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Arguing Against Television Addiction

Marie Winn classifies television watching as an addictive and destructive behavior, drawing similarities between it and the abuse of drugs and alcohol. On the surface, this claim seems justifiable and arguments can be made in its favor. However it is Winn’s equating television with drugs and alcohol that is ultimately the downfall of her argument, demonstrating a misapplication of the term “addiction” and all of its conditions to television watching. First, let us define addiction in the sense that Winn interprets it.

She claims, “The essence of any serious addiction is a pursuit of pleasure, a search for a ‘high’ that normal life does not supply. It is only the inability to function without the addictive substance that is dismaying. ” This claim, made only three paragraphs into the piece, immediately casts doubt on her interpretation of addiction. The addiction Winn is speaking of sounds similar enough to dependence upon drugs and alcohol, but the consequences do not. The inability to function normally without the substance in question is not the only “dismaying” consequence.

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Alcoholics drink themselves into early graves through liver and kidney failure or elevated blood pressure and heart attack. Heroin addicts frequently overdose as they naturally build an immunity to the drug and require more for the same high. Television lacks any of these direct physical detriments that are associated with addictive substances. The only similarity left when taking her skewed frame of the term “addiction” into account is that television is a pleasurable experience, hardly grounds for labeling as addictive.

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But lets accept, for the moment, that Winn’s definition of addiction is adequate. One might respond to my claim that television has no physical side effects with the opposing claim: Your avid television watcher is likely to be overweight and pale, physical symptoms resulting from sitting indoors and watching television all day. They would be correct in their assumption, but not in their reasoning. Obesity and pale skin is a result from simply not going outside and getting exercise. The same effect could be reproduced if someone just sat on a couch for days at a time not watching television.

The television itself does not cause these symptoms, it merely motivates people to practice behavior that produces them. In addition, the consumption of alcohol and injection of heroin literally changes the brain chemistry of the user. Dopamine receptors are altered and left crippled, permanently, if usage is maintained over a long period of time. Television on the other hand does not do this to the same degree. Sure, there might be a small burst of pleasure when someone’s favorite show comes on, but nothing near what a tripping heroin addict feels.

I feel happy when my parents come to Colorado to visit me, I am not addicted to them. Addiction has more than jus a physical element, however, and since Winn fails to address the physical aspect of addiction let us now turn the behavioral. Winn visits this when she compares a heroin addict and a television addict. The heroin addict shuns work, relationships and human contact in order to feed their addiction. In Winn’s eyes, the television addict does the same when they “they put off other activities to spend hour after hour watching television. In short the television watcher is doing the same, drawing into themselves and ignoring anything that could distract from feeding their addiction. In this case Winn is having trouble with cause and effect. A heroin addict changes their behavior to perpetuate the feeling the drug gives them. They may have turned to the drug for a variety of reasons, but a true addict acts only out of concern for getting the next fix. The drug causes the behavior. Television on the other hand can be treated as the behavior caused by something else.

Procrastination afflicts nearly everyone at some point, and often with great regularity. A procrastinator will engage in many mundane tasks to avoid work, television chief amongst them. Someone who puts off other activities to watch television may in fact be watching television to put off other activities. To demonstrate that this logic is completely inapplicable to drugs and further distance television from the realm of addiction one might pose a question: could you say that heroin users inject themselves with heroin in order to put off work as well?

The major problem with Winn’s argument is its extremity. She tries to paint television as an addiction when everything she points to as evidence merely constitutes a bad habit. She shows a partial view of addiction, only the behavioral, in order to be able to apply it to television watching. She has fallen into the logical trap: “all carrots are orange, my had is orange, therefore my hat is a carrot. ” In this case it might read, “All addicts do X, television watchers do X, therefore television watchers are addicts. Habits can be damaging and even obsessive, but they differ from addiction in the physical and mental effects they have on the practitioner. The negative physical symptoms of excessive television watching are in reality the negative effects of not exercising. The positive effect of producing pleasure fails to even approach the height of drugs and alcohol, and finally, the behavior of a heroin addict must be defined by their addiction whereas the behavior of watching television can and often is the consequence of something else entirely.

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Arguing Against Television Addiction. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

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