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“Television, the drug of a nation, feeding ignorance and breeding radiation.” --The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, 1992

“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” --Gil Scott-Heron, 1970

Related: broadcasting - music video - film - cult television - electronic media - living room - reality television - TV horror hosts - VCR - video game - visual culture - Youtube.com

Television series: Civilisation (1969) - Sir Kenneth Clark

Films about television: Videodrome (1983) - David Cronenberg

Pessimistic views of television: Neil Postman

Optimistic views of television: Camille Paglia

Era: 1950s - 1960s - 1970s - 1980s - 1990s - 2000s

In the 1950s television replaces radio as the dominant mass medium in industrialized countries, it nearly immediately becomes the scapegoat of the dumbing down of our culture. By the late 1980s, 98% of all homes in the U.S. had at least one TV set. On average, Americans watch four hours of television per day. An estimated two-thirds of Americans got most of their news about the world from TV. [Jun 2006]

Television Culture (1990) - John Fiske [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Videodrome (1983) - David Cronenberg [Amazon.com]

Quote: "The television screen is the retina of the mind's eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears in the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television." --Videodrome (1983)


Television is a telecommunication system for broadcasting and receiving moving pictures and sound over a distance. The term has come to refer to all the aspects of television programming and transmission as well. The word television is a hybrid word, coming from both Greek and Latin. "Tele-" is Greek for "far", while "-vision" is from the Latin "visio", meaning "vision" or "sight". --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Television [Nov 2004]

Cultural pessimism and television

Three films that thematically deal with the dumbing down of man by television.

Inspired by Bread and Circuses (1983) - Patrick Brantlinger

In his book Bread and Circuses, Patrick Brantlinger analyzes the idea of "bread and circuses" as a narcotic for the masses throughout history. Though he never mentions Richard Dawkin's theory of memetics, the book is the history of a meme, a collection of related ideas replicating through history. Brantlinger defines as "negative classicism" the idea that Rome was decadent and that our society is sliding downhill to a Roman-style decadence. "The shade of Rome," says Brantlinger, "looms up to suggest the fate of societies that fail to elevate their masses to something better than welfare checks and mass entertainments." --http://www.spectacle.org/496/dream.html [Jun 2006]

See also: television - cultural pessimism - Patrick Brantlinger

Television culture

In search of visual culture

Semiotic democracy

Semiotic democracy is a phrase first coined by John Fiske, a media studies professor, in his seminal media studies book Television Culture. Fiske defined the term as the "delegation of the production of meanings and pleasures [(and I suppose horrors too)] to [television's] viewers." Fiske discussed how rather than being passive couch potatoes that absorbed information in an unmediated way, viewers actually gave their own meanings to the shows they watched that often differed substantially from the meaning intended by the show's producer.

Subsequently, this term was appropriated by the technical and legal community in the context of any re-working of cultural imagery by someone who is not the original author. Examples include Harry Potter slash fiction that reworks J. K. Rowling's characters into homosexual romances.

Legal scholars are concerned that just as technology eases the process of cheaply making and distributing derivative works imbued with new cultural meanings available to wide public, copyright and right-to-publicity law is clamping down on and limiting these works, thus reducing their promulgation, and limiting semiotic democracy. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semiotic_democracy [Jun 2006]

See also: visual culture - media theory - television - culture - semiotics

Television in Film

Being There (1979) Broadcast News (1987) Ed TV (1999), A Face In the Crowd (1957), Fahrenheit 451 (1966), Medium Cool (1969), Network (1976), Pleasantville (1998), Quiz Show (1994), To Die For (1995), The Truman Show (1998)

Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985) - Neil Postman

  1. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985) - Neil Postman [Amazon.com]

    See entry on Neil Postman

Films about television

  1. Deathwatch / La Mort en direct (1980) - Bertrand Tavernier
    Roddy has a camera implanted in his brain. He is then hired by a television producer to film a documentary of terminally ill Katherine, without her knowledge. His footage will then be run on the popular TV series, "Death Watch"...

  2. The Cable Guy (1996) - Ben Stiller [Amazon.com]
    If you think Jim Carrey's comedy is an acquired taste, think of The Cable Guy as a potent bottle of bittersweet wine. The film has a lingering aftertaste, but it is just a bit too dark, a bit too extreme to invite another serving. On the other hand, you've got to give Carrey some credit for risking his $20-million paycheck (and a big chunk of box-office revenue) on this black comedy. A needy, psychologically unbalanced cable-television installer (Carrey) forces his friendship upon an unsuspecting bachelor (Matthew Broderick) who has just broken up with his fiancée. The movie gets edgier and more desperate--and in some respects funnier--as Carrey's cable guy gradually goes crazy. Director Ben Stiller manages to pack some pointed social commentary into the movie's many humorous detours. Although it was a box-office disappointment, The Cable Guy is nevertheless a daring comedy for those who have had their fill of Ace Ventura. --Jeff Shannon

  3. Network (1976) - Sidney Lumet [Amazon.com]
    Media madness reigns supreme in screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky's scathing satire about the uses and abuses of network television. But while Chayefsky's and director Sidney Lumet's take on television may seem quaint in the age of "reality TV" and Jerry Springer's talk-show fisticuffs, it's every bit as potent now as it was when the film was released in 1976. And because Chayefsky was one of the greatest of all dramatists, his Oscar-winning script about the ratings frenzy at the cost of cultural integrity is a showcase for powerhouse acting by Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway and Beatrice Straight (who each won Oscars), and Oscar nominee William Holden in one of his finest roles. Finch plays a veteran network anchorman who's been fired because of low ratings. His character's response is to announce he'll kill himself on live television two weeks hence. What follows, along with skyrocketing ratings, is the anchorman's descent into insanity, during which he fervently rages against the medium that made him a celebrity. Dunaway plays the frigid, ratings-obsessed producer who pursues success with cold-blooded zeal; Holden is the married executive who tries to thaw her out during his own seething midlife crisis. Through it all, Chayefsky (via Finch) urges the viewer to repeat the now-famous mantra "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore!" to reclaim our humanity from the medium that threatens to steal it away. --Jeff Shannon

  4. Secret Cinema (1968) - Paul Bartel [Amazon.com]
    Summary: Before TRUMAN and EDTV . . .
    I only saw this short subject once and never forgot it. Three whole decades before THE TRUMAN SHOW, there was this early work by Paul Bartel about a woman who slowly comes to realize that her life is being secretly filmed and shown for the entertainment of her close "friends" and "family" as well as the general masses. I thought that this short conveyed the pain and paranoia of invaded privacy much better than TRUMAN and in a much shorter time as well. "Secret Cinema" was remade by Bartel as an episode of Steven Spielberg's AMAZING STORIES, but didn't have anywhere near the impact that the original had. Not only that, but it was given a sickeningly sweet happy ending that ruined the theme of the original story. Now I feel vindicated because whenever I described this film to friends, most of them looked as if I was making it up or dreamed it. Now, here is the proof. Look for this film, it will be well worth the hunt. --Tresix for imdb.com

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