Why I Hate Television

My readers, insofar as I have any, will wonder why I begin with such an obvious title, feeling that it hardly needs saying. The genesis of this piece is admittedly peculiar. None of my “African family” understand, and my French is not good enough to present ideas at that level. So I am going to jot it down and run it through Google Translate, which is not actually that bad. I might as well economise by writing it up as a Hugo and translating it afterwards for them.

You will be expecting me to start with the brainwashing aspect, and of course that is important. Particularly since 2001, we have seen television functioning like Orwell’s Two-Minute Hate, as our masters designate this week’s object of detestation ¬¬– to be serenaded by the spluttering indignation of the powerless. Some channels seem to try their best to be “impartial”, whatever that means, but as with all journalism, television selects what snippets of the vast reality to show us, and selects with some agenda, whether a written directive or the semi-conscious assumptions of its staff. People simply do not know this, and confuse this artificial performance with the real universe.

News is a necessary evil, and I have far greater detestation of drama series, because to an even greater extent, the viewers confuse them with life. People ignore their lovers to watch actors pretending to be lovers on the box. They learn their social behaviour from soaps. For our child-rearing has long been delegated to the television, and the only resistance has been from the Americans terrified that their offspring might be damaged by seeing a female breast among all the bloodshed, gore and torture. That is a well-known phenomenon, but people talk only about the corpse count in action movies when they should also be looking at how television teaches them for example courtship behaviour. Is there any government or industry body that ensures that this has some connection with actual human beings? There is not.

Advocates for every conceivable group are always complaining about their portrayal in films and on television: people of colour, indigenes, women, gays, the disabled, nerds, you name it. Put all the complaints together and we might conclude that drama series exist in their own bubbles, based not on earthly life but the needs of ignorant hucksters.

When you read a book, you are made to feel things solely by the characters, the plot and the language. With television, however, you are continually instructed on what to feel by background music. Again I ask, who exactly has decided that a given scene must evoke precisely these emotions, as cued by the soundtrack, and no others? Experiments have been done with silent drama, like in the theatre, but modern audiences cannot handle not being instructed how to respond to character and plot, which were once enough in themselves. In the same way, they cannot handle comedy without canned laughter; for how else are they to know that something is funny?

A famous example of television as an imposed hyper-reality is the fact that if people witness something on the street, they don’t really experience it until they see it again on TV. Their own lives are not real to them unless captured by the cameras and broadcast. This suggests a very deep and serious problem with the apperception of reality as such. The same process of hyper-reality seems to be operating with the generations young enough to be obsessed with taking selfies at the expense of relating to the world outside themselves and their Facebook site, the people who take their smartphones to bed with their sex partners. Other people in the flesh are not really real, only the screen is real.

Another way in which television interacts with this perverted epistemology is the conviction of the youngsters that they can do their homework and so on “to” a television programme. Their parents never believed they could, and they were right. “Multitasking” is a myth, perpetuated by female chauvinists and kids who don’t want to learn. The human brain, even the female brain, is simply not wired to do several things well. Mothers generally have to do several things at once, cooking around shrieking infants and so forth, but that does not mean that they are doing any of them half as well as they would have done them with some peace and quiet. If you do your homework “to” the television, the only possible result is that you will do it badly, and not be able to remember the programme afterwards.

In fact most people provably don’t remember programmes five minutes after they have ended. But the object of the exercise was never to watch the programme in the first place, in any meaningful sense of the word “watch”. So what are people actually doing when they are “watching” television?

The answer to that may lie in neurology. Anyone who has ever tried to have a serious conversation in a room containing a live television will know that you just can’t. The eyes will not look at you and the ears will not listen to you. Even when the programme is of no interest; it is on, and so attention must be paid to it, not you. At best you might get a simple question and answer when there is nothing much happening on screen. You are simply not a priority, and never will be until the television has been switched off. Until that time, you are not dealing with a fellow human being, but with the victim of a neural sequestration.

And yet, how much will that “hacking” victim remember of what they have ignored you to follow? Probably nothing. We are not dealing with conscious attention here, but some other mechanism. There is something about the moving pictures on the bright screen that outright kidnaps the animal brain. It is probably because, as can be proven in the laboratory, we are evolved to pay much more attention to movement than to static objects. People may grumble about the frantic cutting of modern American action films, but the suits know what they are doing – it is not required that the bums-on-seats understand what is happening, only that they cannot look away, that they stay until the next commercial break. The same goes for the busy whirling graphics of the news channels themselves, which are increasingly hogging the time that was once spent on giving the actually news. The point is to steal people’s attention until they have been sufficiently softened-up to buy the products of the man paying for the “programme”.

For that is the bottom line; television programmes exist to sell merchandise, end of story. Given that all advertising is mendacious, there is no reason why any person who dislikes lying should watch television. Equally, there is no reason why anyone who wants to keep his powers of attention should watch television. Is it not television that has created attention-deficit disorder? Television destroys the brain, it makes you stupid. All those who still remember a literary culture, aka. books, should Just Say No.

Posted on December 30, 2011 at 08:46 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: CULTURAL ODDS AND ENDS, Odds And Ends, Miscellaneous

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