TV and our decline
0 comment Saturday, November 15, 2014 |
In response to a recent blog entry of mine, on pop culture and politics, the subject of television and the role it has played in the dumbing down of our culture, including our politics, was brought up.
I had been thinking of the huge role that the advent of television had in the social revolution that we mostly associate with the Sixties, and with my generation, the baby-boomers. While I acknowledge the foolishness of my generation and the responsibility we bore for some of the social destruction which was in full swing in the 60s and thereafter, I have argued that the changes we all recognize were in fact already well under way when my peers and I were children in the 50s, and even before.
Television, which began regular national broadcasting in the late 1940s, was a huge factor.
Television became an incredibly influential medium, which truly revolutionized the world.
This piece by Hereward Lindsay, called On the Decline of Our People, deals with the changes wrought by television, and the deleterious effects on our culture.
A friend recently sent me an email that concluded:
The cathode ray tube was the most powerful invention of the 20th century. I defy anybody to prove that wrong.
He didn't get any defiance from me. The malevolent impact of television is a subject I have thought about a lot. I have come to the reluctant conclusion that my hyper-Calvinist ancestors were right in their suspicion of drama and actors. (Socrates, by the way, had somewhat similar ideas. Read Plato's dialogue the Ion and you will be astonished at how timely it is with its warnings about actors trying to influence government policy and their inherent bad character as people who are professionals at creating illusions and fantasies, i.e. trained deceivers and people whose minds are not grounded in the concrete and real.)
All of us American dissidents (or "thought criminals", as might be more appropriate) have lain awake at night throughout our adult lives trying to figure out how our race and civilization have collapsed. There is no subject more important and more entitled to consideration.''
[Emphasis mine]
Lindsay goes on to tie together certain trends in our society, factors such as decline in the number of self-employed individuals, and the concomitant decline in the thinking skills and independence of mind of Americans. I am not clear, actually, how he correlates the advent of television with, say, the dwindling number of small independent farmers, but I agree with his argument that television has wielded enormous power in spreading a uniform set of ideas, which have become a stultifying orthodoxy. Received opinion dominates the national discussion, such as it is, thanks to the ubiquity of television, and the monolithic party line which is handed down mostly by that medium.
Newspapers are less and less influential; subscribers are fewer with each passing year, and many newspapers have disappeared because of dwindling readership. But cable news (and to some extent, the internet) are taking over the role once played by newspapers.
Lindsay writes about how the domination by the means of images rather than the printed word has made for more passive, less engaged, less imaginative citizens. It used to be said that radio, in its heyday, was the 'theatre of the mind', requiring considerable powers of active imagination and concentration on the part of its listeners. The visual media like TV, movies and videos, relying on pictures rather than words on a page, tend to 'dumb down' the populace, and literacy declines, along with the attention span.
Lindsay also mentions how political debates have become more simple-minded and devoid of serious content. This is obvious, however it may be less apparent to those who don't remember any other state of affairs. In the past, after some of the early ''debates'' in our present campaign, I drew my readers' attention to a website which contains transcripts of past presidential debates and of course there are now video clips of such debates.
The debates, even as recently as the 1960s, were true debates, and not merely 'panel discussions' and staged, scripted events which our recent debates are. However, the first series of televised presidential debates, in 1960, was the beginning of the trend of focusing on appearance, as Richard Nixon appeared nervous and sweaty on camera, while Kennedy appeared composed and confident.
I've blogged before, too, about our present society's obsession with 'image' and style, and the apparent preference for the telegenic and media-savvy candidate, no matter how inconsequential his ideas or his message. There are limitations to this analysis; if looks were all, John Edwards would be the Democrat candidate (even though some Republicans like to ridicule his looks or hairstyle, he is a telegenic, attractive man). And surely McCain would not be a frontrunner ,as he appears to be, if looks were all. But the truth is, being telegenic and glib, and facile with sound bites and one-liners counts for more these days than it did back in the days of Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson, or Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey.
One of the criticisms most frequently made of Tom Tancredo, who has now dropped out of the Presidential race, was that he was a 'poor speaker', too hesitant, not confident enough. On the other hand, we hear that Barack Hussein Obama's voice is supposedly a great asset. Personally, I think his voice is reminiscent of actor Ted Cassidy's.
Again, critics (most of whom, I would say, are already against Ron Paul) criticize and ridicule his 'nerdy' demeanor and his less-than-commanding voice. I say this is a shallow criticism. It is said that Thomas Jefferson had a very weak speaking style, despite his great facility with language in the written form.
Of his first Inaugural Address, it was said that
The speech was delivered in so low a tone that few heard it. Mr. Jefferson had given your Brother [Samuel Harrison Smith, editor of the National Intelligencer] a copy early in the morning, so that on coming out of the house, the paper was distributed immediately.
The second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805, like the first one, "was only partly audible."
Jefferson was by all accounts a shy and retiring man, hardly one of those back-slapping, smarmy politicians who are considered the ideal today. If today's superficial standards had applied in his day, we would have been deprived of his great genius in shaping our country.
The emphasis on looks, style, and image over substance and character are in some part a legacy of television.
Mitt Romney is considered by most to be the most 'attractive' Republican candidate (which is not saying much, considering the pickings). However I find him rather artificial and false, and I usually have a very good nose for insincerity. I was warning people about Bill Clinton from the git-go, and few were willing to be wary then; he seemed so friendly and warm, and people are so easily gulled these days.
But this is the result of looking only at the surface of people and things.
The way the primary season is shaping up, it looks as though Americans are gearing up to elect themselves another silver-tongued deceiver of whichever party, and to give a cold shoulder to principle and character.
The political campaign is just one manifestation of how television has deeply affected our society. The overall picture is that television has ensured that a single set of very liberal beliefs dominates our society, and this set of beliefs was in reality revolutionary, overturning the mores and habits of old America. The pernicious system we call 'political correctness,' which paralyzes us when it comes to protecting our territory and our people and culture, would not be possible without the role played by television in establishing 'respectable' opinion. One need not watch the cable ''news'' channels to be indoctrinated by the pundits and political hacks; one can get the party line via the favorite sitcoms, crime shows, reality shows, MTV, and even Country Music Television. And even if you manage to avoid all those, the commercials also carry the required memes. There is literally no escaping the 'message', the agenda.
And if you don't recognize that there IS an agenda and a message that is relentlessly pushed by television (and movies, and the music industry, etc.) then you are merely so used to it that you no longer see it. It is so ingrained in most Americans (and all Western peoples) these days that no one even notices it, or thinks it to be propaganda. It just 'is.' And for the younger generations, it's all they've known. So it becomes invisible, and second nature to most of us.
Lindsay correctly describes the entertainment industry in general as being about deception. And yes, some entertainment is innocuous, but few today have the discernment to sift the wheat from the chaff.
So we are easy prey for 'whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.'
It's facile to blame the 'liberals' or the baby-boomers for all that is amiss in our world, but the fact is, the process has been under way for some time, and it is not merely 'the liberals' or 'the hippies' who created the monster. It has been a process of collusion, unwitting or witting, between the ideologues who have set out to remake the world, and the people who are out to make a buck via the bread and circuses of television and the entertainment industry. The latter are happy to present subversive material if there is profit in it, and if revolution and transformation of Western society are good for their bottom line, they will happily collude. I don't know who is using whom in this strange alliance of leftists and corporate interests; I think they are both manipulating us.
As I've said, we have to free ourselves from the paralyzing effect of the prevailing orthodoxies and opinions, and as long as we are glued to the mass media, whether it's 'entertainment' or junk news on the cable news channels, we cannot extricate ourselves from the snares laid for us.
Fortunately we do have a choice; we can become aware of these destructive influences, and we can walk away, and we can create alternatives. It will be a long-term effort, and distressingly, we have a short time frame in which to try to reverse course, but we really have no choice but to try. The present course is taking us perilously close to a point of no return.
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