Media Literacy Online Project - Serving Educators Around The World
Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

Home Sick with TV

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer

Remember when you were a little kid and got to stay home sick from school? I do.

In the Walsh house, it usually meant settling in on the couch in the living room with a pillow and a blanket, warm ginger ale and a whole day's worth of daytime TV. I can still vaguely recall some of the programs - cartoons in the morning, then "My Little Margy" and the "Gale Storm Show," "The Price Is Right" and "The Match Game." "Queen for a Day" and "Beat the Clock."

When I stayed home from school sick one day last week, I set myself up on the couch again and while not trying to re-live my youth (I know better than that), I just watched TV most of the day. Truth be told, taking four different kinds of cold pills (watch out for the red ones!) and washing them down with Ny-Quill and Flu-Ade makes for a VERY interesting TV experience. There's a lot I saw that I guess I don't remember or is fuzzy (maybe it was the TV), but what I do recall is clear and colorful.

And since I know that most of you readers don't get to watch daytime TV (and since I'm still a little feverish yet), I thought I'd give you a brief report.

First of all, the addition of 341 cable channels to watch while you're home sick provides little, if any, variety. The movie channels show quite awful films during the daytime, and if you don't count all of the home shopping channels, kids' shows, religious programming, and do-it-yourself shows, you're still down to the basic four or five choices you've always had.

I confess that I watched Jerry Springer. For those of you who are still missing this mid-day glimpse into the lower levels of the food chain, I should tell you that Springer doesn't show fighting any more. Nope. No fights. Well, actually they only cut out the actual throwing of punches, so what you wind up with is three or four minutes of guests standing face to face screaming insults at each other, a jump cut, then a shot of Springer's security force restraining folks whose clothing is freshly askew.

By the way, the Spinger security people have become such celebrities that big, bald Steve (the chief heavy) now gets his own introduction and entrance at the beginning of the program, and once during every show a giggling female asks permission to run up on stage and caress his shiny dome (to the cheers of the audience). Springer himself is introduced as "the eighth wonder of the world" (I kid you not), and regularly pokes fun at his guests, their problems and lifestyles, his audience, and himself.

A relatively new feature of the show is the "audience insult" portion right at the end, just before Jerry's homily. Springer walks through the crowd, handing the mike to audience members who make fun of guests' weight, ignorance, dental hygiene, and clothing. I kid you not.

The other talk shows (Maury, Sally, Jenny, Ricki, et al) seem to have hit on two new ways to garner ratings. Apparently they've purchased expensive lie detectors and DNA machines, so that often they run their normal show with fighting couples or adulterous cousins with the promise that the "real truth" will be revealed later in the show. It's amazing how many dummies there still are out there who think that they can beat a lie detector or DNA test, and it is great fun to see them get their comeuppance.

Another big trend (and audience pleaser, I guess) is the thinly veiled revenge upon wild teenage girls. A show will bring out 14-year-olds who have had dozens of sex partners or brats who mouth off to their mothers or kids who dress sexy or use drugs or whatever. The audience is given enough time to hate these kids (and the kids are given enough time to be really obnoxious), and then Maury or Sally will introduce some drill-sergeant type who comes on to verbally abuse these kids before they're shipped off to some weekend survival camp or prison or something (with the cameras capturing every tear-filled breakdown). It's a new low.

But when you're sitting at home with glazed eyes fixed upon the tube, you watch it all with interest, even the commercials. There are the Tarot card readers, telephone psychics, and "learn a new trade while sitting at home watching these shows" diploma schools. There are also a lot of personal injury lawyers, each one promising that it won't cost you a cent unless you win your case. One guy came on with a "Hey! It's winter, time for slips and falls!" commercial, while yet another promises to send a law van directly to your house (presumably so you won't have to get up off the couch).

Later, there are the court shows with the judges who are rude and abusive (the New York woman, the ex-boxing referee, and the black judge who used to be "on the wrong side of the law," among others). There are divorce courts and animals courts and people's courts galore - not to mention the Courtroom Channel, where you can see real lawyers cross-examining real witnesses in real trials where real lawyers back in the studio discuss real strategy with the real audience.

I think that I took too many tiny little time capsules right about then, because when I awoke, I was watching Rosie or Oprah or something like that. All I know was that the intellectual content was much too heavy for me to follow in my weakened state.

On the whole, I found daytime TV to be as sick as I was. Or vice-versa; I'm not sure.

But for that one day, we were made for each other.