Throughout magazines, the internet, and newspapers there are countless articles telling us to watch less television. The vegetating trance of the ‘Boob Tube,’ is accused of letting our minds enter a state of cruise control where minimal mental activity is necessary. From witty quotes to extended commentary, critics, educators, and scholars have bashed TV for years. The hypercritical analysis of its content and presentation has created a sophomoric truism, allowing it to be written off as a mere guilty pleasure to some, and a menace to others.
This unanalyzed platitude had led to a depravity analogous with the destructiveness of drug addictions emerged from once sacred plants. In discussing ‘Electronic Drugs,’ author Terence McKenna, likens “the addictive power of television and the transformation of values that is wrought,” to heroin (218). Often cited are the social consequences, as television severs interpersonal communications, detaching users into a static bliss of clouds and commercials. Substituting for parent, teacher, and friend, “manufactured data streams can be sanitized to ‘protect’ or impose cultural values (McKenna 219)” I assert that the problem is not inherit to television, but rather is an issue to which all media is vulnerable. By subscribing to an anti-TV position, not only are we losing the chance to derive any worth from the shafts of broadcast, but also leave all other emerging infotainment based telecommunications open to the same situation.
A definitive “No,” to television is falling to the same unanalyzed, obsessive behavior which it is criticized for. In an age where technology is ubiquitous, it is time we look at these issues carefully and intelligently. Accepting TV as the “idiot box,” has led to a learned helplessness stunting any evolution, creating a self-fulfilling critique. Communications theorists, Marshall McLuhan, asserted that the medium conveys more message than the actual content. From this position, the television’s ability to draw people around in a campfire fashion, and be mutually informed nationwide bespeaks a valuable avenue. Despite this, McLuhan controversial postulation that specific content has no effect on society is undermined by careful examination of TV programming. Television’s current state of intellectual and social depravity is a direct result of low user input and control.
Minimally engaging, television contrasts from the internet as it is dictated by consumerism and government agenda: “Control of content, uniformity of content, repeatability of content make it inevitably a tool of coercion, brainwashing, and manipulation (McKenna 220).” The web on the other hand, although sharing an ancestry with television, has been given a chance to unfold into its current model, aiming to facilitate “creativity, information sharing, and, most notably, collaboration among users.” But yet, this is not how the internet has always been, twined to a tapestry lush for memes and rational discourse. Only with the development of the Web 2.0 trend has the expert been replaced by the amateur, and has the end-user been able to truly dictate the direction of content. And if we’re not careful, this be not may not always be the case.
Television has radiated moral depravity, idiocy and violence, with resulting distraction and obsession. Still, it would be unfair to condemn the platform in its entirety. Displays of cinema and film as captivating and culturally significant as any novel or other piece of art have permeated the air waves for years. The Star Trek series can be held as inspiration for many modern day technologies, even prompting some individuals to pursue a life of science. College classes today are held explicating The Sopranos. Further, an array of science, discovery, and technology channels are gaining increasing popularity, with fascinating programming that could spark a thirst for knowledge in anyone. (And plus, who doesn’t love Comedy Central?).
Although flipping through channels does not have the same research and discovery feel as crawling the net does, the quality and convenience of set programs certainly sets a different stage. The biggest problem with television appears to be the centralized control of data and data availability. This directly relates to the issue of net neutrality, which concerns who controls the content of the internet. If network service providers are able to control and influence the availability of content to its user, then eventually an elite centralization will occur. The problems with television are not at all inherit to television, and if net neutrality fails we will see the internet equally bedeviled.
McKenna, Terence. Food of the Gods. Bantum Books. 1992.