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Teleliteracy: Taking Television Seriously.

The over-arching purpose of Bianculli's book is to put television in perspective. By taking on the critics of the medium, Bianculli attempts to balance the typical negative reactions toward television with a consideration of the many positives the medium offers.

Part One ("A Media Perspective") places television in context -- clearly demonstrating that throughout history new media have been met with skepticism and criticism. One only has to review Plato's indictment of poetry and drama to realize this. Similarly, when radio and film emerged, so did a school of critics who condemned the new media for their detrimental impact on the morals and values of society.

Part Two ("A Media Manifesto") attempts to respond to many of the complaints hurled at television since its inception. Bianculli's manifesto is in the form of what he calls the "Ten Commandments of Good Television": TV is too important to turn off, TV is not a vast wasteland, links between TV and violence should be taken with a grain of assault, TV can be literacy's friend as well as foe, Marshall McLuhan was right (there is a global village), Marshall McLuhan was wrong (the medium is not the message), television deserves more respect, some television is literature and vice versa, television deserves serious study, teleliteracy is here so telefriend.

In the chapter titled "TV is Too Important to Turn Off," the author argues that, "television can inform us in ways, and at speeds, that no other medium can touch...." (68) As proof, he cites positive examples of television: Bill Moyers's interviews with Joseph Campbell on the "Power of Myth," Leonard Bernstein's televised concerts and workshops, first-rate drama (Death of a Salesman), Wagner's Ring cycle, Sesame Street, and the Cosby Show to name a few. It is in this chapter that Bianculli begins to give life to his argument that television is not all bad. Indeed, he claims, we must be "objective" and note also the positive contributions television has made.

The material for Part Three ("A Media Roundtable") comes from a panel of television scholars, writers, directors, producers, and journalists assembled by the author. Included in the group were Bill Moyers, Bill Cosby, Linda Ellerbee, Fred Friendly, Peter Jennings, and Kurt Vonnegut. The discussion begins with a consideration of children's television -- especially the positive values portrayed on the Cosby Show. Remarks also focus on the educational value of television. The author concludes,

It is my belief that television is largely responsible for the rise and strength of the environmental movement, animal-rights concerns, and improved zoo conditions. It used to be that the average American's contact with wild animals was limited largely to National Geographic magazine photos, visits to the local prisonlike zoo, and perhaps Walt Disney's highly staged nature films .... Then television moved in, taking millions of viewers on voyages to the bottom of the sea -- and everywhere else thanks to TV's National Geographic Specials and the efforts of Attenborough, Nova, Nature, and others .... Documentary specials and even network newscasts .... have brought us closer to endangered species, to natural beauty and disasters, and to a greater understanding of our world's creatures and ecosystems. (191)

The panel also discusses the coverage of the Persian Gulf War, the highly acclaimed Civil War series, and the best of situation comedies, miniseries, variety shows, talk shows, news, and documentaries.

All in all, concludes the author, television has brought the viewing public some very positive programming -- programs that have broadened our world significantly. Bianculli presents an interesting and impartial assessment of television. His ideas should be read and discussed by anyone concerned with the impact of television on society.
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Author:Coleman, William E., Jr.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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