October 28, 2012

Too Much Television Programming Presents Supernatural as Fact

Exterior of the Edgar Allan Poe House and Muse...
Exterior of the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Here in the United States, educational material has always been rather scarce on television. There have been a few notable exceptions for programming aimed at young children (e.g., Sesame Street) and adults (e.g., Nova), but they represent a tiny proportion of what one finds on network and cable TV. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as we could simply recognize that TV is not the best place for educational material and look elsewhere. What I think might be a bad thing, however, is that there are far too many entertainment programs masquerading as educational.

Take a look at the History Channel, Discovery, the Learning Channel, the Travel Channel, and others that offer the pretense of having some educational value (i.e., content is typically presented as being factual). I suspect that some of these channels do include some educational programming, but it is minimal compared to their entertainment-oriented content, and the distinction between one and the other is rarely made explicit to viewers.

As some of you might suspect, it is no coincidence that I raise this subject as we approach Halloween. Some of the Halloween-oriented programming I have seen this year has been appalling. Much of it has actually suggested, in the serious tone usually reserved for facts, that supernatural entities are real.
The Edgar Allan Poe house here in Baltimore is one of our top haunted destinations, as many witnesses have reported seeing ghosts.
Yes, we'll just have to explain to our children that there is no evidence that ghosts exist and that skeptics have managed to debunk the few paranormal claims that have been tested. And we will have to do this because television will not. Instead, we get to hear from those who allegedly witnessed paranormal phenomena. They are paraded before the camera one-by-one to tell their stories like eyewitnesses to a crime. Skeptics do not fit the narrative, and so they are rarely included. Who wants to hear about boring science anyway?

I realize that we could ask whether it is fair to expect television to do anything other than reflect the culture in which we live. Given widespread belief in the supernatural here in the U.S., why would we expect television not to cater to it? But I cannot help wondering if the uncritical manner in which this material is presented on television might not have something to do with the popularity of some of these beliefs.

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