Michael Medved, perhaps best known for his role as co-host for “Sneak Previews,” the nationally televised weekly movie review, and the author of the controversial work, Hollywood vs. America, addressed the St.Thomas community on, “Confronting Media Lies About Marriage.” The following is an excerpt from his Sept. 21, 1999 speech at St.Thomas.
I want to begin by asking you a question. . . . “If you were to focus, in the style of self examination and social analysis, on the fundamental difference for humanity, particularly for U. S. American humanity, between the turn of the last century and the turn of this century, what would be the most significant change, the most significant difference that you could discern in the way people lived their lives in 1899 as opposed to the way people are leading their lives in 1999?”
“For most people their main source of information, whether they like it or not, is television.”
I am not now asking so much for some analysis of world events, or geo-political structures, but what’s the key difference for the way people live their lives? The answer may surprise you: time watching television.
Here is the most chilling statistic about American life that I think anyone can offer you. The statistic that at the end of the time when we go to meet our maker, the average American will have spent more time watching television than in all the jobs that individual will hold in a lifetime combined. We will have spent more time watching television in this life than any other single activity, with the exception of sleeping. And I’m not sure sleeping counts as an activity.
What I want to focus on is the way that this gigantic commitment of our time that we give to entertainment shapes, distorts and undermines our fundamental notions of marriage, of romance and of relationships.
And there are three areas here, three media lies in effect, that I want to confront along with you and then I want to open it up to your questions. Those distortions, those lies have to do, first of all, with a tremendous emphasis on dysfunction. . .This is something that was acknowledged with great wisdom even in an era before TV so greatly enhanced the lives of all of us. Leo Tolstoy, in the famous first lines of Anna Karenina, says all happy families are the same. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own compelling and dramatic way.
The sheer immersion in this material, which is by its very nature emphasizing dysfunction, creates, on the part of the public, an assumption that family life simply no longer works in this country. There are a series of remarkable surveys; I actually cite several of them in Hollywood vs. America. Overwhelming percentages say they would marry the same person over again if they had to do it. They say that they are very satisfied with their marriages. They say they are very satisfied with their children.
And then you turn around in the same survey and you ask the same person who says, “I’m very satisfied with my marriage. My marriage is perfect, everything is great in my life.” And ask what’s the state of marriage, in general, in America? “Oh, the state of marriage is going to heck in a hand basket. It’s no good at all, things are falling apart. It’s a disaster.” How can that be?
The answer is very simple. For most people their main source of information, whether they like it or not, in the wider world, is television.
So what is going on here? The nation buys into the dysfunctional message, especiallybecause it is so dramatic and it is so entertaining. And yet it remains a profound lie.
One of the most destructive messages we are sending to folks across the country is the notion that marriage has collapsed as an institution, it is impossible to have happy marriages today. There is evidence all around you if not in your own family, in families near you. That the institution of family is alive and well. That 70 percent of all children, below age 18, of all racial groups, are currently living in two parent families. And that all of the statistics are tricky and deceptive and are used to suggest to you this dramatic, alarmist nonsense that marriage is finished.
So one lie that you need to confront very directly, is the lie that tells you, “Well, we live in a post-marriage age.” Not for most people we don’t.
And that brings us to the second lie that I wanted to discuss with you. Which is the lie that emphasizes superficiality. The whole idea for building relationships and building marriage and building community is looking beneath the surface. And part of the problem with television as a medium, and movies as well, is that they are visual. The nature of a visual medium is that it plays directly to the emotions. Not to the mind, not to the soul, but to the emotions.
And that brings me to the third and to the final lie promulgated by media culture. And that is the lie that suggests that you are entitled to constant titillation, constant entertainment. A lie that makes us all impatient. That gives us a short attention span and emphasizes fun over happiness.
The difference is, happiness you work for, fun you just grab.
There’s nothing wrong with fun. Fun is a positive value but it’s very different from happiness. And here I’ve been profoundly influenced by a wonderful book by a friend of mine named Dennis Praeger. It’s a book called, Happiness is a Serious Problem. And one of the points that Praeger makes, and I think it’s worth making again and again and again, is that fun and happiness are profoundly different. Fun is something that you simply seize, it is fleeting, it is temporary. Happiness is long term, involving a long-term horizon and you have to work to earn it. The difference between fun and happiness in relationships could hardly be more profound.
Yes, it is possible that sexual adventurism, recreational sex, will provide some moments of fun. Though I believe the entertainment industry vastly overstates even those. But will that kind of approach to sexuality produce happiness? It hasn’t yet happened. The difference between fun and happiness when it comes to human relationships is the difference between marriage, which ideally, can produce happiness, and remains the best mechanism for producing personal happiness that human beings have ever devised, or simply recreational relationships that can produce fun but very, very seldom lead to any sort of happiness. The difference is again, happiness you work for, fun you just grab. Happiness has a chance of lasting, fun is by its very nature fleeting. And living in a media environment we live in an environment that absolutely and profoundly and inevitably pushes in the direction of fun.
In practical terms I would suggest, and I will conclude with this, its a very simple thing. Those of you who are students here, and I assume that’s most of you, probably have very little time to lavish on television right now. Statistics show that college students are the one group in the population where TV watching goes down dramatically. People watch a lot of TV in high school, they watch a lot of TV as young singles or even as young marrieds after they leave college. But during college TV watching goes down from about 20 hours a week in high school to about 10 hours a week. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s wonderful. Keep it that way.
You can claim an extra 10 years of life tonight. You can do it! Give yourself an extra 10 years of life by keeping your television viewing under control. If you make a commitment to save yourself just a half-hour a day less television than the average American, what a gift you give yourself.
A half-hour a day gives you fifteen extra hours a month to do that athletic program or that exercise program you’ve been meaning to do. Fifteen extra hours a month to learn a musical instrument. Fifteen extra hours a month to catch up on some of your reading. Fifteen extra hours a month to serve any cause that you choose to serve. Fifteen extra hours a month for relationships which might matter. Or maybe in this glorious corner of the United States, on a beautiful fall day like this one, what a chance to relish, by sane limitations on your TV viewing, 15 extra hours a month just to go outside and to revel in this magnificent world that God has given to every one of us.