The Idiot Box
By Carly, age 16, Ohio
In today's world the television is seemingly the center of the home. Many families congregate around one each evening. However, what exactly are we being exposed to? Eyes plastered to the screen, a girl entertains herself by flipping on MTV. In a matter of hours over a fourth of what she has seen has been simply ad space. She barely notices, at least on a conscious level. She thinks to himself, That girl with the new clothes and that haircut is so cool, and wow, she has a lot of friends. I think I need what she's wearing. It has never occurred to her that the commercials she sees are mainly for makeup and face wash, not matchbox cars and basketballs. Even Nickelodeon in its childhood splendor is exploiting kids to get to wallets. Television is merely a conglomerate-run vehicle of money making whose sole purpose is to exploit human nature.
Television has become America's new pastime. "98 percent of Americans own at least one TV".# We spend more time watching these television sets than even going to school. "The average American youth spends 900 hours yearly in school and 1,500 hours yearly watching television".# TV doesn't only reach children and teens. "In the past 60 years television has grown from middle and upper classes to all around low end entertainment, and the average American spends nine years of their life watching television".# We spend more time watching than you would think.
Watching so much television is rotting away people's minds. Society is being dumbed down. Half of TV viewers are the passive type. They are foregoing participation in real life and are basically being turned into zombies.# It is nothing more than mindless entertainment to push daily problems away. Watching TV gets nothing done. "Even if you are an active viewer and you form an opinion, everyone is a television viewer, which is a role defined by passivity".# To access television you just sit there and sit back. It does not exercise your mind because that's what people are looking for. They want to come home from a long day at work or school and relax and turn off.
People who aren't thinking or who are unaware are more easily persuaded. Television can then be used as a mass means to produce advertisement. "Greed and Sloth entered the picture and transformed it into a twenty-four hour ad-plastered, brainwashing, individuality bleaching, stereotyping, couch-potato-making tool of society".# It has made society bland. Corporate bodies use television as a vehicle to access everyone watching. Show demographics can be used to locate the marketing field. It is like subtle mind control. If you appreciate certain entertainment, you should buy these products. Big business pigeonholes people.
Do you really want to be told what you should buy? The point of a capitalist democracy is to be able to purchase whatever your heart desires. Yes, you still have that choice, but with corporate interests breathing down your neck, are your desires really your desires? Gerbner explains that television is not driven by the creative people who have something to tell, but by the global conglomerates that have something to sell.* The shows set people up to buy their ever-enticing products. Whether you really want to buy the new athletic shoe or not, you may be forced to feel like you do. "There is no free market in television. Viewers are sold to the highest bidders at the lowest cost ... The giveaway of the public airways to private exploitation damages our children and swamps an effort toward democracy".*
Television wants you just to think that it is mindless fun. However, when one delves deeper into any ad it is pure exploitation of the emotions, and how can anyone say that this is democratic? Television programs are written in a certain way to provoke viewers toward these emotions so the writers can get a paycheck. "The problem is that the profiteers of television in the United States - the networks, the program suppliers, and the advertisers - are essentially subsidized (e.g., via tax write-offs) to program this formulaic stuff".** With this mind control rising, as more people shut down and turn up the TV, our future is greatly affected. TV affects just about everything. People's cultures tend to be changed by what they see on their idols on television. Then, if television is formulaic and planned out to sell products, that is all people become. They are molded by business conglomerates. If they told us the cool new thing would be to strap cats to our feet, we would.
What then is the future? Advancement usually comes with intuition and genius. That is something that cannot be manufactured by a television studio, at least not yet anyway. "In the meantime, for the foreseeable future, the culture - the unofficial curriculum of American children - will remain infantile, degraded, and, among other things, tolerant of and conducive to a violent nihilism."** Beyond this, television is obviously a carcinogen to society because it exploits to get to this point.
Some will argue that television is harmless and simply can make you smarter. "I think there is another way to assess the social virtue of pop culture, one that looks at media as a kind of cognitive workout, not as a series of life lessons."*** Steven Johnson argues that you must do serious thinking to make sense of cultural experiences. That is how television enhances your intelligence.
Buying into the storyline of a television show is how the conglomerates get you. Yes, maybe you analyze the plot which does show some intelligence, but that puts you deeper into the story. The plot line is how viewers are set up to be susceptible to marketing ploys. One is left feeling vulnerable, and then the advertisements can pull at human emotions.
Before us lies a massive problem. If advertisements continue to go on unrestrained as they do, nothing good will come of it. We already have a world that is nonchalant to conformity and monotony. Companies are just selling us what we should be, and most buy in. It is easy to look like everyone else. After all, that is one aspect of human nature, the want to fit and be accepted. However, how do we know what propriety is? All we know is what we are told. The dominant leader of our culture is television, so what is advertised and shown will be accepted. We are a democracy, by and for the people. So if big business is selling people themselves, doesn't that make our society corrupt? Television is the largest form of media that reaches the most people. Conglomerates are using this against the people just to make a buck. So protect yourself - turn the box off for a bit.
Citations* Grebner, George. "Is Media Violence Free Speech?" The language of Composition. Ed. Renee H. Shea, Lawrence Scanlon, and Robin Dissin Aufses. NY: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008. 783-787.
** Gitlin, Maryann. "American Youth; The Future" The language of Composition. Ed. Renee H. Shea, Lawrence Scanlon, and Robin Dissin Aufses. NY: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008. 784-787.
*** Johnson, Steven. "Watching TV Makes You Smarter." The language of Composition. Ed. Renee H. Shea, Lawrence Scanlon, and Robin Dissin Aufses. NY: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008. 766-776.
# Trubey, Corbett. "The Argument against TV." The language of Composition. Ed. Renee H. Shea, Lawrence Scanlon, and Robin Dissin Aufses. NY: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008. 777-781.