TV rots the senses in the head!
It kills the imagination dead!
It clogs and clutters up the mind!
It makes a child so dull and blind.
He can no longer understand a fantasy,
His brain becomes as soft as cheese!
His powers of thinking rust and freeze!
An excerpt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,
By Roald Dahl, 1964
When George Orwell’s epic novel 1984 was published in 1949 it opened the public’s imagination to a future world where privacy and freedom had no meaning. The year 1984 has come and gone and we generally believe ourselves to still live in “The Land of the Free;” however, as we now move into the 21st Century changes brought about by recent advances in technology have changed the way we live forever. Although these new developments have seamed to make everyday life more enjoyable, we must be cautious of the dangers that lie behind them for it is very possible that we are in fact living in a world more similar to that of 1984 than we would like to imagine.
In 1949 when Orwell’s novel was published, television was a relatively new invention. Fewer than 10% of the United States households had a television set in them and at this time programming was limited to mainly news-oriented shows. Many people believed that television would never surpass radio as the chief means of mass communication; they could not have been more incorrect.
Presently 98% of the households in the United States have one or more televisions in them. What once was regarded as a luxury item has become a staple appliance of the American household. Gone are the days of the three channel black and white programming of the early years; that has been replaced by digital flat screen televisions connected to satellite programming capable of receiving thousands of channels from around the world. Although televisions and television programming today differ from those of the telescreens in Orwell’s 1984, we are beginning to realize that the effects of television viewing may be the same as those of the telescreens.
The telescreens in 1984 served two purposes, surveillance and mind control. Unlike the televisions of our present day, the telescreens in 1984 also served as a device constantly monitoring the citizen’s actions by means of an integrated camera and microphone in addition to broadcasting continuous pro Party propaganda. Setting aside the surveillance aspect of the telescreens, it is easy to see to a striking similarity between the televisions in our society and the fictional telescreens Orwell created in 1984.
Numerous studies have concluded that the content and amount of television programming watched by individuals – especially by children – has a direct result on the behavior of that individual. The behavior affected by television viewing can be anything from a desire for a certain food or material good to violent distemper (Zuckerman 1985.) Recently, more and more woman have given up their traditional role of raising their children opting instead to work during the day and leave their children to take care of themselves. Unfortunately, many children find that spending countless hours in front of the television to be a worthwhile way to entertain themselves. Most parents tell their children never to talk to strangers, but what they fail to realize is that every day their children are subject to the messages and ideas of strangers on the television. In fact, a study concluded that an average American by the age of 18 has spent more time watching television than they have spent in school; this study also went on the state that children spend more time watching television than any other activity besides sleeping. This may explain why an additional study revealed that if a child was told something by his or her parents and then viewed on television something that contradicted what the parents had said, four times out of five the child opted to believe the television over his or her parents. This may not seam like a problem if one was looking at it in terms of factual information, but when it comes to moral values we may begin to understand why our society is in the state that it is. A study conducted by MediaScope Incorporated pertaining to violence on television supported the notion that programs on television create a false perception of society and resulted with the following figures:
1. The context in which most violence is presented on television poses risks for viewers.
2. Perpetrators go unpunished in 73% of all violent scenes.
3. The negative consequences of violence are not often portrayed in violent programming.
4. One out of four violent interactions involve the use of handguns.
5. Only 4% of violent programs emphasize an anti-violent theme.
The purpose of American television is not to educate, enlighten, or present quality entertainment; American television is an industry and like any other industry the goal is to make money. Unfortunately, sex and violence sells and therefore the majority of programming on television contains such content. By continuously viewing such programming individuals become desensitized to the pain and suffering of others and unconsciously mold their own morals and values around that of which they view daily.
In 1984 the citizens of Oceania had no choice in weather or not they wanted to view the programming on the telescreen; the telescreens were in every house and every street corner continuously pumping messages into the citizen’s minds. The citizens did not think twice about whether the information that was being presented to them on the telescreen was true or not; we can find the same behavior exhibited by television viewers presently in our own society. People for some unexplainable reason seem to view the television as a box of impenetrable truth. We have all heard a friend say, or perhaps even said ourselves, “I know its true because I saw it on TV.” Rather than investigate information to determine it’s validity by means other than the television, we accept information as being true simply because “if it wasn’t true they wouldn’t show it on TV.” When we watch television the images projected travel directly to the right hemisphere of the neocortex, often there is not sufficient time for the messages and images we are receiving to be processed by the left hemisphere of the brain. Therefore, when one watches television the part of the brain that allows us to make sense of, analyze, and rationalize what we are seeing is passed over; thus, simply making us sponges that absorb the information being shown to us without thinking about it.
Why do people watch television? If you were to ask different individuals that question you would most likely get several different answers back. You may hear “It’s entertaining” or “Watching television is an easy way to relax after a hard day.” The fact of that matter is television allows people to experience vicariously through fictional characters situations that they feel they could not otherwise experience on their own. What it really boils down to is laziness. Television is an easy escape from reality. Rather than going out and creating or experiencing situations in real life that could produce true satisfaction, people opt to sit in a comfortable chair in a warm room surrounded by every comfort imaginable and waste away their lives filling their minds with a false sense of fulfillment. All of us have heard someone or another say to us “No, I’m sorry I can’t do that right now, I’m watching my show.” Americans have ceased to live their own lives and have practically become slaves to their televisions and the corporations that stand behind them.
Unlike the citizens of Oceania, we are able to make our own decisions. We can turn off our televisions; we can live our own lives and make our own experiences. We can learn about and do practically anything we want. Most of us do not take advantage of this freedom. In fifty years when my generation has become grandparents, what stories will we have to tell our grandkids? Will they really want to hear about that episode of Friends that we loved so much? Will we really have any knowledge or experiences worthwhile to tell them? Perhaps it won’t even matter. Perhaps our grandkids will be too interested in what they are watching on television to even want to listen to us. Yes we live in the “Land of the Free,” but until we really start taking advantage our freedom to the fullest and pull ourselves away from the television we are no better off than the citizens of Oceania and the telescreens that surround them as they toil on in their non-eventful lives.