Jan. 4th, 2005

karlht: (Default)
I mentioned yesterday that I hated television with a blinding passion. It's probably worth it to go into some of the whys and wherefores of that statement, and to explain some patterns in my life about which I have some ambivalence.

First of all, bashing television has gone in and out of style over the last three decades, at least -- Harlan Ellison's Sucking the Glass Teat wasn't that long ago, was it? And what about the TV shows that have brought some of my dearest friends together, like Buffy or Firefly or, saints add preservatives to us, due South? No, my complaint is not so much the programming, although that, like anything else, obeys Sturgeon's Law with a vengeance. I mean, I don't want to burn all the bookstores down just because Ann Coulter's got a new bestseller out. My problems with television lie primarily in two areas -- one, the glorification of the short-attention-span culture, which I find both frightening and inevitable, and two, the commodification of the audience into receptive consumers for the benefit of the advertisers. Media consolidation and the stifling of political dissent enter into my misgivings as well, of course, but I see them as consequences of the two major objections above.

The television tells us, again and again, that being part of the modern world means constantly being bombarded with new information, and that speed is of the essence when dealing with this new information, because it is all vital. It encourages us to 'process' information as if we were machines designed for that purpose. But I don't feel any attraction, as a human being, to 'processing' information, any more than I have any attraction to 'processing' food. The same society that keeps us too tired to cook joyfully, to share the gathering of the daily bread with our nearest and dearest, is the one that is constantly screaming at us that we need more information, and we need the information that only the advertisers have. It isn't true, and even though we learn the cynical lesson that television programs are really there to sell us the products advertised during the commercials, we still accept the practice with no more than a passing reflection on the ways it shapes our actions and reactions.

The humanist paradox of what I call the here-and-now (roughly speaking, North America since 1945) is that although we've shown ourselves to be very good at inventing 'labour-saving' devices and exhibited a huge appetite for boundless growth, we're not any happier than we were in 1945. We produce enough food to feed the whole world, but somehow the whole world doesn't get fed. The United States is one of the wealthiest nations on the globe, and yet we can't seem to get all of our people fed, much less make a serious dent in feeding the rest of the world. But the amount of attention-grabbing material generated on behalf of huge commercial interests in the same timeframe is ... well, you can read a television schedule, right? How much of what is in that schedule is commercials? How much of it has anything to do with anything but keeping the money in the hands of the people who put on the programming? You want my primary objection to television? That's about the best face I can put on it.

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