Why should politicians be the only ones with stimulus plans? I happen to have a stimulus plan of my own. It would stimulate good moods and help rid of us of bad feelings and depression. It's very simple: I'm calling for this February 22nd to be National Turn Off TV News Day.
A recent University of Pittsburgh-Harvard Medical School study concluded that adolescents who watch too much TV have a greater chance of becoming depressed adults than those kids who don't watch a lot of television. For every additional hour of TV watched per day, the odds of becoming depressed increases by 8%. I'm not surprised. If I watch too much TV these days, there's a 100% chance that I'll get depressed. Especially if I watch the news.
Usually, the studies that portray TV as a villain are concerned about the content of TV and worry about viewers, especially kids, imitating the behavior they see on TV. I'm always a bit dubious about those studies. I guess that's because not one kid I grew up with turned into someone who thinks he can fly, is afraid of kryptonite, and has a best friend who's a talking horse.
But the Pittsburgh-Harvard researchers apparently weren't concerned about the content of what kids were watching on TV. They concluded that just watching television for hours, regardless of what's on, can contribute to an adolescent developing depression. When you throw in the dreary things on TV these days, it's no surprise.
If you watch the news every day, it's bound to bring you down. War rages on, every day more people lose their jobs, and Obama can't find a Cabinet candidate who has paid his taxes. And yet, I'm hooked on it. I even watch those cable shows that talk about the bad news that I just saw ... on The News.
The news isn't the only thing on TV that's likely to depress people. Some of the most popular programs are reality or game shows that have people getting rich, famous, or thin. So the audience who is worried about just paying their bills watches other people getting happy and set for life. What could be more depressing than that?
Then there are the TV dramas. They usually involve murder, and it's not like TV murders in the old days. Back then, somebody got shot, and then a smart cop or a brilliant lawyer got a suspect to confess. Now, solving the crime is just as gruesome as the crime itself. We get to see autopsies, and they show them to us in super-extreme close-up, with bodily functions moving in slow motion.
But no matter how dark those shows are, they're still not as gloomy as the news. Even the usually perky newscasters seem depressed as they tell us how much worse off the world is today than it was yesterday. Sometimes I feel like they are speaking directly to me. After reciting the latest stock losses, I almost expect the newscaster to look into the camera and say, "And Lloyd, your house lost another 3% today, your cholesterol drug has awful side-effects, and that shirt doesn't go with your pants."
The solution to all of this is obvious: If TV turns us off, we should turn off the TV. But I don't think it's realistic for those of us who are hooked on TV to just stop watching it, cold turkey. So, I propose that we start by not watching the programming that bums us out the most --- the news.
It won't be easy. Some of us are clearly news addicts. But let's try it one day at a time. And let's start on the birthday of someone who was very successful and never watched the news on TV -- George Washington.
Let's make February 22nd National Turn Off TV News Day. Tell your friends, make bumper stickers, shout it from the rooftops, call your Senators, organize Facebook groups, twitter your twitters. We can do this.
We'll be able to tell if this experiment is a success. On Sunday, February 22nd, if you see some people smiling who are usually grumpy, you'll know they turned off the news. If you're with some sports fans and they aren't talking about the latest athlete who got arrested, you'll know they turned off the news. And if you go out to dinner with someone, there's a sure-fire way of knowing. They definitely didn't watch the news if they pick up the check.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Home Improvement" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his website at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.