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Fri, 07 Oct 2005

Shutting off the tube
Yesterday I read a
speech given by Al Gore about the declining intellectualism in America, Television, and the media. The speech struck a chord with me because, as anyone who has read through this blog probably sees, for awhile I have felt that mass media in this country is dishing up garbage while leaving the recipients intellectually bankrupt.

Case in point, some of the "big stories" of the past week included:

Each of these stories was featured prominantly at the top of CNN's web-site on different days during the week. Meanwhile, not seen on CNN's top-stories section, but available elsewhere, Scientists believe they have a clue as to why the arctic ice cap is melting, The US Military appears to be involved in another pattern of abuse in Iraq, The Bush Whitehouse is blocking a $9 billion health care package for evacuees of hurricanes Katrina and Rita and a guy from Gainesville was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

If I were to pull up the stories on the broadcast news over the past week, especially the evening news on ABC, CBS, or NBC, I'd probably have an equally meaningless set of stories.

Gores' thesis is that as television popularity has soared, because the cost of entry as a media publisher (read: putting on your own television program) is so much higher than the cost of traditional methods of information dissemination (press), only the wealthy can afford to get their message out. Because information and ideas are now being presented in a uni-directional stream, they have reached the lowest common denominator.

If one were to take his thesis and expand upon it, there is no free exchange of thought in the new conglomerate controlled mass media. As we have become a less literate society, our ability to critically look at the world around us has waned.

Is Gore correct?

A person would be hard pressed to argue against his thesis.

Instead of being concerned with stamping out poverty, or illiteracy, or any of the other social ills in the world, we have become a society focused on acquiring new ipods, or the next sale at the Super Walmart.

Instead of being a literate society, we have become a dumb society. In spite of scientifically sound research that establishes the plausibility of theories like "evolution" or "erosional geology" we are teaching the next generation that we exist because of "intelligent design" and that the Grand Canyon was created during the biblical flood.

Instead of respecting an individuals right, and some would argue duty, to question authority, we are told "why do you hate America so?" and are expected to keep the status quo.

Instead of rallying to support our troops by bringing them home safe and sound, we are told that failure to unconditionally support the "War in Iraq" will erode our troops morale and jeopardize their safety.

And people buy this shit up.

Back to Gore

Gore continues by stating that one of the reasons why this is happening is the amount of time Americans spend in front of the idiot box. According to Gore, Americans spend nearly five hours a day in front of the tube. While shocking, it's certainly not surprising because for years several other studies have said the same thing.

What I find scary is that this is the AVERAGE amount of time Americans spend watching the Tellie.

So I started thinking about it, and analyzing how much time I spend watching the box... And then I became concerned.

I've always loved television. As a child, constantly on the move, Television became my best friend. A different city each year meant the embarrasment of trying to make new friends, which for a slightly shy and introverted child who felt starved for affection from his parents, was difficult at best.

But ooh Television was always my friend. Although the channels may have differed from one location to the next, the shows were the same. And how those shows comforted me.

My friends included Mork and Spock, both Aliens from another world but as different from each other as night and day. My friends included Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. My friends included Superman, the 1950s version in the original black and white, and Batman, the 1960s version "now in technicolor!" On Saturdays I would go with Admiral Nelson on a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, or take a ride with Michael Knight and KIT.

As a child, the only time that TeeVee was not a part of my life was that solitary period of time when we lived in Grand Cayman while I was in the fifth grade. Lacking a Television station on the island, there was no need to have a TV.

During this period I came out of my shell and made lots of friends. I swam and played every day. I read lots of books, probably forty or fifty during the six month period I lived on the island, maybe more; I knew the Georgetown Librarian on a first name basis. I read Stevenson, Carrol, Dahl, and Dixon. My thirsty mind was insatiable, and I did my best to quench the thirst.

And then we moved back to the states, and I renewed my relationship with the Television. Although I continued to read, the frequency was diminished; while I read 1984 and Brave New World without any prodding from my eighth grade english teacher (Hi Mrs. Porter), I still read less and watched more Tellie.

Sure, there were the occasional trips to Xanth with Piers Anthony, or the ride in Christine with Stephen King, but I still watched more Toob than I read.

As an adult, Television has been a constant companion. Although I engage in external activities, we still watch a fair amount of TV at night.

It's simple - press a button and it's on.

There's no wasted thought to determine what I'm going to watch.

With sixty channels to choose from, there's bound to be something to anesthetize the mind.

And that's the key -- television anethestizes us.

If you don't like what is on channel A, turn to channel B.

B sucks? Go to C.

Why you don't even have to expend an ounce of energy, just press the little button on the remote with your thumb.

And just what is the stuff we're watching? Inside Edition? Entertainment Tonight? Survivor?

One of the most talked about shows among my peers has been "My Name's Earl" about a redneck who discovers "Karma" by watching Carson Daily.

What the hell have we become??? How shallow and vapid are we really??

Television has become such an ingrained part of our culture that catch phrases from TV shows, and even commercials, become a part of our working vocabulary.

"You're fired!"

"That's my final answer."


If something as trite as a commercial for a cheap American beer can create new phrases in our lexicon, we, as a society, have a problem. Maybe even a mental problem.

Although I still watch a fair chunk of the tube, I've been trying my best to read more and watch less. The web helps because it increases my access to printed media -- as a news junkie I find myself constantly scanning mainstream newspapers including the New York Times, the Washington Post, our local fish wrapper, as well as other media sources including mefi, K5, /., and wired.

I'm also trying to read more books, mostly literature, science, philosophy, dimestore fiction, and history. Maybe a little bit of political commentary and travelogues as well.

I've set a personal goal of one book a week -- last year I managed to read fifty books, ranging from ideology (Guevera) to dimestore fiction (Dan Brown, oh wait, The Davinci Code is really history, right) to philosophy (Kuhn) and even a travelogue or two (Blue Highways). Although I did that while working full time and taking classes, compared to some of my friends, I am just an amateur.

This year hasn't been so good, when I kicked my scholastic endeavors into high gear I sort of burned myself out. Although I read close to thirty books by July 1, most of them were for school and by the time I graduated I felt brain dead. During the summer, and my last two semesters, I only managed to read four books (a historiograph on the Korean War, a book on the overthrow of the Prime Minister of Iran by Kermit Roosevelt and the CIA in the 1950s, a biography of Jimmy Carter, and a travelogue about riding a motorcycle around South America and being captured by the EZLN).

Usually the first few weeks of the fall semester are a real bear, and I worked a number of twelve hour days, which meant that by the time I got home, I just wanted to crawl into bed and watch the idiot box.

Two weeks ago it finally eased up, and I have been able to resume my reading. I've finished a book by Nelson DeMille (Word of Honor), a collection of oral histories with interviews of journalists and newspaper publishers throughout Florida (Orange Journalism), Enola Gay, The Cuba Diaries, a book by Dean Koontz, and I'm currently re-reading A Farewell to Arms (I'll probably finish it today). I'm currently debating about shutting off the cable, which would save us about $600 a year, but I'm not sure if I'm ready to cut the cord all of the way, yet.

Maybe more Americans will eventually wake up, smell the coffee, and realize that the Tube is not really our friend, but probably our biggest adversary.

Hopefully the intellegentsia proletariat can be inspired and will awake from their forty year slumber.

Posted at: 14:55 on 07/10/2005   [ /diary ] #

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