The Role Of Television In Our Culture

Television even with its shortcomings is still by far one of the most powerful mediums of communication. Kingwell considers television as a serious form of communication. But according to him we the people, both the makers and viewers don’t take it seriously enough. Kingwell argues that it is the dominant medium of information and entertainment of the age but that dominance might soon fade away because of our lack of proper attention. In order to prove his arguments Kingwell states eight myths about television drawing from his personal experiences. These myths are supposed to broaden our way of thinking about television as a medium and establish its importance in our culture.

One of the most controversial myths about television is that it is a neutral medium. But according to Marshall McLuhan media technologies are an extension of human consciousness. In reality, just like any other technology television also comes with its own share of social and economic drawbacks. In a world where time is everything, television itself is a time based medium that is dominated by the power of people and advertising.

Speaking of power, the second myth that Kingwell discusses is that it is controlled by individuals. What is shown on television is pre-structured by the biases of the people of higher power or by the influence of advertising. It is basically a business that is run with time and advertising money.

Kingwell further argues that if television is all about the numbers and ratings then the viewer is unsophisticated and inclined to violence. Television is largely dependent on the ideas like “what people want” or “the viewer is always right”. Programmers either have to give people more of what they want or slip some quality when they are not paying attention. That is why programmers have a co-dependent relationship with the viewers.

Kingwell before continuing with his arguments in myth no 4 states that he is not an anti TV person. Even though television is all about entertainment and information, the former dominates the latter. He further draws from Neil Postman, saying that when entertainment becomes the only value then people entertain themselves to death. And this effect can clearly be seen in every day to day programs like Dr Phil or The Tonight’s Show.

Television relies heavily on the interest of the viewer. This idea brings us to myth no 5 that is, television is responsible for the world’s evil. People feel interested in work that they are most familiar with. Bourdieu calls this concept “the already-thought”. Meaning, the things broadcasted on TV are the most familiar ones because they are most easily digested and people fear complexity, even within their own system.

For the next myth Kingwell draws from Bourdieu’s concept “les fast-thinkers”. He tells us that TV is not only about promoting or selling a book it is about getting ideas out there. Kingwell shares about his personal experiences and states that those who go on TV have a responsibility to share ideas but ultimately they have no control over it. In the end, criticizing the media within TV is unsuccessful. Hence the question of blaming someone lies within TV itself.

Kingwell brings up the conflict between the traditional print media and TV in myth no 7. He tells us that individuals in the print media don’t think TV is worth their attention. Many academics go to places where they do not have to explain or justify themselves. And according to him this fear is ultimately a failure of intellectual duty.

The last myth, television is beyond saving is probably the most important one. Change will come but there are no instant solutions. That’s why Kingwell suggests us to try and understand the medium before judging quickly. He tells us imagine a world where TV is more dramatically accomplished and more socially responsible.

Marshal McLuhan was probably one of the most important figures in the field of communication. This chapter written by James C. Morrison portrays the ideas of McLuhan between communication and culture. McLuhan termed the word “media ecology”. He was a man both of his time and ahead. He was aware of the changes to come due to the new electronic age of communication. This summary will discuss his ideas and contributions to the media culture.

Television was becoming the most dominant medium of communication during McLuhan’s time. Although he was enthusiastic about the new media technologies, he distrusted them because of the changes he saw coming. His book “Understanding Media” published in 1964 was written to create a sense of awareness. He was aware that evolving technologies were affecting the western culture and he wanted to counteract the effects of the medium itself. He further pointed out the differences between orality and culture. According to McLuhan, TV is not a visual medium but it is an extended version of orality.

Human consciousness consists of five senses. McLuhan believed in another sense called “sensorium” that is the collection of all the senses including a sixth sense called “haptic”. He draws from Plato and Thamus, stating that we can always cross examine a person but cannot interrogate a text. The main idea is that all media are neutral vessels that are filled with content. Thus the medium itself is the message. But whatever the content might be the effects remain the same. And thus it effects how we perceive reality. According to McLuhan there are two types of medium. Hot medium and cool medium. Hot medium requires less participation. For example, print and radio.

From both of the summaries we can come to a conclusion that, media technologies like television has impacted our culture in way that has changed how we see the world. Even though it has its own disadvantages, which were predicted by McLuhan during his time it is still the dominant medium to convey messages. But if the medium is not given the proper attention it deserves then according to Kingwell this dominance will soon fade away.

09 March 2021
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