Jake Gordon

"Television the drug of nation, breeding ignorance and feeding radiation" Discuss (Disposable Heroes of HipHoprisy - Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury)

Television is clearly not a pharmaceutical drug in that it is not a substance which has a chemical affect on the body. However, it is possible that it can be seen as a drug which causes changes in behaviour and often addiction, although for the purpose of this essay this will not be discussed. The word 'drug' will be used within to symbolise anything that is 'bad' in being undesirable to the nation's society. Also, although physically bombarding the viewer with electromagnetic radiation, 'feeding radiation' will not be considered literally. Therefore the purpose of this essay is to consider whether television creates an ignorant society and whether life would be better or worse without it.

A clear definition of television is required, especially with the recent technological advancements which have brought about the convergence of Internet and television, and enabled interactive services to be delivered through a television set. Television will be considered as a means for video footage to be broadcast to the nation. A passive medium involving no direct interaction with the user.

However, in making this distinction it is also important to understand the affect of the invention of the television (from here on in, 'tv') on other technologies. Whilst ceefax/teletext can be viewed on a tv, this is not the 'television' to be discussed. However, without the tv these services would not be possible. In a similar way, interactive tv and the Internet rely upon technology developed originally for the tv. This benefit of tv should not be overlooked in the proceeding arguments.

The tv is a passive medium. The audience digests its contents without interaction. The only choice is that to change channels or turn it off - and the number of channels is limited, especially for free-to-air analogue services. Whilst subscriber services offer a wider variety of channels, viewers are still restricted to those channels which their provider allows them to view - often affected by the profitability of the content within. With commercial channels advertising and sponsorship have a great influence upon availability of programmes. BBC in the UK does not make/buy its programmes for free, but with the aid of tv licence money which is not in endless supply - the result being a limited budget and hence a limited coverage.

Compare these aspects of tv with the world wide web (web). Users of the web have almost complete choice over what they digest, limited only to what they can find (but hence also often subject to the 'portal' or search engine through which they find). Content is predominately free of charge, with the only costs being syphoned off by telecommunications companies. Whilst tv broadcasters require huge amounts of money to remain solvent (example in case: NTL Digital's recent bankcrupty), web content can be provided at minimal cost and is often done so by individuals (rather than corporations) at an accepted financial loss. Coverage is limited to a desire to publish, availability of a computer with an Internet connection, and minimal technical competence. Regulation is muddled and sparse, with complications existing due to competing legislations across geographical borders.

For these reasons and the interactivity opportunities it provides, the Internet can be seen as a tool for democracy, offering "unprecedented opportunity to reconnect people to the political process... by encourageing more people in public policy discussions and debate" (Steve Case, Chairman, AOL - 1999). Conversely, tv can be seen in its present day as a tool for promoting a consumer-capitalist society - the epitomy of ignorance. Commercial channels only succeed if enough consumers/subscribers pay for their broadcasting and/or are influenced enough by tv advertisements to spend their money.

But often people don't want to have to interact with the medium - passivity is far easier and more relaxing, letting someone else do the hard work of deciding what content to deliver. Without tv, and particularly before the emergence of the Internet, it is far easier to be ignorant. The tv enables those who would otherwise be ignorant become at least marginally informed. Because of regulation, terrestrial stations are required to show news and discussion, even if it is not profitable for them. BBC's flagship channel boasts one of the higher viewing figures for its late night news, which for some provide the most anti-ignorance activity in their daily routines.

Life isn't merely about being as inignorant as possible. Enjoying one's self is crucial, and the tv provides endless entertainment, replacing religion as the new "opium for the masses". But it could be argued that to make the most of a life, to enjoy it to its full, must include the best possible understanding of the world. To be ignorant of nothing, to help humanity and the world. Whilst tv watching is fun, watching it will not erradicate global poverty, increase global quality of life, create a peaceful world, save the planet and develop our increase productivity and development. Quite the oppositie.

The tv is at the heart of selfish consumer-capitalism, and hence can be seen partly as responsible for the consequences of this. TV adverts and programmes encourages over consumption and a capitalist mindset, taking rather than giving, accumulating wealth, competition, winner takes all. There is little given to promoting a thoughtful and caring society - there is no commercial incentive to do so. Whilst documentaries and news helps educate, it is no replacement for books and practical research.

The tv creates a couch-potatoe culture in which people sit in front of the tv for hours on end, not bothering with socializing and healthy alternatives. Whilst "people who watch more television feel like they have more friends" this is only because they imagine fictional tv characters are those friends (research by Satoshi Kanazawa, reported in New Scientist, May 2001). In watching the US sitcom 'Friends' viewers become excited becoming like the socially-gifted characters, but paradoxically by viewing the show this will never occur.

Through the progression of this essay it should be evident that the author would like to see the tv replaced with the Internet in years to come as the media converge. However, at the current time, the author also sees much use in the tv, allowing people to enjoy themselves and passively 'learn' about the world. Simultaneously, however, the author sees the tv as the new 'opium for the masses', reinforcing the ideals of the current system - consumer-capitalism - both directly and indirectly. It is for this reason, and the author's disgust at the contradictions of capitalism, which brings the author to agree that "[t]elevision [is] the drug of [the] nation, breeding ignorance and feeding radiation".

[1,290 words, written in 2001]
by Jake Gordon, some rights reserved