theCriticalThought.com May 2017          Tom Ersin, Managing Editor
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The Thinker

TV vs. Culture — Who Wins?


"Can't we all just get along?"



When considering this question, we need to break the history of television up into (so far) two distinct eras. The first one began in the first half of the 20th century. The moving-pictures-in-a-box invention was establishing itself as THE mass communication pipeline of the future. Then there was an explosion of television into homes after WWII, which continued until the onset of widely available commercial cable TV in the 1980s. The second half of the century eventually brought the choice of 10, 20, 30, or more channels beyond the original big three or four. This has continued through to the present, where for a significant fee (which most of us justify as one more necessary utility), we can choose from hundreds of channels of crappy shows (I’m half-kidding). First, let’s tune in to the early days.

When there were only three television channels (plus farm reports and kids guitar Leave It to Beaver familylessons on the snowy, fuzzy public station on UHF), clearly, television influenced culture more than the reverse. Sure, some will say that Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It to Beaver represented our family culture in the 1950s and ‘60s, but it was only one slice of that culture, served from a very large pie. The full variety of cultural flavors didn’t have a chance to influence TV — only the networks’ favorite flavors did. 

As time went on, the three commercial networks increasingly realized how powerful this new tool (weapon?) was. Not only could they present to the masses THEIR idea of how American life should be — wives and husbands in separate twin beds and WASPy moms always home to make after school snacks — they could tell Mom which brand of cookie batter to buy to make those after school snacks because all the other "good moms" were buying the same brand. Once advertising got into full swing, it developed powerful leverage for promoting its limited view of American normalcy.

So what the networks developed was an insidious family business: one parent (the shows) promoting their righteous values and the other parent (the commercials) selling us "kids" their chosen products. It was an incestuous relationship. In my mind, as soon as corporate profits are involved, they don’t have the credibility or the moral right to promote one set of values over any other.

Furthermore, though I am not the Ted Kaczynski of advertising and television technology, I am a music and arts lover. When I hear a Beatles song used to sell diapers or a Stevie Wonder song used to sell a shipping service, I want to vomit. I’m not sure if Stevie or Paul (or Yoko) consented to this or if these song rights sales were out of their hands. It doesn’t matter. I’m sickened when they play "All You Need Is Love," show a cute baby, then imply that if you really loved your baby you would buy their brand of diapers. They give love a bad name (gee, somebody ought to write a song), which is how they continue to negatively influence and infect our culture.

They water down and trivialize human emotions to sell products; and in the process, we become further desensitized to the watering down. The more commercials (and bad shows) we see, the more crippled our judgment of quality becomes — Zen and the Art of the Sale Through the Lowest Common Denominator. And the quality floor continues to drop.

OK, quickly (I know I’m wearing out my welcome), cable TV has lessened the networks’ influence somewhat since they’ve had to divide it between so many new playmates. We’re almost to the point where every cultural group, sub-group, and sub-sub-group has their own cable station or at least a few shows on one. Up with cable. Down with the expansion of commercial time. Maybe Ted Kaczynski was right: "Everybody knows he was good at the beginning, but he just went too far" ( — no apologies to Marge Schott). ■



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Antique TV

 

This has continued through to the present, where for a significant fee (which most of us justify as one more necessary utility), we can choose from hundreds of channels of crappy shows (I'm half-kidding).

 

Ted Kaczynski

 

We're almost to the point where every cultural group, sub-group, and sub-sub-group has their own cable station or at least a few shows on one. Up with cable. Down with the expansion of commercial time. Maybe Ted Kaczynski was right: "Everybody knows he was good at the beginning, but he just went too far."
( — no apologies to Marge Schott)

 

Marge Schott on cove of Sports Illustrated

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