In “Television Addiction,” author Marie Winn unequivocally identifies TV watching as a literally addictive habit, and one with many of the harmful effects of physical addictions to drugs and alcohol. Her intent is so serious, she takes the time to first carefully define and list the characteristics of genuine addiction, and then apply TV watching to them. The result is a perfect match, certainly in Winn’s eyes. Winn makes some interesting points, but the central argument is greatly weakened by her failure to set time parameters to this “addiction,” which are essential if the argument is to be valid. Then, she also consistently discusses a certain type of TV addict conveniently constructed to serve her own argument, and there is no “middle ground” allowed; to watch a great deal of TV is for Winn a damaging and addictive process, and the emphasis is consistent. The author’s insistence then actually provides an alternative argument when a more moderate idea of a viewer is considered. Ultimately, TV addiction is only that in extreme cases, and what Winn points to as addiction is in fact only a choice individuals make, and one in no way automatically implying a lack of control or helplessness under the influence.
In a very real sense, and as noted, the issue with Winn’s article actually undermining her entire argument is its unvarying and strong emphasis on TV watching as addictive, based only on a hypothetical type of person who is indeed unable to move away from the medium. Even as the author is careful to identify symptoms of real substance addiction, she then shifts into identifying TV watching with this, and with no bridge provided. There is no definition at all of the “heavy viewer,” although this vague assessment appears as her model. Consequently, the article and the argument lose integrity because the viewpoint is so severe and requires an actual “addict” to substantiate it. In a very real sense, Winn completely relies on a population of “TV junkies” she does not make the effort to prove as existing, and any popular idea of such individuals is not sufficient to support her strong stance on the issue.
As noted, Winn elaborates on similarities of addictive processes, and this would be helpful if she could then clearly linked substance addiction with TV viewing. Instead, she proceeds with this thinking as assumed fact. For example, Winn writes: “The television experiences allows the participant to blot out the real world and enter into a pleasurable and passive mental state” (Winn 32). The statement is not inherently invalid, but it is also far too generalized to be taken as substantive argument. The reader must ask: exactly what participant is so engaged in the viewing that the real world is in fact blotted out? Is is not equally reasonable to assume that many viewers watch and maintain an awareness of reality as well? There is an irresponsibility here, in plain terms, because Winn is too inflexible in a viewpoint that is not supported by any facts, or even likely scenarios as speculated. Put another way, if there are viewers who are so “addicted” to TV that they surrender their awarenesses of reality, it is probable that most do not.
This flawed approach of Winn carries throughout the entire article. Everything, in a word, is supposition or opinion presented as truth. To validate her thinking that TV mirrors substance abuse in terms of the latter’s harmful effects and empty attractions to the user, she writes: “And yet television does not satisfy, else why would the viewer continue to watch hour after hour, day after day?” (33). This is in fact an extraordinarily bold – and utterly unsubstantiated – statement. To begin with, if viewers do indeed watch excessive amounts of television, there is no reason to assume satisfaction is not occurring on some level. Moreover, Winn emphatically takes it for granted that TV is unrewarding for all by claiming this, which reveals something of a personal agenda in play. There is no need here to cite either the quantity of poor TV programming available, nor the amounts of quality viewers may see. What matters is that both exist, a fact Winn ignores. This being the case, one of her “TV addicts” may merely be someone who watches a good deal of television because they tune into high-quality programs which elevate their minds.
All of this being the case, Marie Winn virtually invites counter-arguments by virtue of her unfounded and relentlessly strong opinion. Time and again, she refers to the “heavy viewer,” establishing no parameters for this subject necessary for her argument. She is so intent on relating TV watching to drug addiction that she dismisses the obligations of responsible argument-making themselves, as in: “In a way a heavy viewer’s life is as imbalanced by his television ‘habit’ as a drug addict’s or an alcoholic’s” (33). Just how or why this “imbalance” is created does not concern Winn, and this greatly weakens the similarity she draws. That is, it is then irrational to equate the real physical and mental degradation caused by alcoholism and drug addiction with TV viewing unless some actual evidence supporting this is offered. That evidence lacking, it is then easy to claim that, generally speaking, TV viewing is an informational and entertaining activity which, while passive in nature, is only as constructive or as harmful as how it is practiced by the individual.
Marie Winn’s article does leave the reader with a strong impression, but it is not the one intended by the author. Rather, the impression is that she seeks to expand upon a general lament regarding culture and media, and one long in place. For decades, parents have asserted that TV creates mindlessness and apathy in their children. This Winn takes to the level of drug addiction, and she seems to be so pleased by the connection she creates, she ignores that any such argument requires substantiation, either in facts or in logical speculation. This then actually supports the contrary view that TV watching is likely little like drug addiction, just as there is no reason to conclude that, for most viewers, watching translates to cravings and a dismissal of reality. In the final analysis, TV addiction is only addiction in extreme cases, and what Winn points to as addiction is likely nothing more than a choice individuals make, and one in no way automatically implying a lack of control or helplessness under the influence.