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Sheila Shayon Headshot

The (2nd) Oldest Trade

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One evening a Cherokee elder told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside every person.

"My son, the battle is between two wolves. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is God. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith."

The grandson pondered a moment and then asked: "Which wolf wins?"

The grandfather replied, "The one you feed."

As a life-long student of and participating professional in media -- I ask:
what is television feeding us now?

First came CBS's announcement of its newest reality competition series, There Goes the Neighborhood, (August 9 at 9pm). A seven-episode series puts eight suburban families from the same neighborhood behind a 20-foot wall competing in "family-friendly games" for a grand prize of $250,000.

The 20-foot surrounding wall completely cuts these eight families off from the outside world -- no internet access, no texting, no television. Each family must work together to avoid weekly elimination. (So, sort of "Survivor" goes urban with family.)

Then, Discovery Channel announces its survival experiment series, The Colony, (July 21 at 10pm). A ten-episode series, ten volunteers from different backgrounds, living for two months in an abandoned L.A. warehouse, isolated -- "as if the world as we know it has been destroyed." With no electricity, no running water, no outside communication -- they are charged with building a functioning society.

A functioning society?!

Television remains our modern pulpit, and our voracious appetite and enthusiasm for it seem unquenchable. But serious attention should be paid to the media diet we are being fed -- and its effects on our minds and hearts.

"This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire.
But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends.
Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box.
There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful."
Edward R. Murrow, October, 1958

This weapon of television could be very useful right now -- as we sort out enormous social, political, and economic challenges. But are we feeding the right wolves...?

"See It Now" (1951-57), was one of television's earliest documentary series. It set the standard for courage and commitment in broadcast journalism...a standard that remains today. When "See It Now" debuted, November 18, 1951, Edward R. Murrow, then radio's premier reporter, jumped hesitantly to television. "This is an old team trying to learn a new trade."

Perhaps it is time for the current teams producing reality television today to re-learn an old trade from the early days of the medium -- when the possibility of illumination and inspiration burned brightly.