Study Guide

The Mysterious Benedict Society TV

By Trenton Lee Stewart

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It's Not All Bad

Hey—there's some good stuff on TV, and no one—not Shmoop, not Trenton Lee Stewart, not even Mr. Benedict—is saying you need to give up television if you want to be smart and productive. Indeed, Mr. B says to the kids, "it's possible that you enjoy watching an occasional TV show, or listening to the radio every now and then" (5.153). And he doesn't have a problem with that. In fact, we're pretty sure Mr. B could get down with Sherlock and some other well-written shows, because it's not the content he necessarily has a problem with. It's the messages.

But It's Not All Good, Either

Of course, the messages he's worried about are Mr. C's creepy bits of propaganda, and that's why he and the other MBSers find that in general they don't enjoy TV. As he tells them, "your minds, so unwilling to be deceived, are avoiding exposure to the messages" (5.153). And while Shmoop loves the entertainment value of TV, video, radio, and the like, we have to admit that there are certain programs and commercials that make our skin crawl the way Reynie's does when Mr. B turns on his Receiver (5.103).

TV = Messages

The MBSers feel "irritable and confused" (8.21) whenever the TV is on, and they feel the same way when Mr. C's messages are being broadcast, which seems to suggest that TV = messages. Especially when we consider that most people are oblivious to the messages, and likewise, most people enjoy watching TV (1.36). In fact, on Nomansan Island, Jillson is completely unable to fathom the idea that Kate and Constance would turn their television off by choice (11.30-32).

But What's Stewart Really Saying?

That those of us who enjoy watching it are dim-witted or unintelligent? Or that we don't love truth? That maybe we just kind of like it, sometimes? No, we don't think that's it—but we do think he's issuing a warning about television and other media. And that warning is this: Powerful messages can be transmitted to you without your knowledge—for real. So when it comes to TV, or video, or any form of digital or audio media (and hey, you might as well add print to that; remember Mr. Curtain's pre-planned press releases?), you need to be a careful consumer.

Watch what you watch, and really listen to what you're listening to. Mr. C's messages might be part of a work of fiction, but propaganda? That's real.

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