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Television. The Worst Years of Our Lives by Ehrenreich Essay

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Updated: Dec 15th, 2021

The book The Worst Years of Our Lives by Barbara Ehrenreich gives insight into life in the 1980s following the invention of television (TV) dating a few years back during the 20th century. Her assertion comes upon realization that much that goes on on TV does not reflect regular life because it has become boring. She argues that regular life is in fact too boring to broadcast because TV has transformed most Americans into couch potatoes. She argues that this was not the case before its invention since most people were active and would actually do some of these things on TV but they have instead chosen a sedentary lifestyle, either because it has become tasking or cumbersome for them to peel themselves off the couch or because it is too dangerous to do some of these things. This is not quite the reason, in my opinion, for the vegetative effect that TV has on most people. I believe that TV is mostly entertaining and enriching until the point where people let it govern their lives; not because of the content but the personal choice not to do anything else with their lives.

The point of TV has never been to reflect ordinary and daily lives of people. Rather, it has been a mode of entertainment. The fast cars, the gun battles and the general excitement of adrenaline inducing activities have always been the main objective in broadcast TV. Most people want to see what they cannot have in normal life reflected on- screen by actors and cartoon characters. When someone sees the cartoon rendition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, they are taken into a world of fantasy with boundless possibilities. Some people may actually believe such a world exists while others just see it as entertainment and move on with their lives. My argument here is therefore, that those who get sucked into these false perceptions are more likely to become couch potatoes not only because it is a release but also because it is an escape from reality which may not be as fairy-tale like as portrayed in TV; it is more a psychological effect and a matter of choice than content based (Ehrenreich par.1). Ehrenreich reinforces my argument about the purpose of TV by saying, “…And what they do do –watching television is far too boring to be televised for more than a fraction of a second even by Any Warhol, bless his boredom -proof little heart…” (Ehrenreich par.2).

Ehrenreich’s argument that TV somehow made people less active because the activities portrayed are dangerous is also vague and not particularly true (Ehrenreich par. 3). People on TV do other things that are not necessarily daring. For example, the 1980 movie and series 9 to 5 portrayed the lives of ordinary women and their lives as the working class. This in fact is an inspiration for people not to become couch potatoes but work harder in life to achieve their goals. This is therefore not a reason why one chooses to vegetate on the couch fearing bodily harm if they stop watching TV and get more active.

The convenience of watching TV from one’s living room gives a feeling of relaxation and comfort. When seeing pictures and video on TV directly from the couch, it is very easy for someone to get accustomed to the expediency and comfort to the point that they start to waste their lives away. It can breed a feeling of slothfulness such that one begins to rationalize it as an unnecessary inconvenience to get up and do other activities aside from watching TV. Ehrenreich however blames this lethargy on the effect of not seeing ourselves portrayed in the light of normal real life boring activities like watching TV. Ehrenreich seems to be implying that by watching this activity we may somehow wake up out of our oblivion and realize that such people are in fact root vegetables (Ehrenreich par. 2). I believe however that the psychological choice to be inactive cannot simply be dissolved by seeing images of people watching for hours on end. For example, by observing most couch potatoes, we realize that most are depressed or lack self-esteem or are inherently lazy. It has nothing to do with not seeing people watching TV.

In conclusion, TV content may be selective in its portrayal of life but this is not a fault or negative on the part of broadcasters. As mentioned above TV is chiefly a source of entertainment and stress release. It is a reflection of what we cannot ordinarily have and what we wish to have. One need only to observe their neighbors if they want to see “real life” and the effects of TV in making one mindlessly glue their eyes to TV for hours. We need not to see the images of people watching TV for prolonged periods to jolt ourselves out of the trance, which we sometimes get dragged into whilst watching TV. It calls for an exerted effort on the part of TV viewers to exercise our own choice and rationale in regulating TV hours and making sure, we have self-control.

Works Cited

Ehrenreich, Barbara. The Worst Years of Our Lives. New York: International Creative Management, 1991. Print.

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