Is television killing culture?

It's pretty obvious that there are many ways to reply to this question. And there are certainly many answers, each of which would have to be explained thoroughly. Point is, I would like to stick to two basic but opposing points of view.

The answer to the question of whether television is killing culture is both 'Of course!' and 'Not at all, if you think about it logically.'

Let me explain.

About 90 percent of the time, what television transmits could fairly be classified as an assault on what we consider the old culture. Television was a wonderful and innovative idea. But through the quick evolution of this new technology, together with the breathtaking possibilities and the amazing variety of TV and its delivery mechanisms, the medium's guiding principle has been quantity before quality.

Far too often, television doesn't really transmit a message that is meaningful and valuable. We are overwhelmed by publicity, extreme violence, politically misguiding information, soap operas, cheap 'reality' shows and crime Ñ just to name a few pillars of programming.

None of these pillars touches upon culture, or makes us reflect upon something culturally oriented. To this you may add another problem: Because of the vast quantity of channel options, a sure consequence of immersing oneself in the TV environment is repeated exposure to the superficial, loud and shrill qualities that seem necessary for survival within the competitive marketplace of television.

Still, none of this is truly related to what we call 'culture' in the first place. So the answer to the question is 'Yes, of course.' Television can become a simple replacement for genuine culture.

But let's stop for a moment.

Defining culture thusly is oversimplifying and simply wrong. 'Culture' is not the same as 'art.' And even what we consider 'the fine arts' shouldn't be limited to old European values. 'Art' is a very important, maybe even a vital, part of our culture. But it is not the same as culture.

So we have to decide exactly what 'culture' is.

I think that culture is an agreed-upon set of values or guiding principles that define the people who agree to live within this culture. Therefore, there exists a human culture Ñ based on general values, morals and ethics Ñ as well as more nationally oriented culture, in which the arts play an important role. In both cases, though, we must concede that TV is a part (and, sadly enough, an influential part) of our culture.

If we agree that television has an overwhelming tendency to transmit values we would most likely try to avoid in our life, we should change what we watch instead of merely changing the channel.

But we can't blame TV for killing our culture, as it is a part of our culture. If television is killing our culture, it's because we have helped make television what it it is. Nor should we blame it for trying to meet the requirements that we Ñ as humans Ñ have established for it. Instead, let's start to think about whether we need this type of television before we blame TV for doing something we encourage it to do.

One last thought: Even if we would change dramatically what we see on television, and therefore change a part of our culture, the fact still remains that TV, being consumed by the single individual, is a direct reason for the lack of communication among humans É among family. Imagine sharing an evening with your family talking, instead of watching something while sitting in silence.

Carlos Kalmar is the music director of the Oregon Symphony. He was born in Uruguay and now lives in both Vienna, Austria, and Southwest Portland.

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