TV is making us fat and stupid

TV is making us fat and stupid

I clicked on two articles today that, when put together, prove that we as a society are currently on the express train heading straight for Those-fat-people-in-Wall-E-ville.

The first one, via Pacific-Standard Magazine, cited a study in which people asked to watch scenes from either The Island (the much-maligned Michael Bay movie starring Scar Jo and Ew Mac) or Charlie Rose's serious PBS interview show.

The researchers plopped a metric fuckton of food down in front of the subjects and told them they could eat as much (candy! fruit! cookies! carrots!) as they wanted. The people who watched The Island (even those who watched it with the sound off) ate more and the people who watched Charlie Rose ate less. Though they did all eat some.

This doesn't come as much surprise to me. I'm a Weight Watcher, and one of the "routines" we discuss in meetings is trying to eat meals free of distraction. This is one of the hardest things for me. For me, watching TV + food = great pleasure. This is something I've been dealing with my entire life. I'm sure I'm not alone. It's hard to flip that mental switch.

Another thing that goes along with the whole eating-free-of-distractions thing is that we actually eat less or eat more slowly when we're eating with other people. So, the distraction thing doesn't apply to interpersonal conversation. Talking to others during mealtime is actually helpful when it comes to weight loss. It makes sense, then, that a more conversational show, like Charlie Rose, would lead to less food being shoveled into the mouth. I'm inclined to believe that we eat more during a quick-cutting Michael Bay movie just to cope with all the stimuli.

I read this study on the same day that J.F. Sargent wrote an article for Cracked about how binge watching is ruining television.

He watched all of Hemlock Grove (a Netfilx original, of which I've somehow remained blissfully ignorant) over the course of a day, ordering in food, drinking beer, avoiding other people. And he didn't even like the show. He just kept watching it and watching it, and even went so far as to start watching the second season immediately after finishing the first.

I feel like there's a lot to unpack in this article, but I think he's right about a lot of things, including the notion that TV keeps us from having to think for ourselves. We've been fed this line that Netflix shows or cable shows are somehow "better," which is true for some shows, but not all. Watching True Blood does not equal watching The Wire. And, apparently, watching Hemlock Grove does not equal watching Orange is the New Black. Broadcast location does not equal quality.

But even if you are watching quality television, television that challenges perception while spinning a good yarn, if you're consuming one episode after another and another and another without thinking about it, then are you truly taking anything away from it? Are you truly learning anything or processing what you've seen? Or is it, as he posits in the article, mindless potato chip munching for your eyes and ears?

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