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The Benefits of Watching Television

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Iowa chapter.


If someone told you they spent their entire Sunday afternoon reading a book, it is likely that your reaction would be different than if they said they spent it watching a season of a television show. There seems to be a cultural idea that watching television is a lazy hobby, while reading is an intellectual one. The truth is, watching TV and reading books can both be considered intellectual or lazy habits. It all depends on the story and how you engage with it. You can’t compare watching The Bachelorette to reading Shakespeare, just as you can’t compare watching The Twilight Zone to reading Twilight.

Sure, watching TV can be a mindless activity—I’m sure we’ve all gotten sucked into Say Yes to the Dress or House Hunters marathons where our deepest utterances to our friends are “this person is so annoying” or “one day I’m totally going to buy that.” But not all television is lazy Sunday viewing. Many shows have complex plotlines with scenes that can be interpreted multiple ways—Breaking Bad or Mad Men. Others, like The West Wing, can teach you about real world issues in a fictional society.

Almost any show can be valuable if you take the time to actually engage with the story. Some of my most enjoyable moments with my friends have been discussing the latest episodes of TV shows, from The Office to House. Taking the time to debate about storylines and character development is a great way to bond and to learn more about yourself. If you treat your television viewing the same way you would a literature class, you can sharpen your critical thinking skills and engage with the world in a new way. Think about the motivation behind character’s actions, and how their flaws affect their decision-making. Think about how relationships develop and whether they are realistic. Just think about what you’re watching and it will be a valuable experience. 

Most importantly, television and books are completely separate mediums that are worthy of your time. If you want to spend your free time analyzing wit and satire in Jane Austen novels, great. If you want to spend it thinking about character growth in your favorite sitcom, that’s great too. Stories are an essential way for us to connect with the world and make sense of life. If you think of your favorite novel, you probably love it because of what you learned from it or how its theme resonated with your experiences. Television can be the same. There’s no need to create a hierarchy of storytelling methods.





My name is Kathleen McGowan. I am a junior at the University of Iowa double majoring in English and Journalism. My dream is to publish a collection of nonfiction essays or short stories. I enjoy writing, reading, cooking, and keeping up with TV and entertainment news. Feel free to follow me on twitter: @mcgowankj
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