Friends Don’t Let Friends Watch Television

Looking back on more than half-a-century of viewership, television’s impact on how we think may be more profound than initially realized. How has the human psyche been shaped by decades of what has been termed, “programming?” And to what degree has television altered our collective perception of external reality? Far more seductive than opium, TV is the most powerful weapon of psychological war in history. Consumers in the west scheduled life and relationships around favorite programs. We wake up to it like a drug, use it as a baby sitter for the  youth, consume it whenever possible during the day, and go to sleep with it. We even take it with our meals.
Today six corporations control all major media in the US including the principal television networks. These six corporate entities in turn control the info being broadcast on a daily basis. The average American adult watches more than four hours of television each day. The constant flow of entertainment, news and info consumed by the American public shapes their perception the reality in which they live. By controlling the dissemination of information broadcasters and their corporate heads are able to control the masses. The constant, carefully shaped messages on television guide the public to predetermined conclusions. Therefore, TV has become a weapon of mass persuasion. They even decide what we know about the past.
In the words of Charlie Brooker:
“All these people thirst for knowledge. And they could get it from a device which ruthlessly demands the attention of millions. A machine capable of slinging images and sounds into every home in the land. TV could teach you a new language, parade the entire history in front of your face, or it could simply distract you with brightly colored bibble. We all want to fill our brains with information, yet only few of us know as much as we think we know…maybe we never learned anything from TV but were simply transfixed by it like apes dazzled by technology.
“We’re all living through the most technologically advanced era since yesterday. Today everyone is obsessed with gadgetry  and machines that light up. We spend more time gazing into luminous screens than into the eyes of our loved ones. Gadgetry has become so common place we consider it part of nature itself. But recently machinery has become so advanced its downright terrifying. How did we get this messed up? Maybe things first started going wrong when we surrendered our attention to the flickering meddler of the television.
“The world of TV knowledge started with the news. Early news broadcasts were stern announcements from the authorities consisting of little more than still photographs and explanatory diagrams backed with a vocal summary. The BBC believed moving pictures would distract viewer and prevent them from absorbing the informational content. Gradually TV news loosened up and bean to realize the advantages it had over news print. Unlike their desperate, medieval income paper counterparts TV reporters could use moving image to make the otherwise mundane stories more interesting and immersive.
“The translation of news into TV grew more sophisticated. The newsroom arrived, there were more interesting graphics, and, and when major events occurred the printing press was left standing by the television, which could interrupt you in your own home to depress the ass off you. And what’s more, rather than reading wordy dispatches from overseas war reporters TV viewers could follow the journalists into the thick of the action. They didn’t even wait for the gunfire to stop before filing their reports. TV news grew even more dynamic as color television arrived making events seem increasingly vivid and dispiriting and brutal and all horrible-like.
“And just as documentaries were under pressure to become more populist, so was the news. Ever since satellite news first appeared the landscape had become more competitive, and the fight for impact intensified. As a consequence across the board the graphics steadily became more fearsome and bombastic, the sets more cavernous and self important, and the delivery more theatrical. And part of this more crowd pleasing approach was the opinion of the viewer grew steadily more important. This situation reached a peak in 1997 after the death of princess Diana when the opinion of the man in the street actually became the emotive focus of much of the news coverage.
“Current affairs was no longer a stern proclamation from the establishment, and was becoming more like a public sounding board. news in general had started to move away from explaining the world to us, and moved towards us explaining our view of the world to them. All the while the internet was starting to overtake TV as a source of instant news. And just as newspapers reacted to TV by becoming spicier, so TV news morphed into rolling news in which everything became sensational nonstop crisis full of incremental, horrible developments. Its become a hope-sapping broadcast from the depression dimension; someone simply reads aloud a list of the worst events in the world today’s news seems to be nothing but the thrill of the chase. An endless parade of fresh horror piled upon fresh horror. No time for reflection, just pictures. Look at this! – then – Look at this! Come on! Tune in rubber-neckers! Have a bloody good gawp!
“Soon it all becomes meaningless which has the side effect of making reality itself feel somehow unreal like a work of fiction writing itself; a destiny beyond our control. And all we can do is stare at it in stunned desperation. And if 24 hour news was stranding viewers in a nihilistic wilderness, the other source of knowledge the TV documentary had changed too. Where once doc experts were expected to speak and walk around like documentary academics there is a growing assumption that today’s viewer won’t pay attention to facts unless there is a star attached preferably one with a shaky link to the subject. For instance, because the actor Ross Kemp played a hard ex-soldier in Eastenders, he was considered an ideal choice to send to Afghanistan to show us how a real war works (and weirdly it turned out he’s pretty good at this). All of which opened the floodgates for other celebrity experts. Once consistent thumbprint of “Expertainment” is confuse fictional characters with the actors that portray them. So because he played a vet in African-based Wild At Heart, ITV thought it would be a good idea to send Stephen Tompkinson animal mending around Africa. In fact even Tompkinson seems to have forgotten he’s an actor. No one seems to have proper expertise any more. Jeffrey Jones’s Chief qualification for splashing around Britain’s rivers is that he’s sixty-percent water like the rest of us. These days you don’t even have to be vaguely suitable to front a documentary series, provided you’re a celebrity.
“Once documentaries were happy to show you stuff and take time to let you absorb it. Gradually they morphed into grandiose visual spectaculars like Walking With Dinosaurs. Sensation was starting to overwhelm fact and before long if we wanted to learn about say The Blitz, it was no longer good enough to listen to people who actually lived through it. No. Boring! Instead you had to hold your own Blitz.  In shows like the TV experiment Blitz Street which would answer the burning question, of what would happen in 1940’s German explosives were dropped on British houses, a question most of us would have thought was pretty comprehensively answered by the six-year experiment known as World War Two.
“To see where its all heading look no further than Deadliest Warrior – a flabbergasting show which explores history’s more fearsome brawlers by pitting them against each other in a manner which defies both sense and taste. Each week two sides are chosen and then the Deadliest Warrior team gleefully explore the injurious possibilities by road-testing their respective arsenals on bio-mechanically accurate dummies and the occasional dead animal. For instance, *here we see what happens when we detonate a Viet-Kong land mine, besides a deceased pig. Basically what they’ve done here is they’ve taken the tragic futility of war and used it to blow up a pig. Once they work out whose got the edge, in which top-trump style category, their resident computer expert runs a simulation pitching the two sides against one another in an imaginary mind space in which only one can emerge victorious. The thing is, its so far removed from reality its more like its a sport, which means its possible to watch this and find yourself cheering on the Nazis, like they’re Tim Henman or something.
“When you’re dealing with a world in which facts are treated as though they’ve been dreamed up, you may as well make factual programs not just about stuff we know, but about stuff we don’t know, i.e. the unknown, you know? Back in 1992 a fictional spook show caused a stink because viewers thought it was real, yet ten years later viewers were so desensitized to fact-bending ostensibly real  paranormal investigations had become a TV staple. Thanks in part to TVs obsession with the supernatural these days almost every son-of-a-bitch in the country claims to have encountered a ghost at some point. And its not just supernatural bibble people are prepared to believe. They’ll choke down anything that looks like a documentary. All TV really taught us was to believe what screens said, even when they were lying. TV’s relationship with information has taken has taken fact on a lengthy and unusual journey.
“Documentaries morphed from high-brow historical lecturing into low-brow historical pantomime remixing. And our taste for experts  shifted from knowledgeable respectable academics to tit-witted celebrity puppets. And what about those fact-based dramas? Well this traditional sense of reverence soon got pissed through a tinsel-coated hose pipe. Where once the tutors looked like old paintings TV now portrayed them like the cast of a sex-crazed 16th Century take on Hollyoaks.
“And the news went from a basic unemotional explanation of the facts to a nonstop entertainment format sold on the basis basis of its emotive impact. an entertainment format which sometimes talk to you like you’re back in the classroom watching a School’s program. So what did I learn from Television apart from catch-phrases and theme tunes? Almost nothing. I just looked at stuff and ended back where I started.”

Some of the best creative minds are employed to assure our faith in the corporate world view. They seduce us with beguiling illusions designed to divert our minds and manufacture our consent. Television doesn’t kill, it pacifies, throwing viewers into a trance-like state transforming human beings into compliant zombies with glassy-eyes and vacant expressions. It is ideal for the corporations that the consumer be still and prepared for indoctrination, thus we are willing participants, and no force is necessary. It is no mistake that happiness in the America peaked in the 1950’s, before TV was used to enforce the consumer message of capitalism. The central rallying cry: You are not happy unless you buy this product, look like this model, or consume this beverage. Advertising creates artificial needs, since most products are completely unnecessary. In fact, corporations employ psychologists, writers and filmmakers to sell what is essentially the same product. The very purpose of advertising is to open up and exploit emotional vulnerabilities to make us feel that without brand-name products, we are defective. One of the tricks of effective advertising is to identify products with a highly desirable qualities that have wide spread appeal: If you buy this, you will have clear skin, and appear attractive to others; Drive this car and appear liberated and adventurous like this actor.


Professor Noam Chomsky attests to this point:
“The goal for the corporations is to maximize profit and market share. And they also have a goal for their target, namely the population. They have to be turned into completely mindless consumers of goods that they do not want. You have to develop what are called “created wants”. So you have to create wants. You have to impose on people what’s called a philosophy of futility. You have to focus them on the insignificant things of life, like fashionable consumption. I’m just basically quoting business literature. And it makes perfect sense. The ideal is to have individuals who are totally disassociated from one another. Who’s conception of themselves, the sense of value, is just how many created wants can I satisfy? We have huge industries, public relations industry is a monstrous industry, advertising and so on, which are designed from infancy to try to mold people into this desired pattern.”
Advertisements are bait laid out for vulnerable consumers. These same methods are used to glorify  corporations. The truth is that corporations exist only to make money, and are even legally compelled to prioritize making to make profits over competing interests – and there is no such thing as enough profit. Hence “Globalization” is now the new politically-correct buzzword to describe Empire building. It allows for the promotion of corporate brand symbols by using slave labor in 3rd World Countries.
Author of No Logo Naomi Klein expounds on brand status:
“When I was researching the take over of public space when I started off I thought okay this is just advertising. We’ve always had advertising. It’s just more advertising. But what I started to understand and what I understand now is that branding is not advertising it’s production. And very successful corporations, the corporations of the future do not produce products. They produced brand meaning. The dissemination of the idea of themselves is their act of production. And the dissemination of the idea of themselves is an enormously invasive project. So how do you make a brand idea real? Well, a good place to start is by building a three dimensional manifestation of your brand. For a company like Disney it goes even further where it’s actually building a town, Celebration Florida. Their inspiration, their brand image, is the all American family. And the sort of bygone American town.” And that’s where you see the truly imperialist aspirations of branding which is about building these privatized branded cocoons. Which maybe you start by shopping in and then you continue by holidaying in but eventually why not just move in.”

Advertising is not just for adults. Propagandists spend $12 Billion per-year, specifically targeting children to form consumer habits early on.  By repeating them over and over, brands can be ingrained  early on by repeating them over and over. By 18 months, babies in the west can tell the difference between brands, and by two are asking for brand products by name. From the age of seven on, the average child has seen 20,000 TV commercials annually. Preteen and teenage girls are even more coveted and groomed by advertisers. Referred to as the “Tween” market by propagandists,  fashion magazines, television adverts and other propaganda makes us feel inferior and defective from womb to tomb to keep us stuck in a state of feeling inadequate, unless we acquiesce to purchasing their products thus demonstrating loyalty to the brands.

In 1998, Western International Media, Century City, and Lieberman Research Worldwide, conducted a study on nagging: “The Nag Factor: How Do Kids React to Marketing?”
Susan Linn , Professor Of Psychiatry at Baker Children’s Center, Harvard, warns of the dangers of modern advertising with regards to the “Nag Factor” study:
Comparing the marketing of yesteryear to the marketing of today is like comparing a BB gun to a smart bomb. It’s not the same as when I was a kid, or even when the people who are young adults today were kids. It’s much more sophisticated, and it’s much more pervasive. It’s not that products themselves are bad or good. It’s the notion of manipulating children into buying the products. This study was not to help parents cope with nagging. It was to help corporations help children nag for their products more effectively. Children are not “little adults.” Their minds aren’t developed. And what’s happening is that the marketers are playing to their developmental vulnerabilities. The advertising that children are exposed to today is honed by psychologists, it’s enhanced by media technology that nobody ever thought was possible. I’m not saying it’s wrong to make things for children. You know, and I also think it’s important to distinguish between psychologists who work on products for children who help, help, you know, toy corporations make toys that are developmentally appropriate. I think that’s great, that’s different from selling the toys directly to the children. One family cannot combat an industry that spends 12 billion dollars a year trying to get their children. They can’t do it.
Charlie Brooker offers a little history on the origins of advertising:
“Many early adverts were functional things little more than animated flickering billboards extolling the practical virtues of the products they were pushing. But as consumers began to realize that most products were basically the same (because its all just stuff, isn’t it?), advertisers began attaching fantasies to the products they were hacking. And often this fantasy was an opulent vision that could be all yours for the price of something that tasted like a refrigerated human organ inside chocolate.
“As the 60’s swung into view Cool was the primary dream. The lucky cool advert sods lived in the world of glamor, travel  foxy babes and nice hair. Of course instead of nice hair goo they were actually flogging you membership card: “Buy this McGuffin and you too could be one of the fortunate happy ones, complete with an enviably cool lifestyle.” The the 70’s arrived and everything outdoors was awful. But luckily the two or three members of the population who weren’t outside rioting or being bombed were indoors being distracted by eerie images of up-market aspirational living. As the 80’s approached the advertisers desirable vision of the high life stuck.  Conspicuous consumption was being celebrated for its own sake. Perhaps you could get your hand on luxury everyday.
“But somewhere the glitz and aspirational values of commercials leaked out and started infecting popular dramas. Shows like Dallas brought the billionaire lifestyle to the thespian masses. Dallas was a sumptuous conspicuously decadent soap detailing the existence of a family of impossibly wealthy Americans living empty lives. But even though it was clear money wasn’t bringing the Ewing’s happiness, it was impossible not to envy them. Dallas was a massive hit which chimed with the money-worshiping 80’s,which is why the BBC tried making its own version: Howard’s Way in which the sun-kissed oil barons were replaced by the rain battered yacht set. It stared a regatta of barnacled curmudgeons racing to acquire swank wagons and drink problems, the winner being the one who hoarded the biggest treasure trove of red things. Getting ahead involved endlessly barking business flavored claptrap at one another. Shows like this helped shift our perception of tycoons and the importance of money itself.
“Games shows are a sure fire clear indicator of how or relationship with money has changed. Not so long ago everyone on game shows was chummy and nice. And the shows themselves largely revolved around the simple pleasure of participating in a glorified parlor game on a ropey set. Once the game was done the contestants were delighted to accept mere products as prizes. And the whole shebang ended on an upbeat note as the fun gang of beaming neighbors waved goodbye to the cadavers back home. But now cold-steel menace and raw money is the order of the day and the game is a dog eat dog accumulation festival culminating in a bitter dispute.
“Another harbinger of change is the shifting portrayal of wealthy people on screen. Back in 1985 while their lifestyles looked glamorous fictional Billionaires like JR were clearly the bad guys. Twenty years later actual living, breathing tycoons tycoons were being celebrated and the more explicitly ruthless they were the brighter their stars shone.
“Money is terrible. Its just a depressing way of boiling our wonderful world down to a set of grey little numbers and then using them to screw each other over. “Oh, one for me and one for you. Oh, you’ve got one more than me I’m going to stab you in the ribs.” That’s what money is.
“Once you’ve accumulated plenty of money TV encourages you to invest it all in a box made of bricks. Rich people used to stop us noticing how privileged they were by tinting their car windows or hiding behind high walls where you couldn’t kill them. But now TV allows you a peak behind the gates and frankly its harrowing. Cribs is a highly successful variant of Through the Keyhole in which a very rich person shows you the rewards which society has granted them for being important and successful and loved, and you have to guess who in God’s tit they are. Its effectively a shopping channel of stuff that could have been yours if you’d been born in America and learned to rap rather than sitting on your ass watching Cribs. Cribs dangles the aspirational carrot so impractically out of reach they might as well put it on a million-mile-long stick tied to a rocket that’s been fired into a black hole.
“People have always wanted nice houses, obviously, they’re not mad. But back in the day, your options were limited. If you were poor you had to live in a cramped tin full of relatives and Cholera, if you were middle class you had a bigger home, and if you were a member of the aristocracy, you lived in Downtown Flipping Abbey. People largely accepted whichever kind of hovel they had been allotted. And then in the 80’s everyone suddenly wanted one. And glamorous TV ads made the dream look attainably easy.
“But having purchased the roofs over their head, people didn’t really know what to do with themselves. I mean, what are you actually meant to do in a house? Raise a family? Start a bottle top collection? Sit there and die? No wonder people went mad and started desperately trying to spruce their death boxes up in a bid to kill time. TV soon noticed this and began knocking up cheap-o home improvement guff castles like Changing Rooms which took the concept of interior design and married it to the concept of people slinging any old crap together, and generated several hundred hours of television in the process. The ultimate in home-made pornography has to be pornography made from homes; televised aspirational showrooms such as Channel Four’s Grand Designs which offers a tantalizing glimpse of the kind of dream house you too could be dwelling in if only you had several hundred thousands dollars, and/or six months of leisure times to spare. The presenter, Kevin McCloud (whose name even makes him sound like a man who stepped out of a dream) fronts the show in the manner of an enthusiastic curator leading you on a personal tour around a museum of cozy, middle-class satisfaction.
“Largely though its an envy generator, as we look on moving from mild interest to outright fury: “Oh that’s a nice fireplace…What a wonderfully huge kitchen…Oh I love the way the windows let the light into their lovely house…Oh they’ve got a pool – Oh you’ve got a fucking pool!” Thanks to shows like this it somehow feels like its not enough to just own A reasonably okay house anymore. Instead you feel a lingering sense of failure for dwelling inside anything other than an architecturally-fascinating 4,000 foot translucent diagram for you and your revolting kids to shit into.”



While it is natural for someone to become popular for being the best at what they do, today in the west you are a celebrity if you simply appear on screen – any screen – even by mistake. You gain credibility and praise for nothing, and the more you appear, the bigger a celebrity you become if you become a big enough celebrity, then you become a brand to be sold and traded like any other product. Case and point: Miss Kim Kardashian famous for owning some clothes shops and going shopping. She wears diamonds and fur because they are symbols of wealth, and because she believes she is superior to other humans, she ignores the true cost of these luxuries. Despite the fact that tobacco in the west is laced with more than 2,000 deadly chemicals designed to addict and kill humans, celebrities frequently appear in magazines, movies and fashion shoots smoking cigarettes knowing that the youth want to be celebrities too. Many of the biggest celebrities have no talents at all. Like Katie Price or Paris Hilton. Hilton, from a wealthy hotel family, is said  to charge 150,000 dollars to appear at parties. She even has a TV program called My New Best Friend Forever where people compete to be her new best friend, proof that anything in the west can be reproduced and commodified for profit.

Charlie Brooker observes the evolution of celebrity over the course of television history:

“Way back in the past, folk only achieved a level of what might be termed, ‘celebrity’ by displaying a remarkable level of talent whereas during current confused period of human history it is apparently possible to become famous merely for inhaling and exhaling on camera. The galaxy of fame has a complex, every shifting hierarchy. Burning brightest are the proper stars – actors and musicians and the like. Some become super giants like Beyonce or Brad Pitt and they’re also insanely powerful; If George Clooney called a live globally televised press conference during which he plucked out two of his chest hairs, and said he’d post them to the first viewer to turn around and murder a member of their own family, thousands would perish.”

This is part of a trend in the west for what is called reality TV – a type of freak-show programming about talentless narcissists who like to talk about themselves and go shopping. In the field of American reality TV competition is fierce for the most grotesque examples of such exploitation. For example, The Swan is a show where women who are deemed “too-ugly-for-television” enter a plastic surgery competition to become sculpted into the most beautiful. Surveys reveal that an overwhelming majority of woman in the west (nine out of ten) are unhappy with their appearance. This perceived inadequacy drives western girls to spend exorbitant sums of money purchasing cosmetics, clothes and plastic surgery.

But this is nothing compared The Bachelor reality series, where a  handsome, wealthy young man declares a commitment to choose a wife from a lineup of sixteen potential brides. After sampling all of the potential brides, he decides which mare is most suitable for him to marry, transforming the most personal of decisions into another pre-packaged commodity.



Charlie Brooker again offers his profound perspective:

“Television: We managed to drag that from I Claudius to the Jeremy Kyle Show in the blink of a generation. The internet: the most incredible method of  communication ever devised and we use it for swapping funny photos of cats. Smartphones: with a smartphone, you could browse through the contents of the most incredible art galleries in the world, all in the palm of your hand. Yeah, you could do that or you could download a novelty app that makes it emit the sound of a farting duck.

“In summary TV famed progress was a great thing predicting a world in which we would relax in front of screens while computerized slaves did our bidding but now the future has arrived and those screens relax in front of us while we converse through them, loose our bleeding rags at them, and jig about like desperate gestures for the computerized approval. and the screens have left us marooned here in the future surrounded by magic and unable to focus on anything that doesn’t light up and go beep.”


In a world economy where information is filtered by global media corporations keenly attuned to their powerful advertisers, who will defend the public’s right to know and what price must be paid to preserve our ability to make informed choices? In order to take back our minds, lives and communities, we must first unplug the signal. Turn off your television. Cancel your cable and satellite subscriptions. Seek alternative news sources. Spend time with your family, and connect with your neighbors and local community. Discuss, learn, and allow new information to challenge your thoughts and opinions. When we unplug the signal, we being to realize that the matrix surrounding us is false, and many things we once held to be true were lies. Remember: the truth will not be televised.


Gabrielle Lafayette is a journalist, writer, and executive producer for the Outer Limits Radio Show.
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