A Vaster Wasteland

In 1961, FCC Chair Newton Minnow delivered his famous speech to the National Association of Broadcasters.  In it, Minnow dared to say this to the assembled mind-fuckers:

When television is good, nothing—not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers—nothing is better.  But when television is bad, nothing is worse.  I invite you each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you.  Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off.  I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

Over the years, Minnow has noted that the reality he slammed in 1961 has only gotten progressively worse.

Of course it has.  Commercial TV cannot be good.  The controlling interests of its sponsors bar controversy, complexity, seriousness, and sharpness, in favor of studiously applied triviality, titillation, flattery, stereotyping, thoughtlessness, flippancy, and, most of all, strategic dishonesty.

And television — all television — is an inherently addictive substance, as its sponsors know all too well.  And, given the immense funding behind it (TV in the USA is a wholly subordinate arm of corporate capitalist marketing), how could it do anything but gain more victims and deepen its hold over existing ones?  To wit:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With technology allowing nearly 24-hour media access as children and teens go about their daily lives, the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media has risen dramatically, especially among minority youth, according to a study released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation.  Today, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week).  And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours.

The amount of time spent with media increased by an hour and seventeen minutes a day over the past five years, from 6:21 in 2004 to 7:38 today.  And because of media multitasking, the total amount of media content consumed during that period has increased from 8:33 in 2004 to 10:45 today.

And what new cultural wonders are the corporate broadcasters adding to their upcoming fall line-ups, in between the shows about doctors, cops, cops-who-are-doctors, and doctors-who-are-cops?  One highly anticipated example is (and I shit you not) “‘No Ordinary Family,’ a look at a family that discovers each member has super powers.”

Now there’s something relevant and mature and high-quality for this flailing, incoherent, frustrated empire!  Just what the doctor-cop-superhero-American-Idol ordered!

And behind it all, as always, is the social engineering logic of big business marketing.  From a report in the latest Advertising Age:

Thursday night remains one of the most important nights of the week for advertisers, particularly movie studios looking to goose box-office results for films that open Fridays or retailers who want to draw attention to a weekend sale.

Such are the core cultural dynamics of “the land of the free,” friends.

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On “Commercial TV cannot be good”, I am reminded of something I read on Wikipedia about the TV show “Bones” (apparently about both doctors-who-are-cops and cops-who-are-doctors): They would have explicitly said the lead character has Aperger’s Syndrome (an Autistic Spectrum Disorder which I share) if it had been a cable TV show! “”Bones” creator Hart Hanson says he based Brennan in part on a friend with Asperger’s, but the network Fox’s need to broaden the appeal to the largest viewership possible meant he couldn’t come out and say that. “”If we were on cable, we would have said from the… Read more »