20180401

TELEVISION

The 'Los Angeles Times' reported in 1972, "All media are only extensions of man, says Marshall McLuhan, but the electronic age has extended the central nervous systems far beyond the human body. Some media extend us further beyond ourselves than others, however, depending upon the amount of information they provide, the degree to which they require individual participation. Television, for example, is what McLuhan calls a 'cool' medium because, by providing less data, it requires greater individual participation to fill in details. On the other hand, a fact-packed book is a 'hot' medium because it requires little participation from its reader."

TV was tribal (oral and tactile modes of communication). Book was individualist print mode or required "print-formed mind" to follow. One literacy expert told the newspapers industry in 1986, "People are not illiterate because they watch TV. They may watch TV because they are illiterate. Rather than condemn TV, we ought to explore the ways to use it to bring people back to print."

"If people at the everyday, man-on-the-street level are going to come to understand and appreciate and grapple with the uncertainty and the ambiguity of the questions of life, it is going to come about in part because journalists began to acknowledge what they all know; namely, that the world is not as simple as we tend to portray it to be," it was argued.

The history of literature, it was reasoned, was "the history of pointing out that the world is not as simple as it seems, that life is filled with ambiguity and uncertainty, that we deceive ourselves right and left. Literature tells the truth. And if it doesn’t tell the truth it's not literature, (it's) propaganda or something else."

The printed word stood up to not only the spoken word, but the pictured thought as well. People were said communicated with the written language. The spoken language however was most effective when transferred to print. Television which came by the radio route showed people could listen and watch at the same time. "To listen – or watch – one must be there for the presentation," it was suggested. However "one may read anytime, anywhere and may re-read to correct his memory. (Hence) the printed word has values the spoken word can never possess."

Of the 2,700 TV viewers surveyed in June 1980, over 90% "misunderstood" some part of the news segments, confirming the long-held view that the spoken word was not understood almost as well as the printed word. "Television has an advantage over the print media because of its immediacy and the added dimension of sight," it was observed. "But sometimes there is a tendency to pay too much attention to the visual and not enough to context. The importance of the spoken word should not be overlooked."

In 1984, CBS did a telephone survey asking a representative 1,000 viewers to identify their favorite television characters. It was found older actresses such as Jane Wyman, Bette Davis and Joan Collins broadened a show's appeal by drawing older female viewers. 'Newsday' reported, "'Falcon Crest' which finished last season (the 1983-84 season) as the 7th most popular prime time show, is heavily skewed toward older female viewers. One viewer in four is a woman over age 55, well above the average of about one in six for other prime time shows. If the interest of older women in 'Falcon Crest' were merely average, the show's ratings would drop dramatically."

In prime time, each rating point could represent between $40 million and $50 million in gross revenues over the course of a season. The Television Bureau of Advertising reported Proctor & Gamble was the top television advertiser, spending over $295 million on network TV advertising the first nine months of 1984 and another $146 million on national and regional spot commercials.

In the 1983-84 season, 'Dallas' (Friday) and 'Dynasty' (Wednesday) were locked in a seesaw battle for first place. 'Dynasty' was nostalgia. Stephen Schiff of 'Vanity Fair' made the observation, "'Dynasty' embodies the return of a phenomenon I had thought long dead: camp in its original form – earnest, na├»ve, genuinely impassioned, and genuinely ridiculous. 'Dynasty' popularity is quirky, broad yet extremely private, lowest-common-denominator yet high-brow-hip. The show is oxymoronic: it's a mass-market cult. 'Dynasty' represents something extraordinary: the incursion of so-called gay taste into the mainstream of American culture."

Of his analysis on television's role in society, Marshall McLuhan explained to 'The Washington Post' in 1977, "Television is not a visual medium. It is audible tactile. It's something that uses the eye as if it were an ear. Television uses the eye as an ear literally because the characteristic mode of the image is discontinuous, whereas the movie image is visual, shutters and still shots with frames and so on.

"The TV camera has no shutter and is a continuous pickup just like the sound pickup. The image enhanced to you for participation is mostly acoustic and very little visual. The effect is that it's an inner trip. TV is addictive, it’s a drug. Tests have been run, you know – they paid people to stop watching it and then tested them to see what happened to them. They show all the withdrawal symptoms of drug addicts.

"And so, for people who have goals in life the inner trip is fatal. Goals and objectives disappear on the inner trip, and one becomes involved in role-playing. What faculties are involved in TV? I have discovered in the last few years that the acoustic dimensions, the world of the simultaneous since we hear from all directions at once, is a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose margin is nowhere.

"Now the acoustic world belongs to the right hemisphere of the brain, and the left hemisphere is visual. The left hemisphere is the world linearity, connectiveness, logic, rationality, analysis, classification and so on. For some decades, we have been living in a world in which the environment, the major environment in which we live, is instantaneous information.

"An instantaneous information world is one which completely furthers and enhances the world of the right hemisphere of the brain, which is the simultaneous or acoustic hemisphere. The visual hemisphere, the logical, connective, classification hemisphere, has been pushed up into dominance over the centuries by word systems and courier systems and linear systems with all kinds of information.

"Now, at the speed of light, the right hemisphere is pushed up into dominance. But all the institutions – legal, rational, moral – were all invented or devised under conditions of left hemisphere dominance. At the speed of light, under electric conditions, the organization chart just collapses. The kind of flip that now happens in decision-making is straight over to the world of Zen, where the big and important problem is what are the questions, not what are the answers.

"The modern decision-maker has first got the need to know what are the questions, and the answers are not so difficult anymore. Our left-hemisphere world, which has given us all our typical institutions, literacy, for example, flips, with the advent of Xeroxing, into exactly the opposite form. Gutenberg made everybody a reader. Xerox makes everybody a publisher. Now when everybody becomes a publisher, strange things begin to happen.

"The reappearance of Richard Nixon on TV is an example of retrieval. It's like an instant replay. Instant replays are electronic forms of tremendous meaning. They permit not cognition but recognition. So we will now recognize Mr. Nixon, but cognition is elementary compared to recognition. IBM used to give a saying: Information overload equals pattern recognition. At the speed of light what you see are patterns – you don't have a forbearer to go outside daily to tame and subdue the wilderness.

"Two hundred years of taming the wilderness developed that pattern of fighting, fighting, fighting when we go outside. Now, by contrast, we go home to be safe, secure and friendly. But television brings the outside inside the home. It brings that warrior’s face into the friendly face of the home. The Nielsen ratings tell the inside story of television. That is, they tell the subliminal story. The PTA is not subliminal, it’s extraneous and conscious – the crusading spirit of the conscious person.

"Now one of the peculiarities of electric services is they force the subliminal up into consciousness. This means, of course, the end of Mr. Freud. He was big and strong when people still had a subconscious. When we had a private identity, we had a big subconscious. Now that we have a group identity we have no subconscious. People who take a point of view and an alarmist stand are people who don't understand the media.

"They don’t realize that these things have gone around them and in through them and inside them, and that it is a kind of total disease. It’s an extension of our own private nervous system. These electric media are us. We’ve done this to ourselves, unwittingly. Now, to take a stand against that is like taking a stand against measles or against flu. It’s taking a stand on 19-century hardware technology and saying, we’ve gotta hold on to this stuff.

"Meantime, they are living in a world which has carefully removed it. The media are violent in the sense they invade us, like pornography. And let me say, violence means literally to cross boundaries, violate people's privacy, to violate people's rights. Pornography, for example, is a huge violence crossing people's right to privacy. The defense is not to pass a law or to say this shouldn’t happen, we've got to stop this. The defense is to understand the thing, and to, well, to pull the plug out if necessary.

"Under conditions of extreme survival, obviously we wouldn’t hesitate to pull out the plug. If you’re electrocuting a dangerous criminal, you’re pulling out the plug on him. A few months ago (in 1977), a big hurricane threatened in New York, and the media were covering the approach. Hour after hour, it was getting total coverage, no matter what happened or what it did. By the time it got to New York, it fizzled. It just disappeared. And the coverage did it.

"All you have to do to end those big disasters is to cover them. I was in New York during that hurricane thing, and I just noticed it dying down, dying down as it approached. Coverage got more intense and the hurricane just died. The coverage even transforms the criminal into show biz. This happened when there was a bank holdup.

"A bandit entered the bank and there was a phone ringing and he held up the bank and answered the phone. And they said, 'Hello, where are you?' - it was a radio show, a hot line. 'Where are you: I'm here at the bank, I'm holding up this bank.' And they held him for a few minutes and the cops were there and the whole thing was over. He became show biz, and that ended it. We all become show biz under the kinds of news coverage we have; everybody expects coverage, everybody expects to be transformed into show biz in some degree.

"The generation gap opened up by TV in the 1960s was no less than 2,400 years of a gap. For the first time in 2,400 years, since the beginning of the alphabet, people were going back to their primitive third world. Because TV is post-alphabet, post-literate, the TV generation had no contact with its own parents, or the previous world from which the parents had come. And the quest for roots is more difficult.

"The alphabet, in the 5th century BC, was the first moment in which Western man created this logical structure, and their private identity and this visual, Euclidian space. Alphabetic man – Parmenides was the first logician – and Aristotle and Plato came right out of that Parmenides tradition, they pushed the pre-Socratics out of the picture. Pre-Socratics were like us, and today we share a great sympathy with the pre-Socratics.

"So, the retrieval of all the pre-alphabetic forms of philosophy is now very, very strong. That's our quest for roots. But the TV generation was 2,400 years away from its parents. The parents hadn't come out of the 19th-century literacy and the kids were suddenly plunged into post-literacy, and they became 2,400 years apart. That's a big generation gap. It never happened before in the history of man because we never had electric technology before.

"Remember, at the speed of light you can go through centuries in a few minutes. Developmental, gradual developmental things are superseded by instantaneous replays, and instantaneous awareness and pattern recognition. People are puzzled today as to why the kids have no morality. It’s because our morality has for a long time been merely written and legalistic, and the kids cannot accept any form of legalism.

"This is not a result of conscious decision-making on their part at all. They simply respond to a new environment in which they live, in which the only thing that counts is total involvement. Legalism is objective – every one of you is equal before the set of laws, written laws. Now, to the man who is very subjective and totally involved, that kind of law is meaningless. He has to have a law to which his whole being can respond.

"And so these kids have no morals, in our sense. They have a code which belongs to the old rural traditions. The novel disappeared through electricity because the novel is entirely continuous. The stream of consciousness intervened and took over, and stream of consciousness is totally discontinuous. James Joyce is discontinuous. Flaubert wrote the last novel of continuity, left hemisphere, and after that everything flipped into discontinuity.

"But the novel in the sense of a continuous plot disappeared. The detective story is an electronic form – because it uses the total environment as plot. There is not a continuous connected story in the detective story. It is totally discontinuous and involves the reader totally in reconstructing an action. And so, it is kind of an electronic form."

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