One argument for the elimination of television
by Tom Sullivan
Jerry Mander (I know, the name is even more ironic today) warned us in 1978 when he published "Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television," that "television is a medium of summary or reductionism - it reduces everything to slogans." The one-time advertising executive continued:
My own feeling is that that is true - that it's very important to improve the program content - but that television has effects, very important effects, aside from the content, and they may be more important. They organize society in a certain way. They give power to a very small number of people to speak into the brains of everyone else in the system night after night after night with images that make people turn out in a certain kind of way. It affects the psychology of people who watch. It increases the passivity of people who watch. It changes family relationships. It changes understandings of nature. It flattens perception so that information, which you need a fair amount of complexity to understand it as you would get from reading, this information is flattened down to a very reduced form on television. And the medium has inherent qualities which cause it to be that way.
Matt Taibbi writes how Donald Trump turned out in a certain kind of way because he himself is a product of television:
Lots of people have remarked on the irony of this absurd caricature of a spoiled rich kid connecting so well with working-class America. But Trump does have something very much in common with everybody else. He watches TV. That's his primary experience with reality, and just like most of his voters, he doesn't realize that it's a distorted picture.
If you got all of your information from TV and movies, you'd have some pretty dumb ideas. You'd be convinced blowing stuff up works, because it always does in our movies. You'd have no empathy for the poor, because there are no poor people in American movies or TV shows – they're rarely even shown on the news, because advertisers consider them a bummer.
Politically, you'd have no ability to grasp nuance or complexity, since there is none in our mainstream political discussion. All problems, even the most complicated, are boiled down to a few minutes of TV content at most. That's how issues like the last financial collapse completely flew by Middle America. The truth, with all the intricacies of all those arcane new mortgage-based financial instruments, was much harder to grasp than a story about lazy minorities buying houses they couldn't afford, which is what Middle America still believes.
Trump isn't just selling these easy answers. He's also buying them. Trump is a TV believer. He's so subsumed in all the crap he's watched – and you can tell by the cropped syntax in his books and his speech, Trump is a watcher, not a reader – it's all mixed up in his head.
Demonstrating that, Donald Trump told the New York Times that Americans love swagger more than politics and restraint. Just like in the movies:
“My favorite was Harrison Ford on the plane,” Mr. Trump said of “Air Force One.” “I love Harrison Ford — and not just because he rents my properties. He stood up for America.”
Harrison Ford, promoting Star Wars: The Force Awakens, shot back in blunt, Han Solo fashion:
We have raised several generations on television's "schlock stereotypes and EZ solutions," as Taibbi describes, rendering "everyone, rich and poor, equally incapable of dealing with reality." Just as Mander warned. And because informing the viewers is a bummer too, I suppose, what used to be network news – a public service not expected to be profitable – has become advertiser-driven infotainment. Now the GOP is set to nominate America's first made-for-TV, reality-show candidate for president, a study in "ambitious stupidity" [timestamp 3:45] who is giving the audience just what it wants.