How TV Has Shaped Us – by Christopher Ackerman

One appliance has captured the attention of audiences for close to a century – the television (Detweiler and Taylor 186-187). Shockingly, “the average American watches over 4 hours (of TV) per day,” which equates to “2 months of non-stop TV-watching per year” and an astounding “78,705 hours of (one’s) life in front of the television” (Wise; cf. Lee; Panday and Lodha; Detweiler and Taylor 194, 196). In light of the often-present companion, a few questions beg center stage – How has TV affected me personally? Is it all negative or are there positive effects, as well? Is there any form of TV media that is worth pursuing for the sake of the gospel? These questions and beyond will be represented in what follows.

When considering the effects of TV, it is important to understand where it came from. Boris Rosing, the Russian scientist, was the first inventor to transmit, “geometric patterns onto a screen” in 1907, yet the future of TV found life on a Utahan potato field twenty years later (187; Bellis). Philo T. Farnsworth, while observing his freshly tilled land, “realized light could scan images the same way he was plowing the field” (Detweiler and Taylor 187). In light of his observation, the twenty-one-year-old Mormon teenager, on September 7th, 1927, “introduced the world’s first television show” (187; emphasis added; see also Stephens). Radios told the world what was happening and televisions added: “showing to telling” (Detweiler and Taylor 188; Detweiler 176). From “10,000 television sets in use in America” in 1946 to “5.36 billion Television viewers worldwide” in 2022, the explosion of Farnsworth’s inspiration took over (187; Wise). As Detweiler reveals, “Television serves as a comfort, a companion, a sedative, and an adventure;” it is “a mirror, an extension of our hopes and dreams, desires and depravities” (Detweiler and Taylor 185-186). The appliance that simply reflected geometric patterns had evolved into a “household appliance (that) would shape how we live” (188). This foundation (showing vs. telling) is essential when considering how and why TV affected me personally.

Pornography – In the fifth grade, I discovered pornography. I learned about sex through watching it on a screen. The beautiful desire that God places within a man and a woman to create life (and provide unparalleled intimacy and pleasure) had been thwarted (cf. Gen. 1.28, 2.25; Prov. 5.18-19; 1 Cor. 7.3-5; Carter). The depravities that ensued were atrocious – masturbation, premarital sex, constant immorality within the heart. Until I met Christ, I could not look at a woman I was attracted to without undressing her within my mind. I knew what it looked like on a screen and eventually applied what I learned from the screen to life.
Full House and 90210 – From 1987 to 1995 (Full House) and 1990 to 2000 (90210), the lives of the Tanners, Walshes, and beyond shaped my life. Through watching Full House, my concept of the family unit and ideal living conditions was challenged by a widowed father who lived with his three young daughters, brother-in-law, and best friend. Through watching 90210, my desire to move from boring, suburban New Jersey to exciting California mirrored the Walshes’ move from Minnesota to Beverly Hills. I looked at my life and yearned for theirs. As Detweiler supports, the Tanners, Walshes, and beyond had become “familiar friends,” of whom I had given into “the illusion of feeling connected, of being with … at the same hour each week” (192). Their lives shaped my life in the same way my classmates did at school.

Positive effects – McLuhan asserts and Detweiler emphasizes, “When Marshall McLuhan declared, ‘The medium is the message,’ he pointed out that what we watch is far less important than how we watch” (218). There is an astounding truth within that statement that parallels the power of seeing a glass half full. In the same way that watching pornography, Full House, and 90210 crippled me, it also taught me and inspired me. While I would never advocate for anyone watching pornography, in watching it I learned how wretched sex was outside of God’s intention. This truth gave me the strength to take a hammer (quite literally) to every pornographic item I owned and never look back. Admittedly, I do not know one friend who does not struggle with pornography, yet, because of my exposure and eventual revelation in Christ I am completely and utterly free of any desire for it in my life (see and consider Detweiler’s reflections on Requiem for a Dream 181-182). While I envied the lives of the characters in Full House and 90210, by adjusting how I watched it, I was also able to learn a ton about life. Both shows held to certain moral standards and handled pertinent issues that were applicable to that season of life. I learned that there were consequences to my actions through how Danny Tanner handled the failings of his daughter, DJ. I learned how to respect my father through how she submitted to hers. I learned about the tough road of love prior to marriage through Dylan and Brenda’s ongoing relationship. In and through my “familiar friends,” I learned about God and myself (185, 192).

TV media worth pursuing – Whitney Houston said it well, “I believe the children are our future | Teach them well and let them lead the way | Show them all the beauty they possess inside” (“Whitney Houston – Greatest Love of All Lyrics”). The programs that provide the greatest potential for the influence of Christ are children’s programming. They are the world’s future; therefore, the church must take their influences seriously. A few considerations from Detweiler are in order before providing practical steps for the church.

There are many parents who can relate to the much-needed breaks that accompany life with children. Sadly, and ashamedly, there are moments when parents turn to the “electronic baby-sitter” for help (i.e., the television). Admittedly, sometimes, the only way to quiet a child down is to put them in front of the TV. Detweiler supports, “Only television has managed to change kids from irresistible forces into immovable objects” (Detweiler and Taylor 204). He elaborates by suggesting “Kids are bored … because they want more – more info, more exposure, and more life” (204). Therein lay the potential for good and the potential for bad – the potential for growth and the potential of stagnation.

To further set the stage, Detweiler provides some staggering statistics, “A Preschool child, watching two hours of cartoons per day, would be exposed to ten thousand on-screen acts of violence per year. By age eleven, viewers will have witnessed eight thousand murders and one hundred thousand other examples of TV violence” (194). That should terrify any parent. With that said, it should also excite every parent. Why? If evil can have such a presence (and potential influence) in the precious lives of future generations, so could (and should) God. Three practical suggestions beg a stage – what, how, and what for.

What – The obvious practical step is that content needs to be made, but an important elaboration is in order. The church would be wise to consider Lewerenz and Nicolosi’s advice for why non-Christian filmmakers are making better Christian films than Christians are – (1) because they are making them for mainstream audiences (Lewerenz and Nicolosi 56, 63); (2) because they understand that cinema is an art form of symbol and metaphor (58, 64); and (3) because they are often more successful at representing sin in film (61, 64). While content must be created in light of children as the audience, it must be created in order to achieve effectiveness.

How – Detweiler asserts, “Teachers, pastors, and activists must learn how to enlighten and entertain simultaneously” (Detweiler and Taylor 202). The mind of a child is forced to process information from a plethora of sources at rapid speed on a daily basis. A trend in screen time has affected everyone and children are no exception. The “average American spends 7 hours a day looking at a screen,” the average Brazilian spends “10.08 hours a day,” and “the average Filipino spends “nearly 11 hours every day” (Moody). When all is said and done, “the average U.S. adult will spend the equivalent of 44 years of their life staring at screens,” which equates to about two-thirds of the average lifespan (“Average U.S.”). Children are in front of screens constantly. Their minds are used to handling loads of information that enlightens and entertains simultaneously. Therefore, when they turn to the TV, they must receive the same stimulation they are receiving from other screens to process it similarly.

What for – Detweiler provides powerful support for the intention of creation, “We are called to develop good eyes, not blind eyes. We must train the next generation to see the world through God’s compassionate eyes for the poor, the widow, the orphan. We desperately need to create entertainment that moves beyond escape to engagement” (202). This is the heartbeat of James 2.14-22. If the church only entertains with the message of Christ, the Great Commission will never see the light of day (Matt. 28.18-20). The church is called to “stir up one another to love and good works,” therefore, the church must encourage engagement (Heb. 10.24-25). As the wisest king admonished, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (English Standard Version, Prov. 22.6). If the church follows these (or similar) steps, children (and future generations) will once again become irresistible forces for the glory of Christ.
In closing, the household appliance that occupies space in “121 million” US homes alone has the ability to inspire greatness for the glory of Christ or cripple the church with an ill-centered vice. As Detweiler powerfully conveys, “This simple appliance serves as the ultimate dream machine – what we turn to for advice, from what we wear to how we behave” (188). If the church can see the great potential, in creating quality content, that speaks of the glories of Christ, through the language of the culture, then, the church will be living its mission through the art of entertainment. The TV is far from only a household appliance, it is a culture-shaking glory-making machine!

Works Cited
“Average U.S. Adult Will Spend Equivalent of 44 Years of Their Life Staring at Screens: Poll.” People, 3 June 2020,

Bellis, Mary. “Television History and the Cathode Ray Tube.” ThoughtCo., 6 April 2017,,as%20the%20cathode%20ray%20oscilloscope.&text=Rosing%20transmitted%20crude%20geometrical%20patterns,do%20so%20using%20a%20CRT.

Carter, Paul. “5 Surprising Things That the Bible Says about Sex.” The Gospel Coalition, 15 August 2018,

Detweiler, Craig. iGods. Grand Rapids, Brazos Press, 2013.

Detweiler, Craig and Barry Taylor. A Matrix of Meanings: finding God in pop culture (Engaging Culture). Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2003.

The Holy Bible. English Standard Version. Crossway, 2001.

Lee, Craig T. “Screen zombies: Average person will spend 44 years looking at digital devices – and that’s before COVID!” Study Finds, 26 December 2020,

Lewerenz, Spence and Barbara Nocolosi. Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film, and Culture. Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2005.

Moody, Rebecca. “Screen Time Statistics: Average Screen Time in US vs. the rest of the world.” Comparitech, 8 June 2021,,at%20a%20screen%20every%20day.

Panday, Apurvakumar and Pragya Lodha. “Social Connectedness, Excessive Screen Time During COVID-19 and Mental Health: A Review of Current Evidence.” Frontiers in Human Dynamics, 22 July 2021,,2020%20(Beech%2C%202020).&text=Numerous%20studies%20have%20highlighted%20the,%3B%20however%2C%20they%20are%20scattered.

Stephens, Mitchell. “History of Television.” Grolier Encyclopedia. Accessed 29 September 2022.
“Whitney Houston – Greatest Love of All Lyrics |” AZLyrics, Accessed 29 September 2022.

Wise, Jason. “How Many People Watch TV In 2022? (User Statistics).” Earthweb, 6 September 2022,

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