As posted at Bluefield Daily Telegraph
In a speech to the National Association of Broadcasters in 1961, Newton Minnow referred to television as ?a vast wasteland?. In the 40-plus years since Minnow’s speech, television programming has become even more crass, stupid, and propagandistic; so bad that only an idiot would watch it. Yet everybody does, even non-idiots.
Today it’s nearly impossible to not watch television. It’s everywhere – the home, bars and nightclubs, even restaurants. It pervades our lives; we can’t imagine ourselves without it. People will watch it simply for the sake of watching. They may not even like the program that’s on but their eyes are attracted to the movement and their ears to the sound.
The next time you’re in a restaurant or bar that has television, look at the people around you. Their eyes instinctively seek out the flickering screen. Even if the sound is turned completely off, they still watch. Browse an electronics store and observe how many people are drawn to the televisions on display.
In George Orwell’s novel “1984?, a totalitarian government utilizes devices called telescreens to both dispense propaganda and misinformation to the citizenry and to spy on them. They hang on the wall of every home and every business. It amazes me how Orwell, with a novel released in 1949, conceived a contraption that so closely resembles modern television.
It’s easy to dismiss television as the entertainment of fools, concocted and sponsored by even bigger fools. However, we seriously underestimate the power of the big box. I’ve come to realize that modern television, although not quite at the technological level envisioned by Orwell, is indeed a force that profoundly influences those who watch it. No dictator in history has ever wielded such a powerful tool with which to control society.
It’s too easy to believe that something so stupid could not possibly be dangerous, but if this is your opinion, you’re wrong. Advertising and television have been cozy bedfellows for decades, and television broadcasts are laden with commercials created by people who have had generations in which to study their audience, and thus know how to manipulate them.
Both television programs and the advertisements that support them have been busily remolding our values and beliefs. It hasn’t been an overnight process. It’s taken many years, but we now have a shadow government – the TV industry – that shapes our very lives.
We are being fed instructions 24/7/365 and don’t even realize it. To be happy we must possess the New and Improved. To be successful we must meet a certain standard of physical appearance.
We also dispense our television programming throughout the world via satellite. Countries all over the globe lament the Americanization of their societies, and with good reason. Cultures hundreds or thousands of years older than our own are being pervaded with the culture of MTV, HBO and the Playboy Channel. As if other countries needed another reason to dislike us.
Quality in television is an issue that has been debated since the dawn of commercial programming. Unfortunately, there are no concrete solutions. Boycotts have been tried and generally fail. It also seems that people are less easily offended these days, thanks to the coarsening of our society by the very medium in question.
People can complain to either the station or the Federal Communications commission if they’re offended by a broadcast. But how often does this happen in this day and age? Even the infamous Super Bowl breast-baring incident involving Janet Jackson didn’t generate a multitude of complaints from people who actually witnessed the ?wardrobe malfunction?.
The only solution I can offer is to simply turn the big box off. I know several people who have kicked television out of their house completely and don’t even own a set anymore. We haven’t reached this point yet in our own house, but we are very selective in what we choose to view. To be honest, I could not give you the name of any new shows debuting this fall. Our viewing is mostly confined to some sporting events, and certain shows on Discovery, PBS and TLC.
I’ve also rediscovered the joy of books. An avid reader in my youth, I’ve once again begun reading a book or two a week. It’s been great to revisit novels I read 20 or more years ago, and then dive into something previously unread.
And best of all, books are commercial-free.
Don Zeigler is a Daily Telegraph advertising graphic artist.