The Influences of Television, Essay Example

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Essay

The influence of television in society is so pervasive and multifaceted that there can be no clear idea of it as either a beneficial or negative force.   Since the 1950s, television has been a staple in virtually every American home, and one affecting daily life is ways both obvious and subtle.  Some effects, such as the ability of people everywhere to witness important events, are certainly positive, yet these effects themselves set the stage for negative consequences.  Political and other agendas may be expressed through the medium, and even in its most casual programming.  In all of this, TV remains a presence as fixed as anything else within the culture.  It is not an entity apart from the society, but something interwoven into the actual being of the society.  Ultimately, then, TV defies classification as either good or bad because it is always a reflection and part of the complete society itself.

In defense of the medium, there is no doubt that TV gained vast popularity because it entertains.  With the advent of TV, people everywhere were able to experience in their homes entertainments never before accessible, because images and sound were combined.  Then, and from its earliest days to today, TV has a powerful motive to entertain: revenue.  The more attractive a program is to the public, the more viewers will tune in, and the more advertising revenue is generated.   This enables creative competition and, despite criticisms of poor content, the reality nonetheless exists that TV has always brought at least some measure of high quality drama, comedy, and music to the public.  Also, and an obvious and highly important level, television gives ordinary people the opportunity to witness and take in events about which they would be largely ignorant.  In no uncertain terms, TV exposed millions to world-changing events, such as the 1969 moon landing and the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005  (Bower). Then, by means of its “intimacy” within the home, it takes news beyond news.  For example, it is certain that other media would have carried the news of 9/11 to the nation, but two factors render TV unique.  The first is its immediacy, an element now further in place in hand-held devices and through internet capabilities.  Then, technology allowed the news to be broadcast visually in homes and offices everywhere, and in a way promoting what TV can do: establishing drama and empathy (Strozier  118).  Mood, as well as information, is provided.

This power, however, brings into question the responsibilities and strategies of those behind the TV cameras, and this has long been a controversial issue.  In the 1960s and 1970s, even as TV reported on the civil unrest occurring nationally, TV itself was under extreme scrutiny.  Just how the medium was conveying “information” was suspect, and TV in these years was attacked as catering to public appetites for violence and sensationalism.   At the same time, minority groups were outraged by what they felt were stereotypical and racist programs and advertisements (Neuman  xii).  That these feelings, if not outright manipulation of the medium, have been voiced is inevitable because of the extraordinary omnipresence of TV itself.  If the power to reach millions with a message is not exploited, it is nonetheless likely that discontented members within society will perceive this to be the case.

Not surprisingly, TV has also long been accused of creating a culture of mindlessness.  It is frequently referred to as an intellectually vacuous, addictive, and utterly passive experience (Tichi  105).  It has been attacked as the “electronic babysitter,” enabling parents to abandon their responsibilities in raising their children correctly.  Long before the Internet was targeted as generating herd-like mentalities and obsessions with empty images, TV was the target for such accusations.  There is some validity to these objections, simply because no medium which relies on commercial income to sustain itself can be free of motivations to please as many people as possible, and consequently appeal to a lowest common denominator.

Ironically, as TV has become over decades firmly a part of living and society, the influence persists as both immense and continually questioned.  News programs are criticized for blatantly catering to certain ideologies, yet they boast vast popular support from fans.  “Reality” programs are the subjects of jokes nationally, yet they draw millions of viewers and remain successful.  In all of this, what becomes evident is that TV itself can never be defined as good or bad because, like the society it serves, instructs, misleads, entertains, and informs, it is only as good or bad as the society chooses it to be.

Works Cited

Bower, Meredith.  “Landmarks in Television History.”  Television.  Web. http://www.csupomona.edu/~cgbates/202/television.pdf

Neuman, Susan B.  Literacy in the TV Age: The Myth of the TV Effect.  Westport: Greenwood Publishing Company, 1995.  Print.

Strozier, Charles B.  Until the Fires Stopped Burning: 9/11 and New York City in the Words and Experiences of Survivors and Witnesses.  New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.  Print.

Tichi, Cecelia.  Electronic Hearth: Creating an American Television Culture.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.  Print.

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