associate professor of political science at Swarthmore College. He is the author of AttentionDeficit Democracy: The Paradox of Civic Engagement from Princeton University Press.

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