I blame the great brain melt of the twentieth century on the misuse of television. The dulling of our collective intellect was subtle at first, little more than an occasional diversion
from the workaday world. Bigger screens and more brilliant color demanded our undivided attention and the proliferation of new channels created the illusion that we actually had a choice in the matter.
I like to think that the idiot box could have led us in a positive direction in the hands of a more enlightened batch of hypnotists but the point is now moot. In our electronically opiated state we were powerless against the profiteering instincts of our captor. Absolute control over our hearts and minds corrupted the puppet masters and they in turn corrupted us. The focus of the medium shifted from education and entertainment to the promotion of goods and services almost immediately.
Some of us are old enough to remember the awkward merger of the toddling tube with the market economy. The dignified stage thespians were aghast that they would be responsible for shilling shoe polish between acts so they were gradually replaced by actors with less regard for dignity. Properly weathered men who spoke with hard eloquence on controversial issues delivered the gritty evening news. The intelligent commentary of Edward R. Murrow made people want to read books and that was simply unacceptable. The avuncular Walter Cronkite delivered the smooth, calming assurance that all we really needed to do was buy soap.
The first television producers weren't moneyed investors, they were writers and artists and philosophers. It was painful to watch a tortured Alfred Hitchcock interrupt the introduction of his cerebral teleplays with the vapid inanity of a soup commercial. He made a habit of ridiculing his sponsors, rather than introducing them with false import and quickly disappeared from view. Decades later the stunt was revived by David Letterman, who only pretends to make fun of the institutions that are paying him ten thousand dollars a minute for the ruse. The simulated iconoclast is disturbing evidence of a cynical worldview and a degenerate medium.
The crazed consumerism that is the hallmark of our decaying culture was television's spawn.
The gradual dumbing down of the masses
through pop culture and propaganda will be rejected but I'm afraid that it will take awhile. Television is a demanding hypnotist who compels us to pay $1.50 for a can of soda with an intrinsic value of eleven cents. We can marvel at the notion that Coca-Cola
would drop a couple of million bucks for a thirty second spot during the Super Bowl but shouldn't kid ourselves about the end result. It's a profit deal and we've been sheared.
Turn the channel or wait forty-five seconds and a jaunty pair of upwardly mobile actors posing as a jaunty pair of upwardly mobile suburbanites will convince you that you're nothing without an SUV. You have the resources, after all, or at least the potential resources on a payment schedule, why not treat yourself? Make sure to get the one with the VCR/television components in the passenger compartment to indoctrinate the little ones and perpetuate the profit cycle. Surely, there's nothing wrong with spending $45,000 for an automobile, besides, everyone else has one.
In a world where such a sum would provide food and medicine for a lifetime to one of the hundreds of millions who have neither, the act is despicable. The advertisements never speak to the disparity of wealth and unconscionable waste embodied in their products. Between commercials, the insipid sit-coms will subtly encourage you to shop at The Gap, or wear Nike's or hang out at Starbucks. Adherence to self-indulgent fashion has become our prime directive as a species because the box told us that it was.
Television demands that our culture be as vacuous as the tube itself.
A funny thing happened on the way to the dust heap
of history and television became extinct. The Internet
and personal computer have rendered the one-way medium as obsolete as the greedy miscreants at its helm. Our children will be less easily swayed than we were and they'll demand more than eye candy and soft soap.
If humans are still up and about in a hundred years they will marvel at their predecessor's sheepish acceptance of the pushy medium's hypnotic glow. Broadcast TV as we know it will be seen as one of a long line of scourges from antiquity, no less a threat to civilization than the plague or the bomb. The beast can move entire populations to unwitting action or self-destructive avarice at the whim of its master. Our great great grandchildren will wonder how on Earth we were so readily subjugated.
Our descendants probably won't be able to tell you anything at all about Philo T. Farnsworth, television's inventor, or offer any recollection of David Letterman for that matter. The source of our technological renaissance will be celebrated and remembered forever, but it lay elsewhere, in a garage near Palo Alto, California, cradled in the mid 1970s by a couple of guys with long hair named Steve.
The Steves slapped together a machine that made it possible for people to control the hurling electrons themselves, essentially handing the keys to the shackled slave. The images on the glowing box would be manipulated in ways that Philo Farnsworth could never have imagined. The closed loop, enforced consciousness of the idiot box would have to make way for the marvelous give and take of their little Apple.
Historians will view the invention of television as little more than a cloddish antecedent to the personal computer.