Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Network


I know, I know. Any of you who have read this blog for any length of time are probably aware of my standing endorsement of Sidney Lumet (and Paddy Chayefsky's) "Network." It's one of the best films ever made and certainly one of my favorites.

I was shocked to see that they released a special edition 2-disc set of it yesterday. I was convinced no one cared about that movie but me.

But I watched the film again last night and I was blown away by how much more biting and apt the commentary in it is than the last time I watched it. I'd completely forgotten about the sub-plot where an Arab holding company was going to buy the conglomerate CCA that owned UBS. Howard Beale ranted against this and chided people to write letters to Washington to stop the merger.

Beale was succesful in stopping the merger, much to the chagrine of those above, particularly Arthur Jensen (a delightful Academy Award-nominated performace from Ned Beatty). Jensen decides to bring sense to Howard Beale and explain to him how the world works. His speech is over-the-top and shrill. It is also effective and, in some disgusting way, true.

Here are the verbatim excerpts I could find:
You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won't have it. Is that clear? You think you've merely stopped a business deal? That is not the case. The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back. It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity. It is ecological balance. You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations; there are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems; one vast, interwoven, interacting, multivaried, multinational dominion of dollars.

What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state? Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions, just like we do.

It is the international system of currency which determines the vitality of life on this planet. THAT is the natural order of things today. THAT is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today. And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature. And YOU WILL ATONE. Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale? You get up on your little 21-inch screen and howl about America, and democracy. There is no America; there is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today.

The world is a business, Mr. Beale; it has been since man crawled out of the slime. Our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that perfect world in which there's no war or famine, oppression or brutality - one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock - all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused. And I have chosen you, Mr. Beale, to preach this evangel.

Strong stuff.

I wonder if it was an accident that this film came out on the heels of the proposed Dubai situation. I wonder if Karl Rove or Dick Cheney gave a similar speech to any number of people, including Bush.

Here's a link to the complete text of Ned Beatty's speech and an MP3 of his performance.

But it isn't just the Dubai situation that has echos in Network that resonate so strongly still. Here's an excerpt from the Howard Beale show... Does anyone else get the idea that he's talking about the Fox network? And MSNBC? And CNN? And MTV, CBS, ABC, VH1?

Right now, there is a whole, an entire generation that never knew anything that didn't come out of this tube. This tube is the gospel, the ultimate revelation; this tube can make or break presidents, popes, prime ministers; this tube is the most awesome goddamn propaganda force in the whole godless world, and woe is us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people, and that's why woe is us that Edward George Ruddy died. Because this company is now in the hands of CCA, the Communications Corporation of America; there's a new chairman of the board, a man called Frank Hackett, sitting in Mr. Ruddy's office on the twentieth floor. And when the 12th largest company in the world controls the most awesome goddamn propaganda force in the whole godless world, who knows what shit will be peddled for truth on this network?

Television is not the truth. Television is a goddamned amusement park.
Indeed it truly is. A goddamned amusement park. (Here's the complete text of that speech and there you'll also find an MP3 of the speech. It's good on paper. To hear it is amazing. To watch it is awe-inspiring.)

God, I wish I could write this stuff as good as Paddy Chayefsky.

8 comments:

Larry said...

Hear hear! on your Network recommendation. It's been on my top 5 since the first time I saw it. It's insightful, prescient, and pitch black comedic. It packs a sharp bite!

Ned Beatty's diatribe encapsulates that perspective so poignantly that, in the course of conversations, people have brought it up as specific examplar of that wordview. I, like you, had thought I was the only person to still revere that film, but it seems we were both wrong.

Now that I know about it, I have to get my hands on the new release.

Now who is it we need to articulate our common rage?

KURT said...

Network, the 1976 film about a fictionalized television network and the drive for ratings, focuses on the newsroom and parallels what seemingly became reality of the era (and is of today) in many ways. Network talks about how violence on television influences our behavior, how network greed, drive for ratings and advertiser pressure influences the programming decisions of news and entertainment. Network portrays why entertainment and sensational violence on television is so popular in the dumbing-down of the news, from informative to entertaining in America. While Network in some ways might have been slightly ahead of it’s time; the implied historical, social and political aspects of the movie then and since are very real!

Historically the movie Network implies the purpose and effect of television viewing is to superficially entertain viewers and keep them brain dead while getting huge ratings and making huge profits. Howard Beale, the out-of-control newscaster in Network states, “Television is not the truth. Television is a goddamned amusement park.” While it seems fictional, like the movie ending, to have someone shot on television all in the name of money and ratings, in many ways it is not. While we would hope no one has to get shot, the fact is when they do we cover it and cover it big! “Sidney Lumet, who directed Paddy Chayefsky’s legendary script, believes that every absurdity, every sacrifice of ethics for the sake of a “50 share” depicted in “Network” has come to pass…” (Sidney Lumet.., n.p.). “If it bleeds, it leads” is so very true newsrooms across America and of shootings like the recent one on the Virginia campus. It not only leads, it leads for days on end with stories that even replay the footage of a madman’s rage and self-delusions. This endless sensational press always seems to start a string of other needless shootings like the other ones that followed the campus shootings. The copycats follow, sick individuals are encouraged and the media seems to be leaving the audiences wanting more.

Network was released in an era when television anchormen and journalists were in question for relationships with elected officials after Watergate. Politics became another commodity in the discourse of advertising while White House spin control continued to diminish belief with citizenry in our alleged democratic process. Walter Cronkite stated, “We howled with laughter, rolled over on the floor with the depiction of [TV news]…”. However, Cronkite was also concerned that people would think it was the truth about TV news (Sidney Lumet.., n.p.). Network, the era of questioning authority, Viet Nam, downfall of the Soviet Union, propaganda, population control, women’s rights, disinformation, fear-mongering, monopoly of capital and media coming out of the Pentagon and Oval Office. “… The State itself was still figuring how to commercially spin-doctor and info-tainment itself, just behind the corporate news organs that were slightly ahead of the curve; afterall, that is their business. NET nails them to the fucking wall!” (Jardine, Network 1976… n.p.)

Socially, like what the fictionalize News Anchor Howard Beale was talking about in the movie Network, we have almost become like mindless zombies programmed by the television we watch. We have become the “instant gratification society” with the explosion of Network cable, satellite, Internet and handheld devices; we expect and demand to be amused and entertained over being informed. Neil Postman echoes the story lines of Network in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death. “Postman was worried that our society, with its constant search for distraction, was losing its ability to question, to wonder, to think, that it was being overwhelmed by images and dazzled by facade. And his main culprit was television. (Leopald, I'm mad as hell'…)”.

News is bullshit according to Beale and, in many ways that has become even truer today. Society seems to prefer news that is more cluttered and concerned with car chases and who is being kicked off American Idol than with police brutality and political corruption. According to Ted Koppel former Nightline anchor, “The goal of the traditional broadcast networks now is to identify those segments of the audience considered most desirable by the advertising community and then to cater to them” (Sidney Lumet.., n.p.). Believe it or not, the top consumers of television violence are age 18-34 men, followed by women of the same age. “Advertisers are willing to pay a premium for these viewers; which means programmers face huge incentives to offer violent shows” (Hamilton, Channeling Violence… 3). The fact is, women 18-34 are the most highly valued consumers by many advertisers because of their product purchases, and ironically, their preferences are the driving force for the popularity of violence on television (Hamilton, Channeling Violence…2).

The movie depicts Diana Christiansen as the heartless rating driven Program Development Executive who claims, “News is show business” and is all about the highest possible ratings! When she finds out veteran news anchor Beale is given another chance, it inspires her to push the envelope on sensationalism and violence even further. Diana, “…VP of programming excitedly proposes making a series out of real bank robbery footage (home movies negotiated from a revolutionary group of their own bank robberies - similar to Patty Hearst bank heists of the era) to bring more exploitative, tabloid programming to the financially-losing division…” (Dirks,“Network 1976”). This is true today as we find the best looking people and footage to deliver the stories. The news is clearly designed to entertain us to the point where most people don’t even question it; in fact, we quote it and are programmed by it. Viewers seem to thrive on the sensationalistic edge news stories. Since local stations keep all of the profits of these periods, they take extra effort to ensure these prized revenues (“The Ratings Game” n.p.).

When Howard Beale claims television is not the truth, it’s a goddamned amusement park, he is right; with 500 channels + it has become the reality of today! Network depicts news as a joke; yet the joke is on us when we watch the latest news about Brittany in/out of rehab, who is the father of Anna Nicole’s baby, what Alec Baldwin said to his daughter and the latest in celebrity news gossip. Stories like Janet Janet’s exposure at the Super Bowl get over sensationalized, while the shooter at the University in Virginia gets over glorified because we have great footage to get ratings and advertiser profits. Broadcasters are so concerned with delivering audiences to advertisers and are not as concerned about the costs to the public as a whole with increased aggression (Hamilton, Media Violence…3).

From a political standpoint, it is interesting to note that since the release of Network, often during election years, politicians will stand out strongly against sensationalism and violence on television. Yet these same politicians also know that in fact there is little that can be done because of First Amendment rights when it comes to the area of broadcast TV. These political stands promise to clean up television, but are usually vain attempts to get votes, and are known empty promises (Gross 74). More appalling than politicians campaigning and complaining about television are found to be the same people who watch it and are part of it. Take the example of Arizona Senator John McCain. McCain recently lobbied for stronger regulations against the entertainment industry. Then, Senator McCain recently made a cameo appearance in an episode of “24” last season that featured heavy torture. Viewers have more power than they think. Viewers raise the popularity of a show by watching, they also have the power to turn it off (Glenn n.p.).

Politicians know the power of manipulating the public via the illusion of television. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was allegedly in the public interests of more and better competition in media. Lawmakers knew in advance this was a political lie to the public. The law enabled the big players to become enormously bigger swallowing up all the little players and putting them out virtually out of business or under their control for content. In Network, Beale proclaimed Television is designed to keep people entertained with illusions to garner ratings; it’s about big company profits, not the need for truth. Network also portrayed the evangelical executive Arthur Jensen who lectured Beale, "You've meddled with the primal forces of nature...There is no America; there is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today" (NG, n.p.). It’s ironic that amusement parks Disney/ABC, Universal/NBC are of a few that controls the “mass madness” Beale talks about seen in the drive for large companies to become even larger in the corporate swallow-up drive for cash. The fact that media companies would twist or even lie about the truth suggested in the movie is not far from the truth.

In conclusion, the debates over television will not be any quicker to resolve than a total rewrite of First Amendment rights. In my opinion, we become products of our media choices. We believe what we watch; forming our opinions based on what television entertainment programs to us and seem to care-less about questioning authority. If more parents would spend time learning to use parental channel blocks and V-Chip technology and rely less on television as a nanny for their young and impressionable, the time spent protesting television might be better used against corruption in government, needless wars, pollution and homelessness. Furthermore, if these shows were so unpopular, television programmers and advertisers would be rapidly seeking new forms of entertainment to invest in that attract the largest audiences available.

Works Cited:
Dirks, Tim. “Network 1976”. 1996. Film Site

Gross, Lynne Schafer and Edward John Fink. Telecommunications: Radio, Television, and Movies in the Digital Age.” New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006.
Glenn, Malcom A. “Love It, or Leave It Alone.” 2 Apr. 2007.

Hamilton, James T. Channeling Violence: The Economic Market For Violent Television Programming. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.
Hamilton, James T. ”Media Violence and Public Policy.” Television Violence And Public Policy. Ed. James T. Hamilton. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998. 1-12.
Jardine, Dan. “Network (1976, USA, Sidney Lumet”). 01 Aug. 2006. Cinemania

Leopald, Todd.“'I'm mad as hell' and you know the rest”. 23 Feb 2006. CNN
Ng, Greg. “On the Decline of the New Hollywood and the Prescience of Network.” 2006. Senses of Cinema

Sidney Lumet remembers ‘Network’. 22 Feb. 2006. Associated Press

“The Ratings Game.” n.d. n.p.

KURT said...

Network
Network, the 1976 film about a fictionalized television network and the drive for ratings, focuses on the newsroom and parallels what has seemingly become reality today in many ways. It portrayed television as becoming a vast wasteland run by executives who were more concerned about money and ratings, than about what was real news or good programming. If the price was right, people’s values, morals and even criminal activities were available for purchase to create and even fictionalize stories or shows to get audience. The movie exemplifies how news has become more about entertainment, than covering news that is relevant, real and important.
Today, in the United States we have almost become like mindless zombies programmed by the television we watch; this was what the fictionalize News Anchor Howard Beale was talking about in the movie Network. News is bullshit according to Beale and, in many ways that has become even truer today. The news today is more cluttered and concerned with car chases and who is being kicked off American Idol than with police brutality and political corruption. The movie depicts Diana Christiansen as the heartless rating driven Program Development Executive who claims, “News is show business” and about the highest possible ratings. This is true today as we find the best looking people and footage to deliver the stories. The news is clearly designed to entertain us to the point where most people don’t question it; we quote it and are programmed by it.
When Howard Beale claims “television is not the truth, it’s a god-dam amusement park,” he is right in the movie and it has become the reality of today. Television is designed to keep people entertained with illusions to garner ratings; it’s about big company profits, not the need for truth. While the movie shows news as a joke, the joke is on us when we watch the latest news about Brittany in/out of rehab, who is the father of Anna Nicole’s baby, what Alec Baldwin said to his daughter and the latest in celebrity news gossip. Stories about Janet Janet’s exposure at the Super Bowl get over sensationalized, while the shooter at the University in Virginia gets over glorified because we have great footage to get ratings and advertiser profits. It’s ironic that an amusement park (Disney) owns ABC and the “mass madness” Beale talks about is seen in the drive today for large companies to become even larger in the corporate swallow-up drive for cash. The fact that media companies would twist or even lie about the truth suggested in the movie is not far from the truth.
The movie implies the purpose and effect of television viewing is to superficially entertain viewers and keep them brain dead while getting huge ratings and making money. While it seems fictional, like the movie ending, to have someone shot on television all in the name of money and ratings, in many ways it is not. While we would hope no one has to get shot, the fact is when they do we cover it and cover it big! “If it bleeds, it leads” is so very true of shootings like the one on the Virginia campus. It not only leads, it leads for days on end with stories that even play the footage of a madman’s rage and self-delusions. This endless sensational press always seems to start a string of other needless shootings like the other ones that followed the campus shootings. The copycats follow, sick individuals are encouraged and the media seems to be leaving the audiences wanting more.

KURT said...

look at how violence on television influences our behavior. We will look at why people are opposed to such violence on television. The first aspect examines who is opposed, and then the research studies on effects from violence on television. Then we will examine why violence on television is so popular. In the second aspect will look at the incentives of these programs, and then what the draws or attractions are to violence on television.
The opposition to violence on television has come from parents, religious groups, government, and other organizations who feel it has adverse effects on our society. While many people may be opposed to violence on television as pollution to our society, programmers are quick to rely on First Amendment rights to preserve advertising dollars. As a result of the opposition and many forms of pressure to curb violence on television a ratings system was instituted. In early 1997, the TV Parental Guidelines were implemented by the television industry by placing adult programs other than sports or news into four different categories for viewing. These categories were TV-G; TV-PG; TV-14; or TV-MA and into two categories for children’s programming of TV-Y and TV-Y7. While these ratings did offer some solutions for groups and parents concerns over content, they also took heavy criticism for still not offering enough information. As a result, in the fall of 1997, the ratings systems also began to offer additional information on violence, sexual situations, language, and suggestive situations. This new system of labeling discouraged some advertisers from putting their product images in certain shows for fear of consumer backlash and associated controversy. While adult audiences did not dwindle from violent type shows, it gave more parents the opportunity to shield their children from the potential harmful impacts of these types of shows (Hamilton, Channeling Violence… 5).
Reverend Donald Wildmon, who is instrumental in leading the American Family Association (AFA), has targeted sponsors of certain shows labeled with violent content. The result has been consumer boycotts of productions from these advertisers for supporting these shows. Similarly, the National Coalition on Television Violence (NCTV) published a list of programs and movies with violent acts from 1981 through 1992. The NCTV calculations were based on the following methodology: “NCTV’s violence scores are actual counts of physically violent acts, hostile acts committed with the intention of hurting another person. NCTV uses a weighting system so the minor acts of violence, such as an angry push or shove, count very little (1/3 of an act of violence), and violence with serious consequences such as an attempt of murder, murder, rape, or suicide count as somewhat more than a standard act of violence (1 2/3 acts of violence)” (Hamilton, Channeling Violence…16).
Although many people claim they want violence reduced on broadcast television, they fail to use the V-chip which was developed to help in these matters. It is interesting to note that often during election years politicians will stand out strongly against violence on television. Yet the same politicians also know that in fact there is little that can be done because of First Amendment rights when it comes to the area of violence on broadcast TV. These political stands promise to clean up television, but are usually attempts at getting votes, and are in fact empty promises (Gross 74).
Many times the same people who are campaigning and complaining about violence on television are the same people who watch it and are part of it. Take the example of Arizona Senator John McCain. McCain recently lobbied for stronger regulations against the entertainment industry. Then, Senator McCain recently made a cameo appearance in an episode of “24” last season that featured heavy torture. Viewers have more power than they think. Viewers raise the popularity of a show by watching, they also have the power to turn it off (Malcom n.p.).
Broadcasters argue that because of current regulations they unfairly lose audiences to cable when it comes to violence on television. Presently laws do not regulate cable networks the way they do other broadcasters, which allows them to program much “edgier” materials. While the issue of violence on television is not likely to go away in the near future, it is surprising how people handle the issue (Gross 74).
As a result, the presence of violence indicates potential dangers associated with certain types of programming according to research studies (Hamilton, Channeling Violence…19). Researchers have found, in laboratory evidence, that violence used in frequent contexts increase the likelihood of aggression being stimulated. According to the Cultural Indicators Project at the University of Pennsylvania headed by George Gerbner, they define the programming of violence on television as, “the overt expression of physical force (with or without a weapon, against self or other) compelling action against one’s will on pain of being hurt or killed, or actually hurting or killing” (Hamilton, Channeling Violence…14).
There is extensive research to support that violence on television has harmful effects. Laboratory studies, survey information, and numerous other experiments show where television violence has at least three harmful effects from consumption of this type of programming. These documented effects include increased aggression and possible criminal activities, a heightened desensitization, and increased generation of fears experienced by the viewers. “Many of these dangers are highest among children, yet programmers and advertisers do not face many market incentives to incorporate these potential damages in their programming decisions” (Hamilton, Media Violence…1-2). Children seem to be the innocent by-product that is left unattended, while violent programming is targeted to reach young adult viewers. Ironically these same adult viewers are the same people who have the young children in the first place. The fact remains that many damages do occur from children’s exposure to violence. The damages of short-term aggression increases, and long-term exposures can lead to the likelihood of criminal activity. These factors have greatly contributed to why public policy and conscience have made violence on television such a hotly debated issue (Hamilton, Media Violence…1-2).
According to other research studies, there is clear evidence that exposure to violence on television greatly contributes to violence in our society in many significant ways. Organizations like the American Psychological Association, National Academy of Science, CDC, AMA and others agree that violence in media has a very adverse and prolonged effect that contribute to real-world violence (Wilson 15). The Surgeon General office and National Institute of Mental Health issued reports stating that both adults and children had television as a significant role in their lives. Emphatic in both reports were the claims that television violence greatly influenced aggressive behaviors on the part of individuals exposed to such programming. “The Surgeon General’s Report concluded that there was a consistent and significant correlation between viewing televised violence and subsequent aggression” (Wilson 16). This report was the result of measuring aggressive behavior in many different approaches; the clear result was that televised violence led to aggressive behavior by the viewer (Wilson 16).
While there are many theories how violence on television influences our behavior and damages our society, there are many other factors that drive the calculations of programmers, producers and viewers of such programming. Since many advertisers are seeking the 18-34 aged target market, which are the biggest consumers of violence on television, programmers are in fact rewarded for delivering these target demographics. Networks and stations face a profit-maximizing strategy to attract the most viewers; “… the decision to broadcast violent content results in the exposure of substantial numbers of viewers aged 2-11 or 12-17 to programs that social science research indicates may be hazardous for them” (Hamilton, Channeling Violence…4).
Violence on television is so popular for many reasons, one of the biggest being economics. While there are many that argue violence on television is like pollution, there are those quick to stand on First Amendment, and others who claim it is the cost of doing business. Violence on television has become a popular programming tool in both entertainment and in news shows to attract particular audience viewing groups. Television is more likely to produce and air programs that contain any violent acts, and certain types of violence portrayed will depend on several economic factors. Some of these factors include: size and composition of the potential demographic viewing audience; tastes and distribution acceptance for violent programming; advertising demand for certain types of viewers or viewers readiness to pay for such programming; production costs of various shows; and competitiveness of market penetration just to highlight a few of the reasons. Believe it or not, the top consumers of television violence are age 18-34 men, followed by women of the same age. “Advertisers are willing to pay a premium for these viewers, which means that some programmers will face incentives to offer violent shows” (Hamilton, Channeling Violence… 3). The fact is, women 18-34 are some of the most highly valued consumers by many advertisers. Because of their product purchases, ironically, their preferences greatly account for the popularity of violence on television (Hamilton, Channeling Violence…2).
The bottom-line, advertisers buy ratings therefore, if violence on television wasn’t so popular, no one would support it. The more popular a program is, the more likely it is to be programmed, driven by high-paid advertising revenues. Huge populations are targeted for specific advertisements by the demographic information provided by Nielsen ratings. According to Nielsen, advertisers and industry leaders spend money on audience research for television to both increase the effectiveness of programming and advertising (“The Ratings Game” n.p.).
cartoons 471 promos for TV shows 265
movies 221 Toy commercials 188
music videos 123 commercials for films 121
TV dramas 69 news 62
tabloid reality shows 58 sitcoms 52
soap operas 34
TV Guide commissioned a study in 1992; its purpose was to determine the typical levels of violence in average 18-hour television broadcast day. Both networks and the more popular cable channels were monitored to see what purposeful, overt, intentional behavior was part of physical force or weapons used against other persons. The 1,846 acts of violence broke down this way: It is a well-known fact that violence on television holds the attraction of most viewers; this attraction is what advertisers and programmers are banking on for ratings and profits. If it were not for these ratings and profits, producers, programmers and advertisers would not invest so highly in violent programming. The article “TV and Film Violence” states, “Violence is being used as a superficial way of grabbing and holding an audience” (“TV and Film Violence” n.p.).
“If it leads, it bleeds,” is an old broadcast standard in many newsrooms across America. This describes the trend of crime-related stories that drive news reports and viewer ship. Advertisers have learned that crime-related stories are very interesting to viewers, and thus more pressure is applied so that these stories will be added to the nightly line-up of news. Viewers seem to thrive on the sensationalistic edge of these stories, and since local stations keep all of their profits from these time periods, they will take the extra effort to ensure these prized revenues (“The Ratings Game” n.p.).
Violence on television allows the programmer to distinguish the show airing from other viewing options because violence is an element of production differentiation. Used as a way to build audiences, violent content comes in many forms: a television movie, local news broadcasts, or even as an enticement to lead customers to subscribe to cable systems. Regardless, if violence on television also makes society more violent, programmers look at the economic aspects first. Broadcasters are concerned with delivering audiences to advertisers and are not as concerned about the costs to the public as a whole with increased aggression (Hamilton, Media Violence…3).
What the draws or attractions are to violence on television may come in many forms. One of the most viewed times ever recorded in television history was from Friday, November 22nd to Monday, November 25, 1963. This was during the assassination of John F. Kennedy, where there were times when 90 percent of Americans were watching television. From the moments the first shots were fired in Dallas, to the resting of President Kennedy in Arlington cemetery, the vigil was maintained by television. During this period, Jack Ruby also shot Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin, for the first live murder ever seen on television. According to a New York critic, “This was not viewing, it was total involvement” (Gross 61).
Media violence has a desensitizing effect on viewers. This desensitizing results in specific levels of violence becoming more acceptable over time to viewers. Today it takes more graphic violence to shock viewers and to hold sizable audiences. Examples of this have been handed down to us since the early days of history in many examples. One example of this started as a rather tame form of entertainment, with the famous Roman Circuses. Then in efforts to excite and hold audiences, violence and rape became part of the arena shows. However, even this was not enough when the audiences became desensitized and demanded more, more. Eventually the circuses introduced violence that was bloody and grotesque. As a result hundreds, if not thousands, of people lost their lives all in the name of entertainment. As audiences become more desensitized, we have greater expectations to be impressed. (“TV and Film Violence” n.p.). Appalling scenes are what sucks us in. Graphic violence on television is like a thrilling roller coaster that causes our adrenaline to surge and our hearts to race. It is like becoming excited in an addicted high, yet we know that there is no real danger. According to George Comstock, PhD, communications professor at Syracuse University, “It’s pleasurable to feel scared when we’re in a safe environment. Ninety percent of crimes on TV dramas are solved, as opposed to less than 20 percent in real life. It makes us believe that justice will be served” (Triffin 112-113).
Media violence by many is considered too unrealistic, simplistic, glorified, and even humorous. The “bang, bang you’re dead” scenario as part of television violence does not effectively communicate the reality of death and dying. Unless it is firsthand witnessing of death or the experience seeing a loved one killed, television violence does not effectively communicate the experience of real life. The effects felt, or the sounds of shots from real gunfire, are much different than those felt from television. In television violence, the problems are solved when all the bad guys are dead, and the good guy usually wins (“TV and Film Violence” n.p.). Yet we also enjoy that burst of emotion when we are horrified, when something triggers strong feelings, it is especially gratifying. We are looking for a strong sensations jolt. Keith Ablow, MD and author of Inside the Mind of Scott Peterson claims, “Our society is so dependant on technology that we’ve lost touch with our personal emotions. This leads us to crave something that may be awful yet still stimulates us on a primal level and makes us feel alive” (Triffin112-113).
Television violence is especially popular with young women who get hooked on many of the gritty prime-time crime shows that air on TV. Because of this popularity, shows like “Law & Order” and “CSI” have expanded to three different series. Because of this draw, a slew of similar new series have become the fastest-growing types of prime-time type programming. Many of these shows ironically feature girl gore. This gore is no coincidence either; it is a programming tactic to attract many viewers. According to Robert Thompson, PhD, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, “Images of brutality against women have been TV staples for years, but the cringe factor has been kicked up several notches this season” (Triffin 112-113). Like crime-TV victims, it is interesting to note, that the large majority of these types of shows are female viewers. Women become obsessed and even transfixed by these types of gruesome programming on television. According to Thompson, “Networks are trying to beat their competition by showing more violence. Viewers are comforted that the monstrous story line didn’t real happen in reality” (Triffin 112-113).
While there are people who would argue that television is more violent, contrary to popular belief, it is no more violent than it was a decade age. Television violence has always performed well. Violent TV can come in many forms from sci-fi in shows like “The X-Files” to crime dramas like “NYPD Blue” which were both big hits with huge followings. While the new craze seems to be censorship, the reality is television airs what people seem to like and watch. No one forces anyone to watch one show over another; these shows catch on because people talk about them as something they really enjoy. According to the article, “Love it, or Leave it Alone” by Malcolm A. Glenn, the reason for the success of violence on television is repeatedly very simple. “What’s most popular generates the most airtime for a cause. Sometimes, however, there is a self-interested component that doesn’t go unnoticed” (Malcom n.p.).
According to Jim Hurley of The American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the result of the popularity of “CSI” has lead to 80 colleges now having forensics programs and several others are in the process of developing them. Additionally, there is no firm evidence that adults watching violence on television is harmful. Yet, we seem to be riveted by our worst nightmares on television because it freaks us out. According to Dr. Ablow, “Many women worry at least somewhat about falling prey to a rapist and killer. These shows play off those normal fears” (Triffin 112-113).
In conclusion, the debates over television violence will not be any quicker to resolve than a total rewrite of First Amendment rights. While the opinion of the Moral Majority is that they want to impose censorship on the population as a whole, the reality is that in America we allegedly still have the right to free choice. The Moral Majority’s time might be better spent on quality family time, and they should rely less on television as a nanny for their young and impressionable. If more parents would spend time learning to use parental channel blocks and V-Chip technology, the time spent protesting television violence might be better used against corruption in government, needless wars, pollution and homelessness. Furthermore, if these shows were so unpopular, television programmers and advertisers would be rapidly seeking new forms of entertainment to invest in that attract the largest audiences available.








Works Cited:
Gross, Lynne Schafer and Edward John Fink. Telecommunications: Radio, Television, and Movies in the Digital Age.” New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006.

Glenn, Malcom A. “Love It, or Leave It Alone.” 2 Apr. 2007. n.p.

Hamilton, James T. Channeling Violence: The Economic Market For Violent Television Programming. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Hamilton, James T. ”Media Violence and Public Policy.” Television Violence And Public Policy. Ed. James T. Hamilton. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998. 1-12.

“The Ratings Game.” n.d. n.p.

Triffin, Molly. “The Disturbing Prime-Time Trend.” Cosmopolitan Jan 2006. 112-113.


“TV and Film Violence Reaches a New High in 2006.” n.d. n.p.

Wilson, Barbara J. Et. Al. “Content Analysis of Entertainment Television: The Importance of Context.” Television Violence and Public Policy. Ed. James T. Hamilton. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998. 13-54.

KURT said...

The landscape of politics has changed as a result of the politics in television era; television has changed the face of politics both on and off the air over the years. In chapter 9, “Reach Out and Elect Someone” of Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman makes claims and shows evidence of how television has reshaped our thinking and has changed politics. There is how we act when we see something on television, then there is how we react as a result of what we what we think we hear and see on television which is quite another issue. First, we will examine how politics have changed as a result of being on the air by looking at Postman’s claims, then we look at his evidence, and then I will provide additional evidence regarding his claims. In the second part, we will take the same approach while we look at the effects television and how it has changed what we think about politics off the air in our population as a whole.
First, unlike the era of the Typographic Mind where people were conditioned to spending endless hours listening to debates, today we want it now and want it fast on television. Politics in the entertainment television era has become show business, with cameo appearances the right place at the right time, short commercials, and debates or quick attacks on opponents to address timely issues. Politics in television is not about who’s best, it is about who is advertised, marketed and best positioned in the mind of the public eye. Postman calls this the “pseudo-therapy”, where television is geared to make the consumer feel valuable, part of what is important. Today, politicians practice a whole new type of double-think, propaganda and deceit via television media for spin-control and image positioning in politics. Postman believes that truth in advertising, when it comes to politics, is out the window. A good rule of thumb is, when it comes to a politician on television, if the lips are moving, they might be lying. Unlike print, television offers problems with a bombardment of sound and visuals, offering quick solutions and playing to our emotions, not requiring one to think.
Postman believes that politics in television is not about who is the best for the job, it is the art of who has the best celebrity image for the job. According to Ronald Reagan in 1966, “Politics … is just like show business” (125). Politics in television is not about clarity and honesty, it is only to appear so as if the candidate is that way via packaging to appeal to a TV audience. Politics in television is so powerful, that: “… Former New York City mayor John Lindsay, who has proposed that political ‘commercials’ be prohibited. Even television commentators have brought it to our attention, as for example, Bill Moyers in ‘The Thirty-second President,’ a documentary on his excellent television series ‘A Walk Through the 20th Century’ ” (129). Politicians know the power of television to cement their position within the public’s eyes, hearts and minds. Television has been used to increase the popularity and celebrity of many politicians: “In the 1950’s, Senator Everett Dirksen appeared as a guest on ‘What’s My Line?’ When running for office, John F Kennedy allowed the television cameras of Ed Murrow’s ‘Person To Person’ to invade his home. When not running for office, Richard Nixon appeared for a few seconds on ‘Laugh-In,’ an hour-long comedy show based on the format of a television commercial” (132). The list of politicians doing cameos in popular shows and commercials that had nothing to do with politics directly, is staggering. Politicians know that television leaves the strongest imprint on the populations over any other form of written or spoke word. Even former President Nixon learned the power of television and advertising after his defeat to President Kennedy: “… in one word: advertising. In Joe McGinnis’ book about Richard Nixon’s campaign in 1968, The Selling of the President…” (126).
It is my observations, that during the Great Debates in 1960, between John F Kennedy and Richard M Nixon held at CBS in Chicago, it was the packaging and impressions on television that gave the public favor to Kennedy for winning the debates. Prior the debates, Kennedy had taken his campaign to California; he was very tanned, relaxed, and appeared in control for the debates. Nixon on the other hand, was reportedly recovering from a brief illness. Nixon’s aides were so concerned that they applied Lazy-Shave in hopes of making Nixon look better for the debates. Unfortunately for him, Nixon appeared nervous and haggard, as the makeup caused him to sweat. Kennedy appeared attentive, self confident, and in control. Furthermore, it was also television unlike print, or other forms of media that cemented the words of JFK in the public mind at the time: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” It was a peanut farmer from Georgia who also effectively used television during the age of concern about “Big Brother” spill-over from the Nixon administration and Watergate. Jimmy Carter was positioned on television, as a man of and for the people. Being seen helping those in need, working effectively with Labor Unions and the common working class.
Second, Postman feels that today in the television era, politics are reduced to the form of a television commercial even off television in the mind of the public. In the politics in television era there are no longer long debates. Everything has been reduced to short answers for the quick fix in the form of television commercials and sound bits or fragments of information to convey the right image in the public. The result is politics in television has gone to the extreme of making politicians into celebrities who stage images to get the impression they want. In the television era, it is as if celebrity is politics is more important than political parties or a candidate’s stance on the issues. Politicians will show up anytime, anywhere, doing just about anything, for a political celebrity moment, regardless if it is an area of their expertise or not just to create an image. The typographic era was conditioned to long debates up to seven hours and candidates were very knowledge about the issues at the time. Today it does not matter is you saw the political issue on television or not, odds are radio, print, and others will be talking about it anyway. Politicians know the power of television, how it is a great influence on every type of public discourse, and its impact on American habit and the thought process. Postman claims that if a politician does have the right celebrity appeal or image, strong marketing, and good advertising on television, then the politician’s campaign and message is lost in the public eye.
Television impacts you even when you miss seeing it. The public’s mind about Nancy Reagan, and the “Say No to Drugs” campaign, was greatly affected when she appeared on “Diff’rent Strokes” (132). However, everyone seemed to be buzzing at the time about First Lady Nancy Reagan’s appearance on the show, and her remarks about the anti-drug campaign. During the Ramsey Clark, Jacob Javits New York Senate race, Clark was virtually unknown and lost by not using television. “He might as well have drawn cartoons. In fact, Jacob Javits did … to project himself as a man of experience, virtue and piety” (129). Javits won: “He understood that in a world of television and other visual media ‘political knowledge’ means having pictures in your head more than having words. The record will show that this insight did not fail him. He won the election by the largest plurality in New York state history” (130). In the case of Clark, this was another case of out of sight, out of mind. Television’s Bill Moyers further amplified the arrogance and ignorance we have as a nation, when he said: “I worry that my own business … helps to make this an anxious age of agitated amnesiacs … We Americans seem to know everything about the last twenty-four hours but know very little of the last sixty centuries or the last sixty years” (137). As a society, we have become so self-obsessed, stressed by endless choices for entertainment and want instant answers for quick fix gratifications; that we don’t take, nor do we want to invest our precious time to really research and know the real facts. George Gerbner, Dean of the Annenberg School of Communication, very correctly stated: “Liberation can not be accomplished by turning [television] off. Television is for most people the most attractive thing going any time of the day or night. We live in a world in which the vast majority will not turn off. If we don’t get the message from the tube, we get it through other people” (140).
I have witnessed the power of politics in television. There are critics who would argue that in print or radio, Nixon held his own in the debates with Kennedy. However, the strong impression of what really happened from television turned the elections at the ballot box for Kennedy. After Watergate, television raised the fears of Big Brother and corrupt government in America. Jimmy Carter wisely positioned himself as a man who was from, and for the people; which took him to the White House as the man who could cut through the red tape of government. However, it was Ronald Reagan, who positioned himself as the person who could resolve the hostage crisis in the Middle-East who beat Carter. Ironically, the hostages were released when Reagan was elected, before he even took office, still under the watch of Carter. Factually, Reagan had nothing to do with the release, but still used the opportunity to grandstand that one of his major campaign promises had been kept. Many people of the time failed to question this political move, because they saw it or heard about it from television, therefore it must be true. People in America seem to be easily swayed by politics in television. Another great example of political spin-control on television is 911 and the war in the Middle-East. Somehow the panic, emotions and fears installed in our nation, led to the connection and belief of many in America, that war with Iran is the answer.
In “Reach Out and Elect Someone,” Postman makes sound claims, and presents good evidence that politics in television can greatly sway opinions and elections. “In America, the fundamental metaphor for political discourse is the television commercial” (126). In the past, during the era of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, short answers would not have swayed the political climate as easily. Today, “In the age of show business and image politics, political discourse is emptied not only of ideological content but of historical content, as well” (136). In the era of politics in television, we want short answers and quick fix solutions to all of our problems. “Like television commercials, image politics is a form of therapy, which is why so of it is charm, good looks, celebrity and personal disclosure. It is a sobering thought to recall that there are no photographs of Abraham Lincoln smiling, that his wife in all likelihood a psychopath, and that he was subject to lengthy fits of depression” (135). Would Lincoln have become President in the era of politics in television? Not likely! Lincoln was remembered for what he said, not for his imaging and spin-control by marketing and advertising. We live in an era where what we see and hear on television must be true. It becomes our gospel, even if we are not watching, based on peer pressure and the constant influences of those who have watched.

KURT said...

In Chapter 4, “The Typographic Mind” of Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman, he explores the four qualities of ideas in the collective mindset of America. Postman also calls this the “Age of Exposition” (63), the era when America got its ideas as well as learning and principles, from printing and public speaking. We will examine the qualities of the Typographic Mind; after identifying each quality, we will examine the evidence of each quality from chapter four.
Attention span is the first quality we will examine. During the era of the typographic mind, people had the ability to focus on one thing at a time, it was not a society where multitasking and a multitude of choices for information were vying for ones attention; clearly the attention span was much greater. People then were conditioned to listening for extended periods, upwards of three-seven hours to great speakers. There were fewer distractions then and even fewer types of information or mindless entertainment available. According to Postman, the culture of this time period was geared to much a simpler way of life. There was no electricity, Internet, television, or other means besides print, speaking and listening to share knowledge and information. The attention span for people of the era was much greater, as they were limited to reading during the day (for the most part), fairs, churches, debates, and other public speaking events as a method for learning and communication. At this point in history, many forms of communication were based around politics and religion.
A good example of the extended attention span of this time in early America was the Lincoln-Douglas debates. This is the time when audiences were conditioned to have lengthy political and speaking events as a way of life. Postman claims, “For one thing, its attention span would obviously have been extraordinary by current standards. Is there any audience of Americans today who could endure seven hours of talk? or five? or three? Especially without pictures of any kind?” (45) They would encourage others who were enlightened on a topic to speak for hours whenever possible. The right speaker could gain any audience almost anywhere, according to Postman, “The tradition of the ‘stump’ speaker was widely practiced, especially in the western states. By the stump of a felled tree or some equivalent open space, a speaker would gather an audience, and, as the saying had it, ‘take the stump’ for two or three hours” (45). Then, there very few avenues to receive information, and curiosity gave a greater attention span for anything that might be available. The writer observed, “These were people who regarded such events as essential to their political education, who took them to be an integral part of their social lives, and who were quite accustomed to extended oratorical performances” (44-45).
Ability to listen is the second quality that was important of that time in American culture. During the Age of Exposition, there were fewer options and ways to receive information; people had a strong ability to listen. Audiences were able to process information, retain what they heard and reproduce it if needed. They were willing to devote great amounts of time to learn the issues and expand their thinking by listening to others. The ability for listening to lengthy speakers was a way to be entertained, informed and educated at the time when print and public speaking was the path to learning.
The ability to listen for extended periods of time was common to the culture of this period. In this era people spoke in the same manner as they wrote, which required good attentive listening skills. In discussing the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Postman states, “This language is pure print. That the occasion required it to be spoken aloud cannot obscure that fact. And that the audience was able to process it through the ear is remarkable only to people whose culture no longer resonates powerfully with the printed word” (49). This is the time when family and community would spend great amounts of time to read and listen to others share what they learned with each other. “The farm boy following the plow with book in hand, the mother reading aloud to her family on Sunday afternoon, the merchant reading announcements of the latest clipper arrivals – these were different kinds of readers from those of today” (61). The culture of the typographic mind was conditioned to sit and listen for long periods of time to others speak. The writer questioned, “What kind of audience was this? Who were these people who could so cheerfully accommodate themselves to seven hours of oratory” (44). These were people who had fewer options of multi-media influences, and fewer choices to learn, therefore, good listening skills were important to success.
Knowledge of issues is the third quality of this period in American history. This was the time when printing and lectures (or public speaking) were strong forms of expression, and communication of ideas and issues, before entertainment and mass media could speed up the paths of learning and information. In the period of the typographic mind, Postman feels audiences had a good understanding and knowledge of the issues. Thus, with such education, sharing of information and public speaking events were important for people of the time to have knowledge. Print was very important because there was no other medium of technology to reach the masses of the population at rapid speed like there is today. During this period, people seemed less bombarded and more eager to learn whatever they could, as communication was much slower in being transmitted to them. Therefore, the emphasis for literacy seemed even more important for Americans to have knowledge, so much so, that in 1851 Congress lowered postal rates in an effort to increase the literacy of the population. Much of the knowledge during this era was also greatly influenced by religious doctrine and colleges of the time.
If one did not have knowledge of the issues, then they were not considered to be part of the society of the time. Education in America and literacy were regarded as paramount to be part of conversations on issues of topical discussions. Postman stated, “What else was reading but comprehending? As far as we know, there did not exist such a thing as a ‘reading problem,’ except, of course, for those who could not attend school. To attend school meant to learn to read, for without the capacity, one could not participate in the culture’s conversations” (61-62). The emphasis on printed material, public speaking and sharing of information, greatly influenced the importance of knowledge of information and issues. Postman also uses religion as an example for knowledge of issues, “The doctrinal disputes among religionists were argued in carefully drawn exposition in the eighteenth century, but in the nineteenth century were settled by the extraordinary expedient of founding colleges” (55).
Use of the language is the fourth quality of this part of our history. As America evolved, the typographic mind generation had a good use of the language. The ability to understand complex sentences was aided by learning aurally, in addition to printed materials. They did not seem to require the simpler approach to communication, targeted to a fifth grade education, that today’s television generation seems to require. People in the past, seemed to understand the differences, between literal, versus metaphoric language. Therefore, speakers could be more symbolic with their deliveries, and listeners would understand.
Using and understanding language was very important during this time. People wrote as they spoke during this era, according to Postman, “People of the television culture need ‘plain language’ both aurally and visually, and will even go so far as to require it in some circumstances by law. The Gettysburg Address would probably have been largely incomprehensible to a 1985 television audience” (46). Then, they did not have the advantages of short video and audio bites of information, or a news commentator to explain what they might have heard or saw. The writer also points out, “In other words, the use of language as a means of complex argument was important, pleasurable and common form of discourse in almost every public arena” (47).
In his assessment of the typographic mind, in which Postman also calls this the age of exposition, he was correct. Even since the time when Postman wrote his book, we have accelerated even further. Now we have 500+ cable/satellite channels, Internet with instant messaging, cell phones that give use quick updates of almost anything, I-pods, and the list goes on and on. We don’t have, or even want to spend the time for long lectures, reading everything written in print. Today, less is more, give it to me quick and keep me entertained. “Exposition is a mode of thought, a method of learning, and a means of expression” (63). Things during this time required people to have sophistication in their thinking, and today technology and other sources can do it for us. Unlike today, people of this era had the ability to accept delayed information (instead of the instant gratification society of today), while being able to conceptually understand the issues. Today, we have a much more limited attention span, or ability to listen, for lengthy periods of time. Also, as a result of information overload, today, our knowledge of issues is clouded by our selections for information, and is shadowed by the content provider’s slant or entertainment twists. Our use of language has been simplified to reach the lowest common denominator. On the whole, it seemed audiences then had a greater hunger for conceptual and deductive thinking. Whereas today, we want to be entertained with everything, or the information is soon lost as needless clutter.

KURT said...

In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman believes that without a medium to create it, “news of the day” (7) would not exist. As a result of the expansion and advances in the technology boom, the news of the day is becoming lost by information overload. News of the day, for me comes in many different sources ranging from television, Internet, radio, telephone and word of mouth. Prior to the technology boom, there were fewer ways of receiving the news and information. In the past, ability to focus on important events was less distracting and easier to find. While television and radio in the past have been the main sources of information, now other technologies and media outlets make them less important. Postman also feels that news of the day has become, literally, a collection of media events based on the imagination of our advancements in technology.
Many things we take for granted as news of the day would not be heard of or even be a concern if it were not for media sensation. Media sensation now requires news of the day to have an entertainment twist to keep the audience from tuning out. The war must compete with comedy, the Oscars and Anna Nicole Smith, as every media outlet wants to keep the audience longer. Today we have a plethora of media outlets that are constantly changing with improvements and advances in the technology boom. This is leading to even more fragmented media delivery, as there is now an outlet for virtually everything imaginable. The information overload and its fragmentation produced by such media sources as magazines, paper publications, satellite, cable, television, radio, wireless, Internet and other broadcast media have left news of the day lost in the shuffle.
It does not matter if it is porn, health, the military, celebrity gossip, fiction, music or another topic; media outlets can create it to appear as news of the day. Pick a topic and for whatever someone maybe seeking there is a media outlet claiming to be an authority with the latest news of the day. Information overload has caused such splintering in media outlets and individual choice that fantasy, obsession, fear and trivial entertainment seem to rule what we might believe or select as news or important information. CNN Headline News has been a consistent source of news and information for me to find out about politics, celebrity or health, worldly and regional information. Now with over 500 cable stations, as a viewer I can easily be distracted by other forms of entertainment, sources for news and other selections, which may leave important news of the day on CNN Headline News lost in the clutter. Radio similarly has served in the past as a medium of topical trivia, local and world news, traffic and entertainment. After the advent of satellite radio, low-powered regional stations and other advancements, there is now a format to reach anyone, further distracting audiences from important news of the day.
The telephone and Internet provide reliable sources for reaching out to others for appointments, meetings, travel and other information of concern and topicality. The cell phone has become a serious contender for media obsession well beyond being a communication tool. In addition to conversations and voice messages, the cell phone has become a media venue for content, advertising, news, information, games, entertainment and more. Cell phones are also used for text messaging, video, Internet, taking pictures, music delivery and ever changing technological advancements. MSN on the Internet has been a generally reliable source for quick updates of weather, news, information, health, celebrity and other topics of research and concern. As the Internet-based technology has advanced for audio, video and information, the fragmentation has become an overwhelming part of the clutter and today’s overload.
Postman appears to be correct when he says, “The news of the day is a figment of our technological imagination. It is quite precisely, a media event” (8). It has gotten to the point where advanced technology has desensitized society to what information is important. The information overload is overwhelming because of the multitude of media selections for news of the day and information. “Without a medium to create its form, the news of the day does not exist.” (8). Now, one can virtually get lost in the figment and fragmentations of fantasy that benefit someone else and selfish financial gains. What is news of the day; important news is distorted by trivial information to obsession, fear and needless distraction.

cedric said...

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