Monday, December 26, 2011

The lesser of two.

One of my personal favourites is the image of a cigarette in arced profile, flaccid and droopy, with the tip shriveled in ash. The caption is hardly necessary: “Tobacco use can make you impotent.”

Thank-you, Health Canada. The ol’ “Smoking Kills” was simple and to-the-point but strangely less effective.

Readers of this blog hardly need such a crass warning. We’re intelligent adults. We think with our heads. We know. Inhaling the airborne effluent of smouldering tobacco is unhealthy. We shouldn’t do it. Enough said.

But what about television? Hardly anything is said anymore about the healthiness of T.V.

Kurt Vonnegut is one exception: “Future generations will look back on TV as the lead in the water pipes that slowly drove the Romans mad.”

Did ancient Romans solder their plumbing with lead? I don’t know. I missed that episode on the History Channel. But it would be a pretty dumb thing to do. Lead is very unhealthy.

Kurt figures television is like lead-laced drinking water. It make us ‘mad,’ foggy-thinking political pushovers. Is he right? Does a steady diet of passive entertainment tapped and swallowed in the comfort of our own homes somehow reduce the strength and character of our culture?

In the past week, Christopher Hitchens and Vaclav Havel have both died from decades of tobacco use.  Here a morbid question presents itself: What if instead of smoking they had watched T.V.? A straight trade, time spent sucking on a tube of tobacco for time spent staring at a tube of boob. For one, they would almost certainly still be alive. But how alive? And alive as whom?

Kim Jong Il also died a few days ago. Notoriously little is known about the secretive dictator. But we do know that he once kidnapped and held hostage a movie Director for the purpose of creating one of the few gifts that he gave to his masses.

Whatever else can be said of Havel and Hitch, neither was a pushover or a passive thinker. And it’s no secret that the deceased Supreme Leader was a manipulative despot.

Just a quick skim of recent obituaries, and of the two evils, television is looking the worse from where I sit.

We all know that tobacco is unhealthy. We know it so well that we have sent smokers hovelling to the margins of our vocational and social lives. The only thing our culture knows with equal measure about T.V. is that it is mysteriously integral to our fragile economy and unimpeachable in our most intimate spaces.

We approvingly endure the mini infomercials before our videos because they assure us it’s the tobacco companies that are trying to make a life-sucking habit look acceptable. The tacit message: The Entertainment industry (good guys) will helpfully identify the bad guys (peddlers of harmful addictive stimulants).

It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison, true, since T.V. can’t “kill” us in the simple sense. But a refrain from an Adbusters culture-jam comes to mind: “Do you spend more time watching sex on T.V. than actually making love?”

Maybe Health Canada should expand its campaign.

Television may not make life shorter, but there’s a good chance it’ll make it smaller.