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The empty eye.

Modern society inundates its citizens not only with a Niagara of words, but also, these days, with a torrent of pictures. Television spews out both words and pictures in dizzying quantity and variety: movies, talk shows, cartoons, dramatic programs, comedies, variety shows, children's shows, sporting events, news programs, political advertisements, and incessant commercial messages. What began with a few channels in each city has become, in many areas, a smorgasbord of a dozen channels or more, in two or three languages, some offering nonstop news, others nonstop sports, even some with nonstop advertising. Since the 1950s, this new combination of visual and verbal information, with its immediacy and affective power as well as its hypnotizing banality, has become an integral part of our lives. About 98 percent of American homes have a television, with its empty eye staring out on the inhabitants more than seven hours a day.

Distinctions between types of programming that once were clear have become blurred. News programs, entertainment programs, and commercials have become more alike as competition for the public's attention has become more intense. Many commercials consist of vignettes, told in a kind of visual shorthand that creates dramatic suspense, which is released when characters buy or consume the product being advertised.

Dramatic programs like "Dynasty" and "Miami Vice" resemble long ads for high-fashion clothing, fancy cars, and expensive real estate. Many game shows appear to be little more than an excuse to display new products, with contestants competing breathlessly to acquire them. Political campaigns stage events that are covered by news organizations; then the campaigns recycle the news footage into political ads. Then, news organizations file reports about those political ads.

Close on the heels of "happy talk" news -- an attempt to make news more entertaining -- comes "infotainment," consisting of shows dressed up in a news-program format that are little more than segments from forthcoming movies and interviews with actors and singers. "Reality television" also uses the news format for crime stories and gossip once the exclusive province of supermarket tabloids.

"Seeing is Believing"

What does television tell its viewers about the world? Beyond the data explicitly offered -- "Toyota-thon year-end sales extravaganza, through Sunday only" -- "a severe storm headed our way, details at 11:00" -- what are television's characteristics themselves contributing to the way we think about the world?

Not so long ago, some people believed that if a piece of information were printed in a book, it must be "true." Such an attitude still prevails with respect to television because, as everyone "knows," "seeing is believing." I actually overheard one shopper in a store telling another about a product, "Sure, it works. Haven't you seen it on TV?" Television's ability to suggest that we are actually experiencing the events depicted, or at least seeing them accurately, is the source of its greatest power. Television dramatic shows, like movies and theatrical productions, depend on viewers' suspending their disbelief and identifying with characters portrayed, without saying, "Wait a minute -- people can't really beam themselves through space," or "That isn't really the court of Henry VIII; it's a studio soundstage somewhere in Southern California." Although most people understand that there are differences between fictional television, advertising, and nonfiction or "news" programs, it is worthwhile examining just how each conveys its representations of reality, so we can understand how -- and whether -- to "believe" what we "see."

The power of television news to capture the public's attention became apparent in the 1960s. In 1963, the nation was gripped by horror and grief at the assassination of President Kennedy; the event and its aftermath kept the nation riveted to television screens for days. Other major events, though reported in newspapers and magazines as well, were likewise widely and instantaneously experienced on television. Several incidents occurred in 1968 alone: the first expedition to set foot on the moon, the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, the riots at the Democratic National Convention, and North Vietnam's Tet offensive -- television coverage of which brought into American homes bloody images from a war that previously had seemed quite remote.

Each of these events, seen over several days by a huge section of the American public, became part of a shared set of experiences, all seen through the eye of television. Since then, television has become the primary source of news information for a large section of the American public, with newspapers, magazines, and radio assuming supplemental roles.

The World Through a Keyhole

The television picture is an abstraction. Like most man-made images -- drawings, paintings, and photographs -- it is an array of bright and dark areas that the human eye assembles into an "image." The process of abstraction is present at many steps in the production of a television image. The television camera translates light waves into electronic impulses for subsequent transmission and reproduction, reducing light reflected by the complex reality of the world to an electronic code. Even more importantly, the camera -- and its operator -- also abstracts by selecting which part of the world it will record and which part it will ignore.

In the context of fictional or dramatic programs, again, most people are aware of this abstraction process. Just as, in live theater, there are "backstage" areas that no one in the audience is expected to see, there are likewise "off-camera" areas on every television soundstage. Anyone who has ever seen a television program or movie being filmed "on location" has been struck by the huge and intrusive amount of paraphernalia needed -- cameras, lights, sound booms, makeup, and props -- and how different the reality looks from the version that appears on the screen.

Even in news footage and other images that we tend to accept as "real," this distinction between on- and off-camera also exists. An unwritten rule of both newspaper and television news photography is that the camera never shows evidence of its own presence -- no photographers, technicians, or other cameras, and only selected reporters, are to be depicted. This rule is generally observed even though the presence of cameras and reporters may be exerting a major effect on the events being photographed. As an example, public officials and reporters who work together regularly at a state capitol or a city hall may banter with each other before a press conference, but assume an entirely different demeanor when the lights come on and the cameras start rolling. To a person present at a public hearing, cameras and lights may physically dominate the entire proceeding, but the televised report may exhibit little direct evidence of the presence of such apparatus.

The narrow vision of the television camera also makes spaces and groups of people seem much larger. After seeing one of the most familiar television rooms in America, the studio where "The Tonight Show" is filmed, visitors often say, "It's so small." On "the tube," the studio seems boundless and the crowd huge because the camera seldom shows the space as a whole. Many people who stage demonstrations and political rallies know this fact. When the cameras arrive, chanting becomes louder and more unified, and organizers often try to get their people to crowd together in front of the lens to wave, cheer, or jeer so that they will appear to be a much bigger group than they are. During the 1960s and '70s, some television and newspaper editors became so aware of this phenomenon and the extent to which it was exploited by various groups that they issued guidelines to their reporters and photographers on ways to avoid being manipulated into "creating" news where there might otherwise be none.

The very presence or absence of the camera also affects television's definition of news. Many foreign governments limit or censor the information and pictures that reporters may issue from their countries, knowing that television news organizations -- and many newspapers -- will not report events of which they do not have pictures or firsthand accounts. South Africa has curtailed the activities of both foreign and domestic journalists in reporting the struggle against apartheid, and accounts of events there have consequently become less vivid. Even though the Israeli military censors some reports and film from that country, Israel is by contrast a relatively open society. Because reporters have been free to film incidents involving rebellious Palestinian Arabs in the Occupied Territories, their reports may have given viewers abroad a distorted impression of civil unrest throughout the country. Yet many other countries in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere that could be considered more oppressive than Israel are either closed to Western journalists or ignored by the television networks. News footage of famine in Ethiopia and of the 1988 earthquake in Soviet Armenia resulted in massive and spontaneous outpourings of Western aid, which in turn became the subject of news accounts, while other disasters, such as flooding in Bangladesh and a severe earthquake in Colombia, engendered no such wave of public sympathy, partly because they were so remote that they were not easily televised.

Yet another level of abstraction occurs in the editing of news footage -- an hour-long interview in which an economist or political thinker explains his or her viewpoint is reduced to a series of 20-second snippets; a twenty-minute political speech is reduced to a ten-second "sound bite" for the evening news; a complicated piece of legislation that took years of discussion and compromise to draft is referred to as "the welfare reform bill" and summarized in less than a minute over film of a presidential bill-signing ceremony. Such abbreviation occurs in print reporting as well, but television newscasts generally offer even less detail and background information than print accounts.

"Into America's Living Room"

What television news loses in depth and specificity by comparison to printed reports, it often gains in brevity and emotional immediacy. Because television seems to bring war, riot, famine, or murder directly "into America's living room," it has tremendous emotional impact. That impact has been heightened by the lifting of visual taboos.

Before the Vietnam War, it was rare for any American news medium to show pictures of dead bodies or severely wounded American soldiers. In earlier wars, when the public learned about the destruction of war through news accounts, it was often at a much higher level of abstraction -- accounts of "engagements," "pitched battles," "breakthroughs," "advances," and occasionally "sacrifices." All that changed with graphic, bloody images from the television coverage of the Vietnam War. Newspapers, to a lesser degree, went along. Now almost every week the news brings grisly footage of poison-gas victims, starving children, or the bloated bodies of drowned humans and animals floating in floodwaters in some disaster-torn part of the world. These pictures may shock us, anger us, or even sicken us, but they seldom fail to move us.

Television's power to stimulate intense emotion, as well as its power of abstraction by way of selective editing, join with the limited time available for providing context to create a view of the world that is dominated by singular, violent events. We are often shown these events in stark highlight, to the exclusion of other news. Thus, the seizing of a single airplane by terrorists monopolizes the networks as they follow the plane from airport to airport. Newscasts alternate breathless reports from correspondents on the ground, who report whatever tidbits of information are available, with countless repetitions of a single frightening image, like that of the body of a murdered hostage being thrown from the cockpit of the plane onto the pavement.

Terrorists know that a small band of maniacs commandeering a well-chosen target, preferably an American airliner, can monopolize not only the attention of Western governments but that of most of the Western public through the mesmerizing lens of television. By such means, they not only gain worldwide attention for what would otherwise often be minor causes, such as the freeing of other accused terrorists, but they elevate their splinter movements to the status of nations by forcing the major powers of the world to negotiate with them. The question of whether television coverage exacerbates terrorism is widely discussed, often on television, without much concrete action taken to reduce such manipulation of the medium by terrorists.

"Film at 11:00"

If pictures give television its power, excessive reliance on them constitutes its weakness. Television news focuses on things it can easily symbolize visually, at the expense of things that are harder to depict. A few homeless people or a family being evicted can be televised to depict the larger problems of housing shortages and homelessness, but it's hard to televise houses not being built, rents increasing, or employment declining. It's easy to televise motorists in a gasoline line but hard to televise a national strategy for lessening dependence on imported oil. The visual aspect of television, adept at specifics, has trouble climbing back up the abstraction ladder to levels of greater generality and applicability.

In covering crime and urban violence, the preference of television news editors and producers for dramatic pictures focuses attention on footage of crime scenes, corpses covered with blankets, and the reactions of frightened neighbors, at the expense of detailed accounts of what police are doing to catch the perpetrators, discussions of what social and economic conditions cause crime, analysis of the effectiveness of correctional institutions, or reports of what response government officials are taking to meet the problem. Such more abstract accounts usually do not make good pictures, so, by and large, they -- and many other actions of local, state, and federal government -- play but a small part on television newscasts.

Television reporting has one other major distinction from print coverage. Printed reports are generally much easier to verify. With the written account in hand, it is possible to refresh one's memory as to exactly what was said and what was not and then to check the report by calling the people mentioned, consulting official records, or obtaining minutes of official proceedings. Compared to printed accounts, television reports may be equally accurate, but unless a recording is made they are harder to remember and verify, since the average viewer has no permanent record of what was said.

What often lingers from television news, then, is an impression, sometimes an unconscious one, of emotional tone. Thus, pictures can make a stronger impression than the words that accompany them.

"Go For The Gusto"

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of television lies in its power to sell products. Even when it purports to be entertaining us, television is showing us the "good life" and the products it consists of -- fast cars, stylish clothes, beautiful furnishings, modern kitchen conveniences. It also uses every device of the poet and every tool of the cinematographer to sell us those products.

In most modern television commercials, the words are of secondary importance to the pictures. Watch with the sound off and observe the minute plots develop, told in pictures that sometimes last less than a second. Television ads are the Persian miniature paintings of cinematography. Nowhere is the content of images more carefully controlled, the appearance of reality more closely manicured. Every frame of film is made to serve the purpose of the ad.

Romance and sexual adventure, it is suggested, can be found when "the night belongs to Michelob." In this elaborately orchestrated beer commercial, a man waits impatiently at a nightclub while a young woman hurries to finish dressing, hails a cab, and finally arrives to consummate their rendezvous -- entering the nightclub as Frank Sinatra sings, "The Way You Look Tonight." Payoff? The evening will be a success because they drink the right beer.

Another couple's evening in the urban fast lane ends with the lovers in a convertible parked by the river in the moonlight. The car? "The heartbeat of America, today's Chevrolet." In another commercial, we are reminded that romantic conquest, the kind leading to matrimony, "takes time" -- the kind of time told by Citizen watches. This image-dominated ad never reveals its sponsor until the last moment, which is preceded by a series of images of dancing, courtship, and nuzzling between a handsome man and a striking woman. You're being sold the story, and about the time you decide you'd like this romantic ideal to happen to you, you're offered the product as an implied means to make it come true.

The implicit assumption of television advertising -- that everyone wants and can have fine cars, good food, and the best services -- has had some unforeseen consequences. In 1962, at a lunch counter in a little town in South Carolina, a group of four black high-school students requested service and were refused. They decided to stay until they were served; this was the first "sit-in." When news spread that such a sit-in was happening, other young blacks from all over the South began to sit in at other lunch counters. The great social revolution of the black civil-rights movement of the 1960s was on.

Why was it 1962 rather than any other year when these young people decided to sit in at this drugstore in South Carolina? Louis Lomax, who describes the incident in The Negro Revolt, explains that these young people were not particularly well educated; they were just simple ordinary high-school kids. Why did they do what their parents had not done before on such a grand scale? Their parents and generations before them had tolerated the white drugstore where blacks were not served. They had tolerated segregation in the use of Jim Crow bus stations, Jim Crow lunch counters, Jim Crow water fountains, and Jim Crow restrooms. All over the South, the older generation had "known better" than to protest. Why did these young people resist? I think one reason was that they -- then sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen years old -- were the first generation to have spent their entire childhood being baby-sat by a television screen. That was the difference between the generations.

In other words, television is an amazingly powerful instrument of social change. What does television say? It says again and again: these are the good things we have in our culture. Come and enjoy them. Come and enjoy them. It never says: Stay away if you happen to be black. It never says: Stay away if you don't have any money. It just assumes that you have money; it just assumes everyone should enjoy the good things that the culture has to offer: hamburgers and Cokes at lunch counters, fine cars, nice clothes -- everything in the world that is pleasant to own or consume. And so these high-school kids were simply accepting television's invitation. Hadn't the television, politely and urgently, again and again, several times a day for years and years and years, urged them to enjoy the fruits of the culture?

The same forces of change unleashed by television on American society thirty years ago are now being turned loose in developing nations across the world. Especially since the development of the satellite relay and the "Earth station" antenna, television has recognized no geographic or national boundaries. People in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia, whose ancestors were isolated for centuries from other ways of life, are suddenly being allowed to see that not all the world lives in the same conditions as their own. Ideas, information, and especially images of "how the other half lives" are making their way into parts of the world previously tightly closed. The full consequences of this sudden, rapid flow of information have yet to be seen.

Whatever strange ideas people may get about American society by watching "Dallas," they see a world of glittering material wealth that makes our own everyday reality -- and almost certainly theirs as well -- seem drab by comparison. Several years ago, on a visit to a Caribbean island, my son Alan spent several hours traveling by jeep trail over a mountain pass to reach a remote beach. As he arrived at the only development within miles, a small bar open to the breeze and thatched with pond fronds, he was astounded to see the only three people in this idyllic spot huddled around a small television set that blared, "Cindy Johnson, COME ON DOWN! You're the next contestant on "The Price is Right'!"

What, Me Work?

Television, said Marshall McLuhan, values personal fulfillment very highly. That is the hidden message he saw in romances and romantic comedies, in which everyone involved struggles with obstacles in order to achieve love and sexual happiness. The indulgence of personal idiosyncrasies is also the leitmotif of "warmhearted" situation comedies from "M*A*S*H" through "Three's Company," "L.A. Law," and "Night Court." Every character, no matter how offbeat, unappealing, or downright deviant, eventually gets a sympathetic moment that leaves the audience with a "warm, fuzzy" feeling and the idea that no one is beyond the pale of human kindness. It's a lovely thought, but, in reality, acceptance by one's peers is usually won only at the cost of some consideration for their feelings as well.

Television's advocacy of individual gratification through romance and consumption of material goods is not balanced by advocacy of thrift or of work. |But~ it is hard to photograph "work." In television dramas and comedies alike, the workplace is just another setting for the same activities that go on elsewhere. The simulated law office, newsroom, police station, or hospital may be rife with intrigue, romance, flirtation, deception, or hilarity, but it is seldom clear what the people there are getting paid for. Yet they all have such nice cars, such lovely clothes, such interesting lives.

Combined with hour after hour of commercials offering instant gratification through purchasing and instant well-being through consumption, dramatic television's depiction of life adds up to a continuous display of conspicuous consumption without visible means of support. Is it any wonder that, among the first generations of television-raised Americans, there have arisen groups -- from young urban professionals to inner-city drug dealers -- displaying a fascination with symbols of material wealth, in the form of German luxury cars, gold jewelry, and expensive watches?

After the Bad Guys

Television dramas have always been built around the two-valued orientation. For years, bad guys in westerns literally wore black hats; when that became too simple-minded for some audiences, producers developed "adult westerns" in which the good guys wore black hats and went off in the end with women rather than with horses. As the public grew sated with cowboys, the search began for new characters and settings, but on television, there will always be villains. Crooks served as villains for a couple of decades' worth of police and detective shows, and they were very convenient: always wicked, never displaying any attractive qualities. Generic crooks have given way in recent years to drug dealers and international terrorists -- some of whom seem almost glamorous.

Other kinds of villains have also cropped up, often surrounded by trappings of power and material wealth -- at least, until they get caught. Politicians are either portrayed as buffoons in comedies, or, in dramas, as completely venal, self-interested, or adulterous. Most businessmen in television dramas will do anything for a profit -- lie, cheat, steal, kill. Worse yet is "big business," a faceless institution against whose grasping designs for development (always a threatening prospect) ordinary people must band together. When all other sources of villains fail, scriptwriters turn to the Central Intelligence Agency for bogeymen totally lacking in scruple. Television writers, producers, and advertisers seem to think we need simple, two-valued explications of the problems of modern life. Rare is the television drama about conflict between two "good" forces or between two "evil" ones. Rarer still is a drama in which it's hard to tell which is which. The black hats may not be visible, but they're still there.

The Casting of the President

Perhaps no other area of American life has been more changed by television than electoral politics, especially at the statewide and national levels. Once, the two major political parties were an indispensable part of the political system. They have been weakened by many things -- population movement, the growth of suburbia, the decay of central cities and of manufacturing industries, a slowing of the growth of labor unions, and an increasing emphasis throughout society on individual fulfillment rather than group action. Television has abetted the decline of political parties and gained influence as a result of it. Personality now outweighs party membership for an increasing number of voters who "vote for the candidate, not the party."

Television's political impact became clear in the first televised debate of the 1960 presidential campaign, when, to radio listeners judging by traditional debating terms, Vice President Richard M. Nixon was judged to have beaten Senator John F. Kennedy. Television viewers came away with a much more negative impression of Nixon, who wore an ill-fitting shirt and refused to use makeup, appearing with a "five o'clock shadow" that made him seem less than appealing. Kennedy was rested and deeply tanned from campaigning in California, as Fawn M. Brodie says in her biography, Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character:

Those who missed the television and heard Kennedy only on radio thought Nixon had clearly bested his opponent. But many television viewers who saw the Nixon pallor, the trickle of sweat pouring down his chin, the struggle to overcome his discomfiture... remembered very little else.

The debate was seen by political analysts as helping swing the election to Kennedy, and political managers ever since have believed that the non-verbal and visual impression a candidate makes on television is as important or more important than the things the candidate says.

The shift from print to television as the public's preferred source of news has caused many of the changes in electoral politics. An illustrative example of the two different kinds of reporting is provided by Michael J. Robinson and Margaret Sheehan in their article "Traditional Ink vs. Modern Video Versions of Campaign '80." (William C. Adams, ed., Television Coverage of the 1980 Presidential Campaign (1983), Ablex Publishing Corp., Norwood, N.J.) Robinson and Sheehan contrast accounts by Helen Thomas of United Press International and Lesley Stahl of CBS News, both describing the same visit to Philadelphia by then-President Jimmy Carter in September 1980. First UPI:

After three days on the campaign trail, President Carter is clearly convinced that the once divided Democratic Party is now closing ranks behind his candidacy....

Carter said in an interview on WPVI-TV that...he has seen "a remarkable coalescing of unity within the Democratic Party."

In the interview at a black Baptist Church, Carter mentioned that Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., his rival in the primaries, had telephoned to express his hope that the Democratic Party "will be united" in November....

Former Kennedy supporters...are falling into line. They include Philadelphia Mayor William Green, who never left Carter's side during his visit to drum up votes, particularly among ethnic groups and blacks.

Also Wednesday, Carter won endorsements from three powerful unions that had endorsed other candidates in the primaries....

In his speech from the pulpit to an enthusiastic gathering in Zion Baptist Church...Carter warned that a Democratic Party divided as it was in 1968 could lead to a Republican victory in November.

During the day, he toured the Italian market, shaking every hand in sight, and had a corned beef and cabbage lunch at an Irish restaurant....

The CBS story was introduced by sub-anchor Charles Kuralt:

KURALT: You remember that great old photograph of Calvin Coolidge wearing a war bonnet. Campaigning politicians need to identify themselves with every segment of the population: the old, the young, and the ethnic. It's a tradition. And as Lesley Stahl reports, President Carter stayed busy today -- following tradition.

STAHL: What did President Carter do today in Philadelphia? He posed, with as many different types of symbols as he could possibly find. There was a picture at the day care center. And one during the game of bocce ball with the senior citizens. Click, another picture with a group of teenagers. And then he performed the ultimate media event -- a walk through the Italian market.

The point of all this, obviously, to get on the local news broadcasts and in the morning newspapers. It appeared the president's intention was not to say anything controversial....Simply the intention was to be seen, as he was, and it was photographed, even right before his corned beef and cabbage lunch at an Irish restaurant with the popular mayor, Bill Green.

There were more symbols at the Zion (black) Baptist Church....

Over the past three days the president's campaign has followed a formula -- travel into a must-win state, spending only a short time there but ensuring several days of media coverage....

And today the president got a bonus, since the Philadelphia TV markets extend into neighboring New Jersey -- another must-win state.

As Robinson and Sheehan point out, the UPI print account focuses on the candidate and what he said, as well as on the role in politics of other elected officials, unions, churches, and ethnic groups. Listening to the words of the CBS piece, a viewer accustomed to television can easily imagine the accompanying pictures of the president walking in the Italian market, eating corned beef with the mayor, speaking to a black church group. The very words of Stahl's account emphasize the importance of images over traditional forms of political organization.

Strictly speaking, to characterize President Carter's activities as "posing" is an inference, rather than a report, but Robinson and Sheehan quote a Carter press aide who later said the Stahl piece "made me cringe...she was absolutely right about the photo opportunities." Robinson and Sheehan said, "What keeps this piece from being labeled subjective is that no political observers, including the Carter people, think Stahl was wrong in her analysis."

Although Carter's opponent, Ronald Reagan, has been the politician best noted for taking advantage of "photo opportunities" as a campaign technique, and although the 1988 campaign between George Bush and Michael Dukakis was likewise dominated by such events by both parties, this example shows that the idea has been established for some time. Planning political events to take maximum advantage of free television exposure means it no longer matters much what the candidate said to the people at the black church, the Italian market, or the corned-beef luncheon. Nor does it matter what they said to him. What campaign managers hope is that people watching television will see the candidate seeming to interact with people with whom the viewer can identify. The organizational work of traditional politics -- reaching voters individually and in small groups through speeches, personal contacts, and written accounts of statements and positions by the candidate -- has been almost completely replaced by efforts to place the candidate in front of television cameras.

While television photographers still generally avoid actually depicting their own presence at political events, commentary like Stahl's has become more common. Many television -- and some print -- reporters are now including in their stories discussions of how events are covered and of candidates' efforts to take advantage of television news. Notice how the UPI reporter, Helen Thomas, generally gave credence to the events and words she perceived: President Carter says the party is closing ranks, and Thomas duly reports that he says so. In contrast, the effect of Stahl's posture -- telling listeners not only what the candidate did but how he was trying to present himself -- casts a shadow of disapproval and more than a hint of cynicism over her words.

The use of news cameras to create images desired by the campaign was brought to new heights in the 1988 presidential campaign. Here are two of the more fatuous examples: George Bush visited a factory where flags are made, and Michael Dukakis took a ride in a tank, wearing a helmet and sticking his head out the top to be photographed. Their respective campaigns hoped that news photos would show that Bush was a patriot -- because he appeared in front of a lot of flags -- and that Dukakis favored a strong defense -- because after all, there he was on a tank.

Even though television reporters widely reported the fact that such "events" were intended to manipulate television cameras into serving the purposes of the campaign organizations that planned them, the pictures were nevertheless broadcast, thus fulfilling the campaigns' practical objectives. Later, news footage of the tank ride was used by the Dukakis campaign in a political ad. The Bush camp, thinking Dukakis looked silly in the helmet, recycled the identical footage for its own anti-Dukakis ad.

As television coverage achieves greater importance in wooing voters, Stahl's insider's viewpoint describes the modern political process as many, if not most, participants see it, while Thomas's piece almost seems to be written about a monochrome world that no longer exists.

Brain Surgery -- The Video

If people increasingly rely on television for information, does this new form of communication threaten to supplant the written word? We can now buy videotaped instruction in auto mechanics, computer operation, home repair, foreign languages, music, art, and religion. Movie versions of many major works of literature are available on video recordings. What kind of world will this produce? Can the principles and practice of nuclear physics, electrical engineering, computer design, astronomy, business management, architecture, or neurosurgery be conveyed in moving pictures and spoken words as well as they can be through the printed word? If not, will society develop two kinds of literacy, print and video, separate and unequal?

Television excels in teaching some things -- skills involving movement, such as dance or carpentry, and ideas dependent on images from faraway places. In combining eloquent words with well-chosen pictures, as in Robert MacNeil's series "The Story of English," the medium of television can cast new light on distant history. By example, it can challenge our habitual attitudes. The appearance of a mentally retarded man as a regular, sympathetic character on the series "L.A. Law" allows us to see new ways of reacting enacted in everyday settings, rather than merely preached.

But these few bright moments on the small screen are the exception. If humanity had used writing in the same limited way we use television, we would have created for ourselves little more than tabloid newspapers and comic books.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Institute of General Semantics
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Title Annotation:the effects of television on society
Author:Hayakawa, Alan R.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Date:Jun 22, 1993
Words:5695
Previous Article:To a poet a thousand years hence.
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