This is an important book because it outlines a cause to so many problems, that is so pervasive it goes unnoticed by the vast majority of people. Television was only introduced in South Africa in 1975, as it happens the year I was born, because the Apartheid government saw a threat to itself loosing control. It would be fascinating to know who finally made the convincing argument to get the government’s approval. This book was published in 1978 or 30 years ago and it’s not hard to imagine how much more entrenched this technology has become, especially given the rise of the so-called reality television programming.Tom Leykis, the controversial Los Angeles based radio jock, has continuously pointed out what a sham reality television is, especially when compared to his daily 4-hour radio show. Many of the “ordinary” people in these reality shows, upon investigation, turn out to be unemployed or unknown actors. The simple fact that you can have a bazillion incarnations of Pop Idols or Survivor proves how mediocre the television viewing audience has become. You accept any garbage without the faintest hint of plausibility. An ex-girlfriend of mine competed twice in the South African Idols competition and never got beyond #75 and yet she performs weekly at gigs even in other countries. In my view the artificial failure she experienced in this reality show has caused her to loose whatever self-motivation she had before hand to get a recording deal and eventually release her own album.
Anyway back to Jerry Mander, the 4 arguments outlined in the book are:
- The Mediation of Experience
- The Colonization of Experience
- Effects of Television on the Human Being
- The Inherent Biases of Television
This summary is taken from the Wikipedia entry for the book:
The author argues that far from being “neutral,” television predetermines who shall use it, how they will use it, what effects it will have on individual lives, and, if it continues to be widely used, what sorts of political forms will inevitably emerge.
The author’s first argument is that while television may seem useful, interesting, and worthwhile, at the same time it further boxes people into a physical and mental condition appropriate for the emergence of autocratic control.
The second argument concerns the emergence of the controllers. That television would be used and expanded by the present powers-that-be was inevitable, and should have been predictable at the outset. The technology permits of no other controllers.
The third argument concerns the effects of television upon individual human bodies and minds, effects which fit the purposes of the people who control the medium.
The fourth argument demonstrates that television has no democratic potential. The technology itself places absolute limits on what may pass through it. The medium, in effect, chooses its own content from a very narrow field of possibilities. The effect is to drastically confine all human understanding within a rigid channel. What binds the four arguments together is that they deal with aspects of television that are not reformable.
One of the first things that hit me was how important the idea of a mediated experience is, that in fact we first hand the replacement of experience, followed closely by the unification of experience. How can anyone growing in a televised world develop a uniqueness, a sense of self if the rest of humanity simply goes with the flow in their unified experience?
Another perspective I have learned from this book is simply this: the technology is not neutral. The simple fact that it exists does not mean we have to accept it, but we do. So if you accept nuclear weapons, you have to accept the military industrial complex that goes with that, and the scientific elite who control it. If you accept cars, you accept roads have to be built, oil has to be produced, steel has to be manufactured, etc and the vast industries, again, run by an elite, concentrated group of power brokers or businessmen. Only a handful of oil companies and car manufacturing companies own or control all these industries worldwide.
There is so much to explore in this book and it’s exceptionally well researched. Each argument is broken down into specific points. What I want to leave with with that it is important that we each make a decision to avoid television and embrace real experiences, not those mediated by the giant media companies who dominate our landscape in the 21st century. There is a huge opportunity to update the contents of this book given that 30 years have passed and even more mounting evidence is likely to be available, to confirm the original findings and thesis espoused by Jerry Mander.
Finally the following articles by Steve Pavlina is recommended: