TV Addicts, America’s Elite Thank You

There’s something that has been troubling me lately. Most people in the PhD program that I attend are of course well educated people, and they are getting even more so as time goes by, but one of their main interests outside of the department and their classes seems to be television (possibly because they need some non-demanding relaxation after their hard seven-days-a-week work as soon-to-be “real” researchers). And when discussing with non-academics it seems everything is about television.

Not only do people have their favorite TV shows or series that they follow slavishly, they seem to prefer spending a couple of hours more zapping to social interaction. Some people go home, even though they are having a great time with friends, just to make sure not to miss out on whatever is on the hundreds of channels they have. And if they miss the weekly episode of their favorite series – life crisis.

The television series Lost seems to have this effect on people. I watched the first two seasons on the ABC web site just to see what it was all about. It is a strange series consisting of numerous flashbacks to weird people’s lives prior to the crash of their plane on some deserted island, that became increasingly horrible as I watched episode after episode. The reason it was horrible was not that the story is made in such a way that you feel you “need” to see the next episode (which is always the case), but the underlying philosophy.

The last episode of the second season ends with a between-the-lines philosophical punch in the stomach: things are found and understood thanks to the drug-lord-became-fake-priest “Mr. Echo” seeing his dead brother running around in the bushes and giving Echo advice. And John Locke, who has stopped believing, saves the day thanks to giving up whatever reason and rationality there is in him – to believe again.

In what does he believe? It is not in God or anything like that – it is a belief in reason being unreasonable. His belief consists of him and everything being destined to do certain things and follow whatever signs that can be identified. I guess we’re all just blind in the dark and need to be taught that we cannot trust ourselves or our intelligence. Things are always incomprehensible and we should just “go with the flow”…follow any whim or impulse and you will come out on top of things.

What are we supposed to learn from the show Lost? Obviously that your brain is not for using – there is no reason in the world that can save you if you don’t believe in the impossible and totally outrageous. Kind of the “hip” anti-enlightenment sentiment of the 20th century turning to a hyper-anti-thinking-ideal.

Lost is for sure not the only show preaching the same message; most TV productions have some degree of anti-reason mysti-glorifying hidden agenda.

But even if we don’t accept this rather obvious fact, perhaps because we regularly watch the crap and have already accepted some of the broadcast morality, there are reasons to quit watching whatever happens to be on for the moment.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, even well educated people turn on their television sets when they get home at night – and they slavishly follow some series or show. TV is the main source of information and understanding of the world as it is today, which means television has gained enormous powers. Even Internet, which is often mentioned as a popular and revolutionizing means to consume non-mainstream news and reporting, is used to watch TV shows that you’ve missed. So Internet seems to function partly as a next generation VCR, with which you can watch the shows that you missed – and that gives you an opportunity to preview future shows (legally or illegally).

The ongoing primaries in the republicrat party shows clearly what impact television has on people’s thinking: whoever is on television most wins. The media, or whoever controls it, has thereby the power to choose a candidate through deciding who gets to be seen and who doesn’t.

Even the news are streamlined to not upset anyone and to paint a picture of some things being a whole lot better than they are, and some things being terribly bad (even though they’re not). The sad truth is that people’s beliefs depend on television – whatever is on decides how you think, what you think, and when to think it.

Lost is just one of the examples of a show that very clearly expresses what is going on. You have to believe; if you think freely, independently, and without “guidance” you are or will get in trouble. Don’t criticize or think about what it is you are watching and whether it makes sense – just sit back, relax, and “enjoy.”

Television is the perfect means for brain washing a population – because it is one-way only. It may offer some interactive features (like changing channels), but what is broadcast is produced in a protected environment and fully controlled by the people producing it. It is not a substitute for a good conversation with an intellectual person, or even taking part in a discussion forum on some web site – it is the very opposite.

A discussion with other people is non-controllable and non-foreseeable; you have to always pay attention to not lose touch with the discussion. And the most important thing about a conversation is: you don’t want to be just a recipient of “truths.” In a conversation, for it to be a good conversation (or even a conversation at all) you need to take part. And you won’t accept someone else’s views just because “he says so,” for the outcome of the discussion – whether you like it or not – is the result partly of your doing (so why give it up?). It might be upsetting, disturbing, or someone might even be lying – but somehow you won’t settle for anyone’s opinions just because they are worded. You feel obligated to criticize and think yourself.

TV works the other way. It is supposed to be entertainment and therefore it delivers nothing that makes you upset, and whatever is broadcast is made as easy to swallow as possible. Just sit back, relax, and let yourself be fed the entertainment.

Have a look at the news – it too is entertainment. News reports are made shorter and shorter, so that you can go back to seeing your favorite show sooner. And still the news reports have gone through numerous layers of mainstreaming (censoring) so that whatever is reported is thoroughly controlled. There’s no room for surprises and no reports that tease your brain to start producing its own thoughts or penetrating lies. Sometimes they make you react to them, but trust me – the way you react is a result of how the report is put together, not of your independent assessment of the facts.

Imagine if you were the ruler of the land – what would you do to keep such a mass of people in check? You need to make them believe in you and the system, otherwise they might challenge it. How do you do that? You make them think everything is alright, that someone else is making the tough decisions – that someone else is answering the “red phone” in the middle of the night so that you can relax and continue to let yourself be entertained.

There’s a reason TV programming is broadcast almost exclusively by mammoth networks. It is easier to control a few huge networks, or to form alliances with them, and then “protect” the “competition” in the market for TV entertainment through setting up barriers to “hostile” competitors. Who gets to “entertain” the populace is not a result of providing the best programming, it is a result of getting the right permits.

Have you ever wondered about this obsession about television in this country? Ever wondered why people stay at home passively letting themselves be showered by the “boob tube” instead of going out to meet people? We’re programmed through evolution to save our energy, so TV fits us perfectly: there’s no need to go anywhere, we don’t need to socially interact (which could be both stressful and energy-consuming), and we don’t even have to think. Just keep those eyes open and let the brain get soaked with whatever “is on.” So television seems to be the perfect tool for keeping us satisfied at the lowest possible level, while keeping us from the truth and life itself.

Am I wrong? Then consider a normal conversation between friends in almost any setting. What do you usually talk about with people? Television, and perhaps also the latest neighborhood gossip, and the weather. Nothing that really means anything or that keeps your intellect alert. Your brain turns to mush while you are letting yourself be passively entertained, spending hours in your favorite armchair with a deadish, fixed smile on your lips.

The truth is that any “normal” conversation today is always about television: “Did you see that show last night about [whatever]?” – “No, did you really miss the latest episode of [fill in the blank]? It was sooo cool, I wonder what’s going to happen next…” – “Do you remember that move about the guy who did that thing? What was it called…? Yes, that one – have you seen it too? That was awesome.” And so on.

Where does this fascination come from? I don’t know, but I do know that people are fascinated and they spend hours in front of their television sets watching shows they don’t really like. How often don’t you hear people claim there’s “only crap” on? Yet they don’t turn the television set off – they cannot, because what would they do if they didn’t have a distraction to passively stimulate the irises?

Have you ever wondered what you would do without television? Does the thought terrify you? The fact that the thought of living without television terrifies you is indeed terrifying. Who knows what kind of baloney you’re fed – and what it makes you believe. Aren’t you afraid of what television makes you?

Imagine a land where everybody is fixed to watching television. Do you sincerely believe that such a population could not be subject to some kind of propaganda? Imagine if one of the “great” dictators of history had had a population addicted to television – it would not have made their ends harder to accomplish. Television serves as both a great “teaching” device and as a distraction – if you are watching you cannot know what is going on around you.

If someone, with or without uniform, would break into your neighbor’s house and pull them out of there kicking and screaming. Would you then turn off your television set and go outside to see for yourself what is going on – and help the people you know?

Or would you have a quick look and then continue zapping…or perhaps just turn up the volume…?

For more on this topic, see The Media and Power and Rejecting Television.