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Is viewing a threat to democracy?

While consumers enjoy the technological advances that make television images more realistic and bring them news around the clock, the medium may have a dangerous impact on their lives and even could threaten democracy, contends Eric M. Kramer, assistant professor of communication, University of Oklahoma. He says the images seen on TV sets have a tremendous power to influence people. Modern Western culture has developed what he calls a "videocentric" prejudice--a belief that what is seen on television is real.

"This videocentric prejudice is dangerous because we will defend our reality to the death," Kramer maintains, pointing to the violent Los Angeles riots that followed the Rodney King trial as an example. "If I show you the video of Rodney King being beaten, there would be no argument [that the officers beating him were guilty], but as we saw in the trial, there is an argument. Because the camera is sectoral, like our eyes, we don't see what is happening on the left or right. And we don't see what happened before King was apprehended or what happened after the tape stopped."

Seeing isn't always believing, and people need to be cautious about confusing facts with knowledge. "Facts are never innocent. Facts are produced out of a certain way of seeing the world. Producers use camera rhetoric such as angle, lighting, and music to influence viewers."

Compounding the problem is an increasing tendency of people to rely on television as their only source of news. "Many studies show that our population is getting less literate at the same time that more persuasive media are emerging. With people like media handlers who are very good at manipulating television, we are in danger of losing our democracy."

Kramer claims that the dangers of videocentrism will increase as televisions give way to new technology. Holograms, for example, will make images, such as CBS anchor Dan Rather, seem "utterly present" in one's living room. By making the media less visible--taking Rather out of a box and putting him in one's living room--the rhetoric behind the images will become more and more hidden. The danger is that Americans will be fooled more easily by what they see.
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Title Annotation:television viewing
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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