Gerry Mander on the necessity to eliminate television by Alan Pert

Gerry Mander's Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television is one of the best books about TV and its deleterious effects.The book is also a penetrating criticism of modern society and some of the social forces that control our lives.

An artificial world

We live in an increasingly artificial world, cut off from the natural environment.For example, look at the average office: artificial light and air,drab decor, a sterile environment.Why is this so?To control people's behaviour.Everything natural is eliminated so that people will focus on the narrow task at hand.Great for machines, but people are not machines(not yet completely).The point to emphasise is that by controlling the environment of living beings you control their behaviour.TV is a powerful tool for changing the environment of people and thus their behaviour.Just as the power holders have colonized the physical world, they have "colonized" the human mind, using TV as a weapon.

The problem is TV itself

Most critics of TV concentrate on the quality of programs.They usually advocate controlled TV watching and "better" programs, especially for children.(It is often assumed that adults are immune to the insidious effects of TV, which is not the case at all.)Mander  shows that TV by its very nature has a negative effect on people.Therefore it is no good trying to improve the programs,TV itself must be eliminated.

TV is mind control

A TV picture consists of 300,000 dots of light, beamed at high power into the brain.The TV picture exists only in the brain of the viewer.TV pictures lodge in the brain against our will.Whatever is on TV is "unreal".It is something made up, or a highly distorted segment of true experience.TV substitutes an artificial world in place of the real thing.People thus get out of touch with their true nature and genuine experience.Hence TV viewers are are much more susceptable to the advertisers and the image makers.Mander has had much experience in advertising,and he explains that if something is advertised we don't need it.Those things we really need we go and find anyway.Advertising creates false needs.

Although TV was invented in the 1920's, it had no practical use until after 1945.The consumer society was developed  in order to take up the economic slack after the War.However, people were used to saving their spare cash, not spending it.TV was seized upon as a potent vehicle to promote a consumption lifestyle.Advertising and programs relentlessly pushed the nuclear family in a suburban house with the latest gadgets as the ideal way to live.TV is not harmless entertainment, it is a powerful tool used to shape people's lives by vested interests.TV has a tremendous impact on our society.For example TV networks have taken over major sports, changed the rules to suit TV, and eliminated local teams.It is all part of the trend in modern society to break down community and impose artificial experience.

Since the 1970's there has been a big push by transnational companies to "consumerise" the world, in the creation of the global economy.TV is used to pave the way for this process.Mander documents the devasting effects of TV on a community of Canadian Indians.The people became hooked on TV and neglected their traditional ways.They imitated the negative behaviour which they saw on the TV programs.

TV is boring

Mander shows how TV is naturally boring.Why would people sit in a darkened room 4-6 hours a day watching light flickering?Real life has been taken away, and we are sold back a substitute life.To keep attention, the TV picture has to keep changing.Each change is called a technical event.When Mander
wrote there were 6-10 technical events per minute, now there are 15-20 per minute.Some music videos have a technical event every second or more, which can only harm the brain.TV takes away our inner space and our capacity to think.Teachers have noticed a drastic decline in the attention span of students.TV is an addiction:people say they would like to give it up, but they can't.Like hard drugs, the more you get the more you want.

The very nature of television is insidious.The constantly changing pictures capture the attention of the brain.This is why absolute garbage can be transmitted.As Marshall McLuhan said , "the medium is the massage".The TV picture is as insubstantial as a ghost, yet it can be imprinted on the brain.

TV and violence

By the time they are 11 years old, children watching US TV will have seen 100,000 violent acts in addition to 8,000 murders.In the 1950's, only 15% of prime-time TV shows featured crime and violence.By 1990, 70-80% of prime-time programs featured at least one threat to hurt or kill.A noticeable change in TV violence occurred in the 1980's when violence in week-end programming for children increased by 36%.(The Lancet Jan15 1994)

W.James Potter et al. in a study found that on non-fiction programs there were 32.5 anti- social acts per hour.These acts were far above the rate of occurrence in the real world.88% of aggressive acts on TV entertainment programs were portrayed as being rewarded. (p.72)

The TV industry puts forward dubious arguments to play down the influence of violence on TV.They say an ordinary person doesn't watch a murder then go out and kill someone.This is a simplistic argument.Many studies have shown that some people (males) are more accepting of violent behaviour after extended viewing.Some say that TV violence is just a harmless outlet for the viewer.But this is not so.Things that happen around us have an effect on us.An old saying goes:"You become what you behold".Violence on TV is bad not only for children, but for people of any age.

Mander says violence on TV is one of the few ways to get a reaction from viewers, because it can produce fear.TV requires much movement, people being kind to each other is just boring on TV.I would add extra reasons for violence.It's easy: murder, fighting, chasing require little imagination to produce.It's the same stuff repeated over and over again.The violent man, such as Clint Eastwood,Rambo, Chuck Norris, etc. can be seen as a backlash against feminism in the way macho behaviour is promoted.These programs are deliberately aimed at (young) males who absorb the anti-social values that are portrayed.Further, as there is no national service these days to militarise the youth, so they are conditioned to accept violence through many TV programs.It is a sign of moral decline that violence is so prevalent on TV and other media.Those who think that such violence is harmless have a vested interest in it or or their moral faculties are dulled.

These penetrating comments have been made by Jose Arguelles:

"If the popular aesthetic of our mechanized society owes its crude and sex-drenched taste to anyone, it is to the Marquis [de Sade], who has finally been vindicated by the emergence of a culture fully absorbed by pornography and violence.The bloody spectacles that occur nightly on televisionand the titillating motion pictures now showing in every major urban center are a tribute to his insight, for he divined in the aesthetically stunted psyche of the modern sensibility the primitive hunger for blood and sex.The psychophysicist Charles Henry once commented:'Sadism will live as long as there is no aesthetic in our lives nor solidarity in our social situation' ".(p.72) People have become so debased, de-sensitised and dehumanised that mindless brute violence has appeal.This happens in a dying Age.A parallel is the bloodlust of the Roman coliseum nearly 2,000 years ago.
Causing brain damage to the very young

A very disturbing trend is how TV is being used to take over the minds of the young.In 1983 pre-schoolers in the US watched 4 hours of TV each day.Infants from one year up are being targetted by shows such as Teletubbies.Joseph Chilton Pearce has shown that TV viewing by young children destroys their capacity to imagine.It destroys the inner space needed for personal identity.Later in life these children will feel empty inside and many will turn to drugs for escape from the banality of thier world.To a young child the world is magical, and they don't need artificial stimulation from TV.These shows are associated with many products, which naturally the tiny viewers want."Get them when they are young" is the motto, and it is having disastrous consequences on the quality of life.Among youths suicide has overtaken auto accidents as the largest cause of death,due partly to the promotion of false values and a sterile life attitude by TV.

Television destroys traditions and communities

Since the early 1970's the trans national corporations have been working hard to "consumerise" the whole world.TV has been introduced in the Third World to pathe the way for major change and exploitation of people and the land.People want the products and lifestyle they see on TV and at the same time their traditional ways are destroyed. The damage is done in a very short time.Mander relates how the introduction of TV to a Canadian Indian community damaged  the traditional lifestyle.For example, story telling, a time honoured way of passing on tribal knowledge, was neglected.People started imitating the negative behaviour portrayed in TV shows.

The role of television stations

What social responsibilities do TV stations accept? Very rarely a station may have a phone-in for a hospital or a charity.Any good they do is miniscule  compared to the harm they do.TV stations promote sexism,violence, anti-social behaviour and gross consumerism.When has a TV station promoted non sexism, or supported conservation measures, or any progressive social action?Never! Not only are TV stations business organisations out to maximise profits, they are agents of mind control.

The only answer is to eliminate television

It is not good enough to improve programs and control TV viewing, especially that of children.Since Mander wrote his book programs have got worse.For example,"Married With Children" is a show that could only be made in a society that is  in severe moral decline.The characters are selfish and nasty to one another.It is not a bit of harmless fun, it conveys undesirable behaviour that some viewers imitate.These negative shows poison the mental atmosphere of society.They reveal that things are seriously wrong in modern society.There is talk about putting program control devices on TV sets, but you can be sure kids will find  ways to get around them.It won't stop adults from watching garbage.

Out of nearly 10,000 books on television,Mander found that none advocated the elimination of this medium.People have grown to accept the idiot box, and don't realize the harm that it is doing.Mander  convincingly shows that television by its very nature is detrimental to human well-being.The medium is the message.Even if control of TV could be taken away from the vested interests, it would not change  the nature of the beast.TV can only have a mind-numbing and alienating effect on people.

Some References
Arguelles, Jose The Transformative Vision: reflections on the nature and history of human expression. Fort Yates:Muse Publications,1992
The Lancet 1994, v343, n8890,Jan 15,pp127-28(Editorial)
Mander, Jerry Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television.Brighton:Harvester Press,1980
--------- In the Absence of the Sacred:the failure of technology and the survival of the Indian nations. San Francisco:Sierra Club Books,1992
Pearce,Joseph C. Evolution's End:claiming the potential of our intellegence.San Francisco:Harper, 1992
Postman, Neil Amusing Ourselves to Death: public discourse in the age of show business.New York:Viking, 1985
Potter,W.James et al."Antisocial acts in reality programming on television",Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 1997,v41,n1,Winter,pp.69-90

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