A television system controlled by for-profit corporations asserting First
Amendment rights is clearly incompatible with a functional educational
system, a civil society and a working democracy. The government and large
corporations collude in television (as in so many other areas of our lives)
to promote a destructive global consumer culture, at odds with many of our
Although there is occasional discussion about the content of TV programs,
almost no one talks about television's most serious effects on our society
and our future.
One day last week, for example, <I>The New York Times </I>featured
different stories about television on the front pages of three of its four
sections. The page one story was titled "TV Stretches the Limits of
Taste, to Little Outcry." Although it quoted Senator Lieberman urging
station owners not to carry the "Jerry Springer Show" because of its
questionable content, the overall tone of the article was that ratings are
high, advertisers don't care and, "more and more parents seem to have given
up resisting their children in squabbles over television."
The Arts section ran a long, highly editorialized story extolling The
Teletubbies and their marketing spin-offs, while the Business Section's
article was titled "Ready or Not, Here Comes HDTV: But the Industry's
Vision is Still Far From Focused." The latter's accompanying photo
featured a baseball game on three High Definition Television sets displayed
on one floor of the Rayburn House Office building in Washington. This was
just one of the dueling format displays designed to convince legislators to
favor one corporation's technical vision over another's. We send
legislators to Washington to make important decisions and they're watching
None of these superficial stories asks the important questions. They all
assume that television is a given- sort of the way cigarettes were talked
about in the 1950's. But not a word about the effects of commercials on
society, of the pervasive "get anything you want whenever you want it"
attitude, or of TV's strong competition for time that would be better spent
gardening, walking, talking, studying or sleeping.
One of the secrets of our personal happiness is that we don't have a
television. The time we save is precious. TV removes meaning and joy from
lives and replaces them with whatever programming sells commercials for
whatever products make corporations rich.
Occasionally, however, we do see some of what's offered on cable these
days, usually when we visit my elderly parents, or when we're staying in a
motel far away from home. It's always a shock to see how much more vacuous
and outrageous the programs have become and how the number of commercials
has multiplied. And so many of them hawk other TV shows, cars and
unhealthy foods. All the creative energy is focused on getting people to
watch more television, it seems.
Suzanne reports that most of her fifth graders have television sets in
their bedrooms and that they often stay up quite late watching it. It's
hard to teach sleepy kids. From what I've seen of TV at that late hour,
it's a nearly constant stream of sexually teasing previews and gross
titillation. A preview for a violent movie, then one for a sexy TV show, a
car cruising along a deserted road, or through beautiful countryside, a
personal hygiene product, then another violent preview. Just one commercial
break nearly wears me out, sending my hormones racing in all different
directions. What do you suppose it is doing at midnight to all those 10
year olds who should be sleeping?
As quoted in the <I>Times,</I> Robert Lichter notes that, "people used to
complain that television was aimed at the mind of a 12-year old. Now it
seems aimed at the hormones of a 14-year old." And, it's all for the
purpose of selling stuff we'd be better off without.
During a kids cartoon show at seven in the morning, for example, children
are shown how happy their lives will be if they suck on a lollipop with
bubble gum in the middle, and eat a breakfast "cereal" based on
chocolate-chip cookies. The value of the program content hardly matters if
the clearest message is that children should consume products that are not
good for their health, their parents pocketbooks or their performance in
The much touted "V" chip will only make a difference if it cuts out
commercials, too. But it won't, since advertising is the real reason why
So, set a good example. Get rid of your television set. Real life is very
much more interesting!
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C) 1998, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "The Politics of
Food" and "Living on the Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays
Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future
is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid. These essays first appeared on WSHU, public radio from
Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing
and those since November 1995 are available there.
To Unsubscribe: Email firstname.lastname@example.org with "unsubscribe sanet-mg".
To Subscribe to Digest: Email email@example.com with the command