ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

TURKEY TELEVISION

I saw a story on the news the other day about an eaglet that somehow became separated from his mother. A turkey farmer found him and brought him back to his farm to see if the little bird could survive by bonding with the birds there.

The eagle had done quite well, growing to powerful, handsome maturity. But there's a problem: the eagle has been living and acting and one can only assume thinking like a turkey for so long that he seems to believe that he IS one. According to the news story, the turkey farmer has been trying to teach the eagle to fly, but the majestic bird has been groveling for grain with the turkeys for so long he can't seem to grasp the concept.

I've been thinking about that eagle lately a magnificent creature that has the potential to soar with . . . well, with eagles. But he's grounded just as surely as if his wings had been clipped because experience has taught him to focus his attention on the ground rather than the heavens.

Of course, he's a bird. We humans would never allow ourselves to fall in to such a trap.

Would we?

A colleague was complaining about the explicit pictures that were coming into her home while watching a highly publicized "reality"-based program.

"It's disgusting," she said. "Why do they have to go into such graphic detail?"

"I thought this show was known for that sort of thing," I said. "What did you expect?"

"I expect them to remember that there are children out there," she said. "I had to send my kids to their rooms."

"Why don't you just turn the TV off," I wondered, "or change the channel?"

"Are you kidding?" she replied. "This was the season finale! I couldn't miss that!"

So it's come to this: voyeurism as must-see TV, with pseudo-documentaries and tawdry game shows parting closed curtains and inviting curious gawkers to see and hear what they've never seen or heard before whether or not it's any of their business.

In a way, television is like that eagle. It is an incredible medium, capable of soaring to wondrous heights. That's why it's so frustrating when it expends so much energy on turkey stuff. But television isn't solely responsible for this trend toward indiscretion. My experience with the medium (including six years as a newspaper's television critic) leads me to believe that TV's decision-makers only give the public what they think it wishes to see. Unfortunately, they rarely underestimate the moral depths to which large numbers of television viewers are willing to sink.

How else do you explain Jerry Springer, Howard Stern and "Blind Date"?

Which, come to think of it, makes us a little like that eagle, too doesn't it? The more we devour the studied mindlessness and exploitation television feeds us, the less likely TV will be to invest the creative energy required to produce programs that help our minds expand and our souls soar. It's up to us to demand excellence from television through our viewing habits or else the quality options will disappear entirely, replaced by a steady diet of soap operas, leering talk shows and sensationalized perspectives on reality.

Then it really will be turkey television. And maybe that will be enough to finally make us reach for the "off" switch.

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--- © Joseph Walker

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Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com.