TV as addiction
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., March 2, 2002) -- Would you give your child a substance that made him feel tired, dizzy or nauseated? That caused him to feel passive when he had it, and anxious or depressed when it was taken away from him? That induced extreme mood swings? And on top of this all, it was highly addictive?

Of course you wouldn’t. Besides being illegal, giving a child such a mind-altering substance – a drug, really -- would be morally reprehensible. And no one who loved his child would knowingly submit him to the effects of an addictive drug, at least without doctor’s orders.

The only problem is, it’s happening every day, all over the nation and all over the world, in almost every home and school, and increasingly in public places, like doctors’ waiting rooms and airplane and hotel lobbies, and with the tacit consent of parents, teachers and the law.

Scientific American

In “Television Addiction” in the February issue of Scientific American, authors Robert Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi report the results of various studies examining the biochemical effects on the brain of excessive TV viewing.

The authors liken the physical and behavioral responses of serious TV watchers to other compulsions, inclduing drugs and gambling. Scientific surveys have found that TV viewers “commonly reflect that television has somehow absorbed or sucked out their energy, leaving them depleted,” write the authors. “They say they have more difficulty concentrating after viewing than before.”

Like those addicted to habit-forming drugs, TV viewers experience the “vague learned sense that they will feel less relaxed if they stop viewing. … Viewing begets more viewing.” Ironically, the longer people watch, the less they enjoy watching, and the more frustrated and depressed they feel.

These studies were generally conducted on adults; one can only surmise that TV’s power to affect children’s and teen-agers’ minds is even greater.

It remains to be proven scientifically if the effects of computer video games and web surfing are equally harmful and addictive as those of TV viewing. Anectodal evidence certainly suggests that they are.

Approached critically, electronic and digital media can be useful tools, in the same way that pharmaceuticals can do wonders when taken in the correct dosage and under the supervision of a medical professional (think of him as the cultural critic of drugs).

Used indiscriminately, however, TV, computer games, and the Internet can be as destructive to the individual’s mind – and to the fabric of family and community life – as the abuse of alcohol, nicotine, or hard drugs.

In the meantime, it’s time for warning labels on all these products. And most importantly, it’s time for some serious soul-searching on the part of those who submit themselves and their children to the awesome, terrible, destructive power of TV and computer games.

Atlantic Monthly

Seth Lipsky is at it again. The Berkshire native and former Eagle staffer is once again flying against conventional wisdom in the newspaper industry.

Last time out, he had the seemingly hare-brained scheme to revive the old Yiddish Forverts newspaper as an English-language weekly. The resulting Forward, which he ran for the better part of a decade, has been a rousing success, quickly establishing itself as the premiere Jewish weekly newspaper, whose political, business and cultural reporting is unmatched in terms of quality and scope – in sum, required reading among the intelligentsia. (Full disclosure: I have occasionallly written for The Forward.)

This time out, cynics are gunning for Lipsky, who now has the audacious idea of launching a new, five-day-a-week newspaper in New York. According to David Carr’s “The Birth of the ‘Sun’,” in the March issue of the Atlantic, Lipsky’s initial goals are modest: a 20-page, “metro-focused broadsheet with a single section,” geared to 20,000 readers impatient with “the genetic liberalism” of the New York Times.

It’s been a long time since anyone successfully ran a newspaper based on ideology, but this was standard practice in the mid-19th century. Those funding Lipsky’s Sun, according to Carr, are not in it for the money – they recently bought the perennial red-ink producer, the New Republic, and as investors in Lipsky’s Forward, they are familiar with the difficulties of making a profit in the news business.

Lipsky himself is somewhat fatalistic about the Sun’s long-term chances for success. “Obviously [we] would like to see this succeed,” he says. “But failure at something like this would not be the most disgraceful thing in the world either.”

Here’s wishing him the greatest success.


Mikal Gilmore digs out his notes and recounts a career-full of interviews with Leonard Cohen, best known as the singer-songwriter who wrote such anguished love songs as “Suzanne” and “I’m Your Man,” in the March issue of Spin magazine.

Gilmore catches up with Cohen, who has recently come down from the mountain, literally, after a half-decade retreat in a Zen monastery in Northern California, and released a new album, the aptly-titled “Ten New Songs.”

In reviewing Cohen’s early career as a poet and writer before he turned to music --- work that included “The Spice Box of Earth,” a 1961 poetry collection that “fixed his poisition as Canada’s major new literary voice,” and “Beautiful Losers,” a 1966 work of semiautobiographical fiction that was “formally daring” and that “many still cite as a major event in postwar literature” -- Gilmore claims that Cohen turned his back on a career that could have made him the equal of authors like Norman Mailer, Thomas Pynchon and Henry Miller. You can just feel the sales rankings of Cohen’s old and out-of-print works getting a sudden boost by those curious to find out if what Gilmore says has any basis in reality.

One also wonders what the readers of Spin – a magazine typically devoted to the flavor-of-the-month bands favored by high-schoolers – will make about this 67-year-old musician, easily old enough to be their grandfather, and of whom they’ve likely never heard. Even moreso, one wonders what they would make of his music – the lethargic tempos, his dour, minor-key melodies, his gravelly, nicotine-heavy song-speak.

Actually, they might just like it.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on March 2, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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