A television system controlled by for-profit corporations asserting First Amendment rights is clearly incompatible with a functional educational system, a civil society, and a working democracy. The government and large corporations collude in television (as in so many other areas of our lives) to promote a destructive global consumer culture, at odds with many of our commonly-held values.
Although there is occasional discussion about the content of TV programs, almost no one talks about television's most serious effects on our society and our future.
One day last week, for example, The New York Times featured different stories about television on the front pages of three of its four sections. The page one story was titled "TV Stretches the Limits of Taste, to Little Outcry." Although it quoted Senator Lieberman urging station owners not to carry the "Jerry Springer Show" because of its questionable content, the overall tone of the article was that ratings are high, advertisers don't care and, "more and more parents seem to have given up resisting their children in squabbles over television."
The Arts section ran a long, highly editorialized story extolling The Teletubbies and their marketing spin-offs, while the Business Section's article was titled "Ready or Not, Here Comes HDTV: But the Industry's Vision is Still Far From Focused." The latter's accompanying photo featured a baseball game on three High Definition Television sets displayed on one floor of the Rayburn House Office building in Washington. This was just one of the dueling format displays designed to convince legislators to favor one corporation's technical vision over another's. We send legislators to Washington to make important decisions and they're watching television!
None of these superficial stories asks the important questions. They all assume that television is a given- sort of the way cigarettes were talked about in the 1950's. But not a word about the effects of commercials on society, of the pervasive "get anything you want whenever you want it" attitude, or of TV's strong competition for time that would be better spent gardening, walking, talking, studying or sleeping.
One of the secrets of our personal happiness is that we don't have a television. The time we save is precious. TV removes meaning and joy from lives and replaces them with whatever programming sells commercials for whatever products make corporations rich.
Occasionally, however, we do see some of what's offered on cable these days, usually when we visit my elderly parents, or when we're staying in a motel far away from home. It's always a shock to see how much more vacuous and outrageous the programs have become and how the number of commercials has multiplied. And so many of them hawk other TV shows, cars and unhealthy foods. All the creative energy is focused on getting people to watch more television, it seems.
Suzanne reports that most of her fifth graders have television sets in their bedrooms and that they often stay up quite late watching it. It's hard to teach sleepy kids. From what I've seen of TV at that late hour, it's a nearly constant stream of sexually teasing previews and gross titillation. A preview for a violent movie, then one for a sexy TV show, a car cruising along a deserted road, or through beautiful countryside, a personal hygiene product, then another violent preview. Just one commercial break nearly wears me out, sending my hormones racing in all different directions. What do you suppose it is doing at midnight to all those 10 year olds who should be sleeping?
As quoted in the Times, Robert Lichter notes that, "people used to complain that television was aimed at the mind of a 12-year old. Now it seems aimed at the hormones of a 14-year old." And, it's all for the purpose of selling stuff we'd be better off without.
During a kids cartoon show at seven in the morning, for example, children are shown how happy their lives will be if they suck on a lollipop with bubble gum in the middle, and eat a breakfast "cereal" based on chocolate-chip cookies. The value of the program content hardly matters if the clearest message is that children should consume products that are not good for their health, their parents pocketbooks or their performance in school.
The much touted "V" chip will only make a difference if it cuts out commercials, too. But it won't, since advertising is the real reason why television exists.
So, set a good example. Get rid of your television set. Real life is very much more interesting!
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
This page and its contents are copyright © 1998 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.