Television: The World’s Uniter

AFGHANISTAN and the United States have little in common. This dichotomy is perhaps best expressed in television terms: in the U.S., the war exists on TV while our daily lives are peaceful. In Afghanistan, the war is right outside, but on TV there’s a chance for escape.

Yet a converse example is also sprouting, says The New York Times, as Afghans are spending time on their keester glued to the screen:

But television is off to a phenomenal start, with Afghans now engrossed, for better or worse, in much of the same escapist fare that seduces the rest of the world: soap operas that pit the unbearably conniving against the implausibly virtuous, chefs preparing meals that most people would never eat in kitchens they could never afford, talk show hosts wheedling secrets from those too shameless to keep their troubles to themselves.

The latest national survey, which dates from 2005, shows that 19 percent of Afghan households own a television, a remarkable total considering not only that owning a TV was a crime under the Taliban but that a mere 14 percent of the population has access to public electricity. In a study this year of Afghanistan’s five most urban provinces, two-thirds of all people said they watched TV every day or almost every day.

“Maybe Afghanistan is not so different from other places,” said Muhammad Qaseem Akhgar, a prominent social analyst and newspaper editor. “People watch television because there is nothing else to do.” [Read full]

Yes, in a bombed-out war zone where going outside may get you killed, it makes sense that people would stay in and want to be transported someplace else for a while. According to the same article, a dismally low literacy rate in Afghanistan  means that reading is not an option for many.

So the Afghans have their reasons for loving the glowing box. But what’s our excuse? Though I’ll shamelessly defend my watching of Family Guy and Anthony Bourdain’s show on the Travel Channel, I’m a bit more embarrassed about vegging out with reruns when I would do better to read, spend time with a friend or just go to sleep.

Too often it seems that television is just a way to “kill time.” Seems such a waste when I think about the fact that time will eventually end up killing us.


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