Speaking to the National Association of Broadcasters in May 1961, FCC Chairman Newton Minow famously introduced the characterization of television as a “vast wasteland.
This week, we are “Thinking Inside the Box!” The box we have in mind? Television -- of all things. We’re looking at TV through the lens of philosophy.
Now we admit that television is often descried as a “vast wasteland” of mind-numbing entertainment. That’s how Newton N. Minnow, former chair of the FCC, described the medium, in a very famous speech, way back described in the 60’s. And for his efforts, he got a shipped named after him – the S. S. Minnow of Gilligan Island fame. Certainly there was and still is lots of truth in Minnow’s complaint. Far too often, TV appeals to the lowest common denominator by promoting tasteless titillation and graphic gore.
But Television also has its better angels. At its best television can be an amazingly powerful medium. Through the magic of television, we can experience the whole drama of human life. Witness history unfolding. And be transported to the far reaches of the imagination. And our goal in this episode of Philosophy Talk is to honor and encourage the better angels of television, by shining the klieg lights on TV programs past and present, that make us think.
We examine television programs that wrestle with gut-wrenching ethical dilemmas. There are shows that probe the enduring conflict between faith and reason or religion and science. And there are those that plumb the depths of mind-bending metaphysical mysteries. We hope to make this an annual event, along the lines of our highly successful Dionysus Awards show for the most compelling philosophical movies of the year. We haven’t framed this one as an award show, since we are as much focused on honoring shows of the past as shows of the present. But our goal is the same in both instances – to help do our tiny little part to encourage more thought-provoking program in the vast wasteland.
To help us out, we’ll be joined on air by a slew of thoughtful people – including a pair of television critics, some past guests of our show, and a line up of regular listeners. We’d also like you to join in the discussion by contributing your observations about thought-provoking TV to this open blog entry.