May 8, 2010

China Needs Fewer TVs, Or A Billion Of Them

brothers and sisters pic.jpg
I'm just as surprised as you, but at least I'm drunk


I.

Reread Part 1.  What's happened since?

II.

Studies have apparently shown that soap operas shown in developing countries  introduce/reinforce progressive values like female empowerment, education, equality, with very real effects on the society (e.g. birth rates are lower, girls stay in school longer, etc.)

From a news article entitled, "How soap operas could save the world":

"The evidence we have from these academic studies is that quite often [soap opera viewers in developing countries] take away different attitudes toward things like how many children they want, what is acceptable behavior for a husband toward his wife, what is the breakdown in a household of responsibilities over things like finances, should we be sending girls to school," says Charles Kenny, an economist at the World Bank.

Soaps are particularly powerful because they attract so many devoted viewers.  But other shows have similar effects.   Charles Kenny wrote more extensively about this in Foreign Policy:

When a woman reached the final five [of Afghan Idol] this year, the director suggested "it would do more for women's rights than all the millions of dollars we have spent on public service announcements for women's rights on TV."
Ok.  But what did it change in women, exactly


III.


1. How fast does the culture change due to TV?  Probably only by a half-generation.  Tick tock.  

2a.  If this effect is real, is it conscious and deliberate on the part of TV execs?  Are interested parties creating shows to influence the culture (as opposed to simply selling product?)     

2b. If this effect is real, why don't special interests (the government, the Christian Coalition, GLAAD, whatever) just give money to established Hollywood producers and say, "can you make cannibalism ok?" or  "Please rewrite history or me."  Works for Spielberg. So?

 

tom hanks historian.jpg

Certainly everyone loves to complain that TV is destroying society, why not get together and use TV to push the agenda you want?

Maybe they don't themselves know how real this effect is? Or maybe they don't want to. Maybe Spielberg doesn't want to change the world, just be thought of as the guy who wanted to.   


IV.

You'll observe that the article's title isn't "How soap operas alter the world" it's "How soap operas could save the world"-- so it's a good thing, then?  I know the result here was that women wanted empowerment, but it could just as easily have gone the other way.   Why would a soap promote only the positive values of empowerment but not promote the negatively sexy ones such as showering with your boss and recording it?

This is from the Museum of Broadcast Communications article on soaps, specifically 1960s medical soaps:

The therapeutic orientation of medical soaps also provided an excellent rationale for introducing a host of contemporary, sometimes controversial social issues
Yay progress.   But here's the sentence immediately preceding it:

Their popularity also spawned the sub-genre of the medical soap, in which the hospital replaces the home as the locus of action... the biological family is replaced or paralleled by the professional family as the structuring basis for the show's community of characters. 

Not to mention our own personal community of characters.  Eventually even those get replaced with TV families.   Why else would there be an all new episode of Brothers and Sisters this Mother's Day?

V.

If you're still trying to figure out whether the studies show that TV violence causes real violence or TV progressivism causes real progressivism, you're approaching the question the wrong way.  Those are accidental outcomes influenced not by the content of the shows, but the way TV makes you look at things.

And that way of looking a things is-- get ready-- narcissism.  TV makes you look at things not starting from the thing, but starting from yourself.   No third world village woman looks at a soap and thinks, "I wish women had the right to freely choose their own husbands."   They look at it and say, "I wish I could choose my husband freely."   It looks like a positive value, but that part's an accident.  If you look closely, TV has only made her ask what she would like for herself.  It promotes of the right to self-identify.  You can argue whether that's good or bad, but the argument has to be about that


VI.

Soap operas were stylistically different from other shows because they were open ended, unlike the neatly wrapped episodic dramas and sitcoms.  They are also shot in quasi-real time.  If  a character says something dramatic and the show cuts away to another scene/subplot, when they return they will pick up exactly at the moment of the character's last words.   You are hand-held through every step of the emotional processing.  It's impossible to apply the full force your prejudices to a social problem, e.g. abortion, when the show never gives you a moment to do so.  You are carried through the entirety of the process through the character's life.    

Soaps are also directed as a theater (opera) production, conscious of the audience's placement relative to the stage.  Characters never turn their back on the camera; they'll turn their back on the other character (e.g. both facing outwards, towards the audience) and argue in a way no one ever does.

It's a stage effect: it pulls the viewer into their lives. You're in there, day after day, part of the action, part of the drama-- which they guide you through.  No closed ended show can be as powerful.

It's hard to appreciate how unusual that was, because nowadays most TV dramas are run like soap operas: Sex & The City, Grey's Anatomy, Brothers and Sisters etc.  That's what makes these shows so much more culturally influential than porn.  Or church.  If I was going to L. Ron Hubbard a religion, I would take Sunday services, and serialize them.  Tune in next week.


VII.

TV doesn't just influence those who watch it, it's enough simply to be aware of TV:

Barely five percent of the TVs that are on at that time are tuned to Gossip Girl; in other words, very few people watch it.  Yet there isn't anyone who doesn't know about it, even if it's imagined based on magazine covers or ads.  So the existence of a menage a trois episode mainstreams it for people who don't watch the show, and that's actually more powerful a cultural influence.  i.e. If you're a fan of the show, the threesome is specific: those three people are doing it.  For everyone else not watching, it becomes background noise: "oh, people are having threesomes nowadays..."

This is why it is true that even if you are not interested in pop culture, pop culture is interested in you.

VIII.

Let's say I forbid my daughter or son to ever watch TV.  What happens?  Is she at a disadvantage because she is slightly less familiar with the rhythm of her social group? Will he be mystified by the seemingly contradictory desires in his female classmates?  Will they both be frustrated and anxious at how everyone interprets social and political events using the exact same phrases, none of which they know?

IX.

Those of you expecting the rise of the Chinese Dragon and the collapse of the American Eagle are all going to die, along with your grandkids, way before that ever happens.  Plan accordingly. 

When Charles Kenny says TV is promoting values, what he means is western values.  Right?   As long as America controls the horizontal and the vertical, western values-- or whatever CBS decides those are-- will be exported and fetishized.  Accompanying those will be a interpretive framework built on narcissism.  It is inevitable.  You'll see Chinese women disdainfully rolling their eyes about American frivolity and arrogance even as they dab dry their Cosmopolitan splashed Hermes clutches and wonder why they are single in a nation infested with Y chromosomes.  "The last guy I dated didn't even want to want to sex me anymore, let alone get a real job.  Do I need to move to fucking Australia?"

Take a breath, Wildman, have a drink, the caps lock is on the left and I'm not going anywhere.  Let me ask you more immediate question: not everyone in China has a TV.   What do you call it when part of a population becomes exponentially and suddenly more western while another part doesn't at all?  

I'll save you the Google search: the answer is Iran.

Tell Sally Fields a happy mother's day from me when you see her tomorrow.  I'm glad to hear she's doing good.


---

http://twitter.com/thelastpsych
 





Comments

Wish I knew this, as in *re... (Below threshold)

May 8, 2010 5:59 PM | Posted by vv111y: | Reply

Wish I knew this, as in *really*, *really* knew this a long time ago.

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Let's say I forbid my da... (Below threshold)

May 8, 2010 7:51 PM | Posted by Whatever: | Reply

Let's say I forbid my daughter or son to ever watch TV. What happens?

I know kids who are being raised that way... They become MUCH more obsessed with it than others who have a free choice on the matter. I was watched a great deal of TV as a child, parents weren't as tight-arsed about such things then. Yet I happily turned it off, when there was something better to do, and eventually it stayed off.

Is she at a disadvantage because she is slightly less familiar with the rhythm of her social group?

Since I don't watch TV I can try to answer this. It does feel as if I were at a disadvantage sometimes but it doesn't bother me to the point of turning the TV on.

Will he be mystified by the seemingly contradictory desires in his female classmates?

Yes, she is mystified by the seemingly contradictory desires in males.

Will they both be frustrated and anxious at how everyone interprets social and political events using the exact same phrases, none of which they know?

Yes. It feels like a non-drinker in a room full of alcoholics.

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Depressingly true.... (Below threshold)

May 8, 2010 7:58 PM | Posted by Adam: | Reply

Depressingly true.

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Could you see things happen... (Below threshold)

May 8, 2010 9:17 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Could you see things happening any other way? People are living in groups so large that they're unknowns to each other. There's no way to sample them all. The anxiety about this has to be addressed. Religion fits the bill, especially if it's strictly enforced. You have some level of common understanding. That's inflexible, though. Mass media can change on a dime. We're not all on the same page again. Things are more complicated. If it scares you - you see that it erodes your current understanding - fly a plane into a building.

If it doesn't scare you, you want to evaluate this new, seemingly larger sample. It doesn't matter what it says, it only matters that you believe it has a larger audience. It's more information, and therefore a more efficient transaction. You tithe to it as much as you do the church.

There is a floor to pushing any behavioral agenda, religious or not. It can make crazy attributions, but it can't seem impossible. It's entirely possible to become a CEO or own a seaside place in Malibu. People have done it. Who knows what happens after you die?

It makes perfect sense that people would watch American media, especially in developing countries. We're #1! If the local life and economy your parents knew is being rapidly replaced, where do you look for guidance? Argentina?

Media seems to recognize that people want the dirt. Without religion, what are the rules? You don't know. Are you getting shafted now? Injustice is a universal dislike, and the bibles tell us that people are often wicked. Fuck. I'd better step up my game.

Everything that happens is natural.

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No third world village w... (Below threshold)

May 8, 2010 9:38 PM | Posted by Matt: | Reply

No third world village woman looks at a soap and thinks, "I wish women had the right to freely choose their own husbands." They look at it and say, "I wish I could choose my husband freely." It looks like a positive value, but that part's an accident. If you look closely, TV has only made her ask what she would like for herself. It promotes of the right to self-identify. You can argue whether that's good or bad, but the argument has to be about that.

Very well.

Your argument is like someone who says we shouldn't try to feed people in Africa, because what if they become obese like us. Soap operas are a crude solution to a desperate problem, but if they work like you say they do, we should have the entire Air Force out there air-dropping flatscreens and satellite dishes. If, in 50 years, Afghanistan becomes a mini version of America, with all of our fragmentation and narcissism, then, well, the next generation can deal with it. But in the meantime, Afghan women will know how to read and if they get raped they won't be killed for it. And that really, truly is better than the way things are now.

"Western culture will turn the least powerful people in the world into narcissists!" We can only hope. At least they'll have a fighting chance against the rest of us.

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i don't watch gossip girl, ... (Below threshold)

May 9, 2010 12:29 AM | Posted by Aaron Davies: | Reply

i don't watch gossip girl, and i don't know anyone who does. (or if they do, they haven't brought it up in conversation.) the first, last, and only thing i know about it is that it had a threesome scene, and you're the only source i have for that.

these things aren't quite as universal as you think they are.

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Gossip Girl is only an exam... (Below threshold)

May 9, 2010 1:10 AM | Posted, in reply to Aaron Davies's comment, by Aron: | Reply

Gossip Girl is only an example. If someone was to pick your brain it's almost certain they could find another example you could identify with.
With all of the messages you get bombarded with, even if many are at cross purposes with each other, the "mean" message is all but omnipresent.

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My favorite soap opera is <... (Below threshold)

May 9, 2010 11:28 AM | Posted by SusanC: | Reply

My favorite soap opera is The Last Psychiatrist... It's a medical soap with a touch of film noir. The central character's a snarky, disillusioned shrink with a drink problem. As the series develops, he picks up hints of various sinister conspiracies. I think of it as a cross between House and The X-Files.

As you say, if you're watching it, it's for you.

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Two things about your post.... (Below threshold)

May 9, 2010 1:12 PM | Posted, in reply to Aaron Davies's comment, by Nik: | Reply

Two things about your post. Even if you hadn't heard about the threesome, you have heard about Gossip Girl. Second, even if it was Alone that introduced you to the "Gossip Girl/threesome" concept, it still counts because you now have heard a reference about it, and when someone asks you, "Hey, did you know that there was a threesome scene in Gossip Girl?" You can respond with, "Why, yes I did".

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Alone, The quote y... (Below threshold)

May 9, 2010 4:28 PM | Posted by Stopaganda : | Reply

Alone,

The quote you use in part VII is the basis of your entire argument. And the numbers you have in there are made up.

Where is there evidence that people who don't watch gossip girl think "oh, well I guess threesomes are ok now"?

How do you know? Isn't this blog about "what we know?" -- and if it is where is your primary source? If I had to guess, it is from your own experience. And you may be a smart guy, but you can't speak on behalf of so many people who didn't watch gossip girl. That's a hell of a lot of people (over 95% of the country with your math).

Furthermore, where's the evidence that people who don't watch TV care at all? Maybe you're referring to the people who don't watch gossip girl, but still watch TV--they might care.

Most--or damn near--all of us have been raised with TVs. It's not that children and adults should be told "not to watch TV." People have free choice and they shouldn't have an ethos forced upon them.

But the information about how the TV trains us to think should always be there. Your blog does a great job of uncovering the ways in which TV makes us think and mechanisms it uses. But your argument breaks down when you get on the track of "we are POWERLESS against TV, it is an unstoppable force!"

Regulation regulation regulation. We should become aware of the way TV makes us think (your blog does this well). And stay the hell away (that is, if we choose to).

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I know kids who are bein... (Below threshold)

May 9, 2010 5:22 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I know kids who are being raised that way... They become MUCH more obsessed with it than others who have a free choice on the matter. I was watched a great deal of TV as a child, parents weren't as tight-arsed about such things then. Yet I happily turned it off, when there was something better to do, and eventually it stayed off.

I dunno, you need a larger sample size. My TV watching was restricted in childhood; I went through a period of both heavy drinking and obsessive TV watching in my 20s; I stopped them both about the same time, and now I watch maybe half an episode of something everyone's talking about to see what the deal it or because I really like to look at Chloe Sevigny.

Some children really can't handle TV. I don't let my son watch commercial TV ever and I limit the stuff he watches online, because it has immediate unpleasant effects on his behavior. When he moves out, maybe he'll binge, but he'll also have more impulse control.

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I like that the people who ... (Below threshold)

May 9, 2010 7:44 PM | Posted by jay: | Reply

I like that the people who respond to your posts often do so to shoot them down, because they believe themselves to be exceptions.

Which of course means that they're personalizing whatever broad theory you're working on to an audience of one -- pass or fail. Doesn't apply to me, so it must not exist!

Sounds familiar.

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Maybe that's why some many ... (Below threshold)

May 10, 2010 12:04 AM | Posted, in reply to SusanC's comment, by JadedMDstudent: | Reply

Maybe that's why some many disillusioned medical students I know read his blog. The mild paranoid tendencies, increased alcohol consumption, and flippancy remind me of someone, but I'm not sure who. I like my towers to be towers of gin, not rum, so I see not similarities whatsoever. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go to Walgreen's to get another bottle of Pepto and some more Omeprazole.

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Or narcissism is intrinsic ... (Below threshold)

May 10, 2010 2:06 PM | Posted by Felan: | Reply

Or narcissism is intrinsic to humans. Whether it is tv or religion or the military or liberialism or conservatism or what ever else you want to pick that is telling you the role you should play, it is still narcissism as you describe it.

Is a religious person condemning homosexuals because it makes them happy or because it is part of the role they have adopted? Do they rail angrily against their daughter now pregnant because its not about how it makes them look? In times past duels were fought for trivial offences to one's honor, a response to narcissistic injury?

I'm still not seeing something new in television. Television is a force in society, a more efficient and general application of the intrinsic narcissism that is being human. Personally I find it less offensive and troubling than other venues that play on that aspect of us.

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I think it depends on the i... (Below threshold)

May 10, 2010 2:11 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Whatever: | Reply

I think it depends on the individual but very often the more people forbid something the more interesting "it" becomes. Of course this doesn't apply to everyone...

Either way it's always a good idea not to let a kid watch everything available.

But I'm not sure if childhood restrictions are what will restrain him later in life. There is much to be said about good upbringing but at the end everything we do as an adult is a personal choice.

I could watch whatever I wanted for as long as I wanted as a kid yet I've no problem restraining myself now - there is nothing to restrain because the allure isn't there.

In a way the same applies for alcohol. As long as alcohol has an allure the person will need restrictions. Once the alcohol loses its allure restrictions are no longer necessary.

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I don't think his post argu... (Below threshold)

May 10, 2010 2:14 PM | Posted, in reply to Matt's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I don't think his post argues against western values (the rest of the site reads pretty much like an issue of New Criterion) but rather that the medium is powerful and can be used by anyone for any sort of propaganda.

His couching this in the context of the rise of China is spot on. I try to make this same point but from an economic standpoint, this one is better. Even if China surpasses the U.S. in military and economic strength, if they became more Western for that to happen, did the U.S. really lose any ground?

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The problem with "westerniz... (Below threshold)

May 10, 2010 2:31 PM | Posted by Shannon: | Reply

The problem with "westernization" or cultural appropriation at all, especially when the cues are taken from contrived media like television is that the signifiers are decontextualized and thus easier to misconstrue. When a television scene is written and directed, ten thousand ideas, events and schema are referenced in the process. Humor relies on it, drama relies on it, relevance relies on that context. Without the benefit of the context in which the thing was created, it's impossible to take it "as it's meant to be taken."

It's easy to look down on Japanese monster movie fanatics and Americans who love French films because they "reveal truths" that aren't available in good old English. I think there's a vague intuition that these connoisseurs (fetishizers) are missing the point. Think about these people, and then imagine a whole nation of them. If this is what's going to result from the push for westernization, someone needs to stop it right now.

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I think I'm going to respon... (Below threshold)

May 10, 2010 2:34 PM | Posted by David: | Reply

I think I'm going to respond in bumper-sticker talk whenever a pop culture market of hidden significance is brought up since I have little to know experience with it ... not watching tv and living on a small island off the coast of Americorp.

As everything always points towards the one "hidden," never consciously understood phenomenon I'll call the "N" factor (ht to SusanC) I thought I'd throw this trifle into play:

A hammer looks at the world and sees only nails.

Like, wow.

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I happen to be of the minds... (Below threshold)

May 10, 2010 9:08 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I happen to be of the mindset that humans are innately narcisisstic, that interpreting things in the context of how it affects oneself is our species' default OS. Good, bad, whatever, it is what it is. Altruism for everyone still benefits the indvidual that started the movement.

So this being a blog about mercantilism and fourth generation warfare, does narcisissm fit in as a tactic of advance or an overall strategy for success?

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I don't think his post a... (Below threshold)

May 11, 2010 12:07 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Matt: | Reply

I don't think his post argues against western values (the rest of the site reads pretty much like an issue of New Criterion) but rather that the medium is powerful and can be used by anyone for any sort of propaganda.

Yes, that's my reading too. What I was trying to point out can be best summarized in dialogue form:

Alone: "TV makes you look at things not starting from the thing, but starting from yourself. No third world village woman looks at a soap and thinks, "I wish women had the right to freely choose their own husbands." They look at it and say, "I wish I could choose my husband freely." It looks like a positive value, but that part's an accident. If you look closely, TV has only made her ask what she would like for herself. It promotes of the right to self-identify. You can argue whether that's good or bad, but the argument has to be about that."

Me: "I agree completely. Your insights continue to amaze. Now, in response to that last sentence, I do argue that promoting poor women's right to self-identify is good. Does narcissism, caused by TV, makes them expect the right to marry whoever they want? Good! They should have that right. Nor does it bother me that their motive are selfish, not altruistic. Oppressed people demanding rights for the sole reason that they want them is no bad thing."

Alone (describing what happens if this goes too far): "You'll see Chinese women disdainfully rolling their eyes about American frivolity and arrogance even as they dab dry their Cosmopolitan splashed Hermes clutches and wonder why they are single in a nation infested with Y chromosomes. 'The last guy I dated didn't even want to want to sex me anymore, let alone get a real job. Do I need to move to fucking Australia?'"

Me: "That could happen, although at this point I have little or no idea what you're talking about. But it doesn't matter. What we must always remember is that the negative consequences of too much liberation are second-order problems, compared to the original problem of too little liberation. Because the west is so liberated, those second-order problems are now very important. But some parts of the world are still dealing with the first-order problem. And if our only choices, as cultural imperialists, are between burquas and honor killings on the one hand, and a nation of people trying to act like Carrie Bradshaw on the other, then fuck it, send in the shoes and the fruity drinks."

The bolded part is the most important, I think. I'm not really arguing with Alone's analysis, just his emphasis.

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What we must always reme... (Below threshold)

May 11, 2010 1:08 AM | Posted, in reply to Matt's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

What we must always remember is that the negative consequences of too much liberation are second-order problems, compared to the original problem of too little liberation.

I wouldn't say American society is liberated. Liberated from what? Lynching if you commit adultery? Yes. But what about a concomitant far higher acceptance of unbridled lust? Oh, let's not talk about that.

It is no liberation to feel free from tradition and history and be plugged into mass media and get your values from THERE. And I would also argue that total liberation (no culture, no mass media, either) is a meaningless ideal which can only lead to anarchy or depression.

Most men cannot live in an meaningless vacuum. If he is not getting his meaning from tradition and culture, then he might be getting it from the market, mass media, gadgetry, narcissism, hedonism, and so on.

I wouldn't be so quick to say the latter is better than the former, even though it feels like progress.

Your classification of first-order and second-order problems is asserting a hierarchy of cultural values which seems obvious but, on reflection, is highly, highly problematic.

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Let's say you're an America... (Below threshold)

May 11, 2010 2:05 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Matt: | Reply

Let's say you're an American woman (stay away from meee-heee). Ahem.

You can go anywhere you want, without a man as a chaperone. You can say almost anything you want, and believe absolutely anything you want. You can get a driver's license. There are no restrictions on what you can wear, except that in most places you can't actually be naked. You were educated in math, science, history, reading, and writing, for free, until you were 18, and after that there are ample opportunities for higher education. You can get any job that someone wants to hire you for, and there are laws against people not giving you a job just because you're a woman. You can vote, serve on juries, and run for office. In other words, you're a full citizen of a democracy.

Those are a couple of examples of what I mean by liberated.

If those freedoms seem trivial or culturally beside the point, that's because we lucky first-worlders consider them birthrights. They're universal and we've never been without them. But when we say that maybe we should give up some of this freedom, why, because too many people watch American Idol, we are very close to losing our minds.

It is no liberation to feel free from tradition and history and be plugged into mass media and get your values from THERE. And I would also argue that total liberation (no culture, no mass media, either) is a meaningless ideal which can only lead to anarchy or depression.

Absolutely. Our cultural problems are very troubling. American society is far from perfect. But let's have a little perspective.

I wouldn't be so quick to say the latter is better than the former, even though it feels like progress.

Which one is worse, obesity or starvation? Write down your answer. Then don't eat for a week. In this analogy, cheeseburgers are freedom.

Your classification of first-order and second-order problems is asserting a hierarchy of cultural values which seems obvious but, on reflection, is highly, highly problematic.

It's not my hierarchy, it's Maslow's. Give me basic autonomy and a nagging sense of ennui, over slavery and participation in a rich cultural tradition of slavery, any day of the week.

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Give me basic autonomy a... (Below threshold)

May 11, 2010 3:18 AM | Posted, in reply to Matt's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Give me basic autonomy and a nagging sense of ennui, over slavery and participation in a rich cultural tradition of slavery, any day of the week.

Well, slavery is a rather harsh matter. The way you put the question it is obvious what the answer is. However, real life is not so cut and dry in most things.

What about adultery? How does this scan now: "Give me basic licentiousness and a nagging sense of ennui, over fidelity and participation in a rich cultural tradition of fidelity, any day of the week." Doesn't sound so obvious anymore, does it?

Which one is worse, obesity or starvation? Write down your answer. Then don't eat for a week. In this analogy, cheeseburgers are freedom.

The issue becomes less clear cut when you go towards the middle. Which one is worse: mild feelings of hunger or mild obesity? It is a mistake to assume that works at the boundaries is also valid in the middle.

See, I understand where you are coming from. And I agree with you to a point: let's remove the most egregious forms of individual oppression (slavery, domestic violence, homophobia, and so on), but let's not go overboard and declare that any choice which is not driven by the individual but which is part of culture/history is therefore objectionable. To want to be completely free from society may not be the panacea that people expect it to be.

Otherwise you are fodder for the highest bidder on TV.

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Without question, narcissis... (Below threshold)

May 11, 2010 2:29 PM | Posted by Melanie: | Reply

Without question, narcissism does play into Western culture. However, it is not just TV bringing it about. Are we not supposed to question ourselves? If we do not bring ourselves into focus daily to check ourselves, how do we stay true to 'Know thyself?' Though I am not a religious person, I have read the Bible--another key influence in Western and other societies--and much of the premise is to figure out I AM. We are, according to its first chapter, made in the image of god; thereby inferring we, too, are co-creators. The question then is, 'Is not a little bit of narcissism in this case healthy?' As we are ever changing beings, we need to keep a pulse on who we are to mark growth; something that is part of a healthy reflection for marking and striving for more growth. It would seem that narcissism in this case is not so much a matter of black and white, but a matter of balance between I and we. 'I' needs to be in touch with self to make good decisions for self preservation and to exercise free choice.

Also, TV is not the only promotional tool for Westernized views; other electronic communication has to be considered. Email, instant messaging, cell phones, and satellites have effectively produced the ability for a more 'global village' where more and more people are crossing geographical lines and interacting via verbal communication. Is TV really the most influential byproduct of Westernized culture? Were there studies indicating so? Were they comparative? Were they unbiased? The media calling more attention to the media sounds more like narcissism: Bad publicity is better than no publicity.

The only other issue that seemed to pop out is not so much how soap operas lead people to think about certain views in a particular way, but the lack of critical thinking. People, in my opinion, seem to use soaps as escapism; and, that type of viewing tends to promote living vicariously through the characters which is not a critical thinking imperative.

As all articles on this site, all in all it rawks! It is sick (awesome) how thorough the author is! (Yes, I am influenced by culture. It helps me navigate communication with my teen children.)

Great job!

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I agree with you to a po... (Below threshold)

May 11, 2010 4:15 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Matt: | Reply

I agree with you to a point: let's remove the most egregious forms of individual oppression (slavery, domestic violence, homophobia, and so on), but let's not go overboard and declare that any choice which is not driven by the individual but which is part of culture/history is therefore objectionable. To want to be completely free from society may not be the panacea that people expect it to be.

Okay. So has America gone overboard? If so, what new laws that restrict individual freedom but strengthen the social fabric do you propose?

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You make a good point about... (Below threshold)

May 11, 2010 5:10 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Melanie: | Reply

You make a good point about things not being as clear cut. At the risk of sounding a little harsh, it was followed later by more of an either/or statement about starving v eating, going back to black and white thinking. We do live in the gray areas of our lives more often than not. And 'social fabric' is more of a vague term. It sounds good, but what does that really mean? Since we live in such a melting pot of ethnic groups, who determines what the 'social fabric' is? This is not to take away from your insightful thoughts on the matter, it is to continue questioning who each of us are and what matters most to us relative to the society of which we identify.

It is agreed that slavery may be a rather harsh term, but it may very well be applicable to media influence as people allow themselves to be entertained by TV; slaves to the tube or plasma. With the economic uncertainty, people are sure to be watching TV now more than ever since its probably the cheapest form of entertainment now.

There also is the idea that TV/media alone is not the big picture. Looking at society, there are so many influences that shape its entirety. Just look at the US population about 40 years ago and see how it has quadrupled. People are forced to make choices that were not as difficult back then. Families often need to move to go where the jobs are, uprooting them from extended family and/or the feeling of security.

War, too, has taken its toll. How many vets are, and have, returned from war in the Middle East with mental scars and PTSD? It seems reasonable to assume that they are not worried so much about social fabric as they are about daily survival after severe trauma. How many of them make up our population, and how many families does it effect?

Another consideration is that more and more people are suffering mental illnesses now than before in US history. Perhaps it is that there has been a sort of continuing rate that increases exponentially to the population growth, or partly because we live in a time where financial and job security mixed with angst about war has taken a toll in our country. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is by far the most common mental ailment. Again, it begs the question 'How can people be worried about building/contributing to community when they are trying to function daily?'

"Don't hate the player, hate the game." TV is a player. Consumerism is the game. Our country is built on capitalism which appeals to the needs/wants of an individual. How fair, then, is it to cry 'We need people to spend more money to turn the economy around!' and then spin on a heel and shout, 'We need to strengthen our social fabric!' They seem like opposing values because they are. It has always been so. Just the views have changed.

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Your comment made me laugh,... (Below threshold)

May 11, 2010 5:27 PM | Posted, in reply to jay's comment, by Melanie: | Reply

Your comment made me laugh, I love it! It is just views being shared. A little adversarial commentary goes along with critical thinking. If we accept everything as gospel truth without question, then we truly media slaves. I hope to see more of your views! :)

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Okay. So has America gon... (Below threshold)

May 12, 2010 5:16 AM | Posted, in reply to Matt's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Okay. So has America gone overboard? If so, what new laws that restrict individual freedom but strengthen the social fabric do you propose?

The message being broadcast from every possible channel has certainly gone overboard. And though most are reacting as expected, there are others who are trying to rebel by retreating into some fundamentalist/new-age belief system.

It is not an easy problem to fix. Least of all, by some laws. Try banning TV, for example. There will be riots.

I recommend "The Culture of Narcissism" by Chrisotpher Lasch for a somewhat involved discussion of this problem.

Very hesitantly (and these are very controversial topics), I propose that:

- family law should be overhauled (no-fault divorces should be allowed only if there are no children involved, and only if after mandatory state-appointed counseling (paid for by the couple) the counselor suggests that there is no other way), i would even go so far as to suggest mandatory pre-marital counseling

- introduce sex-education in schools

- outlaw large casinos and lotteries,

- stop subsidizing meat production,

- make junk-mail opt-in,

- encourage/subsidize local sports, theater and live performances instead of recordings and broadcasts and superbowl etc.,

- empower/enable local communities to censor out bullshit/brainwashing (a content-tax levied on the commercial broadcaster funds these censoring committees, how's that?) from their TV channels instead of it being beamed straight into the living rooms,

...

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Let's say I forbid my daugh... (Below threshold)

May 12, 2010 8:07 AM | Posted by La BellaDonna: | Reply

Let's say I forbid my daughter or son to ever watch TV. What happens?

If you're really lucky, you raise Sarah Bunting, co-founder of "Television Without Pity", co-author of "Television Without Pity: 752 Things We Love To Hate (And Hate To Love) About TV", author of TomatoNation.com, fundraiser for Donors Choose.

That's what happened when Mr. and Mrs. Bunting didn't let their daughter (or her brother) watch TV. (Her brother is a musician, and makes videos!)

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Also? I think it is not a b... (Below threshold)

May 12, 2010 8:13 AM | Posted by LaBellaDonna: | Reply

Also? I think it is not a bad thing if third-world women - or ANY women - who have never been permitted the humanity of actually thinking of themselves as "I", actually start to think in terms of "What *I* want".

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Alone's response: You ar... (Below threshold)

May 13, 2010 3:12 PM | Posted, in reply to LaBellaDonna's comment, by thelastpsychiatrist: | Reply

Alone's response: You are right, of course. All things initially start at the level of "what I want." So it is most certainly a good thing that a woman decides, "I want to be able to X." However, the problem with TV-- and that it leads you through the emotional processing of social/political and ethical issues, is that it never advances past what you want to what is best for others-- you merely apply what you want to the rest of the world, rather than decide if what you want is good for society, or conflicts with it. It should start with you, but it can't end with you.

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it never advances past w... (Below threshold)

May 13, 2010 4:49 PM | Posted, in reply to thelastpsychiatrist's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

it never advances past what you want to what is best for others

Therein lies the rub. What's worse, advertisers determining that progression, governments determining that progression, or any other group determining that progression? The answer, of course, is anyone determining that progression unless everyone can participate in that process. Realistic, I know. But I guess that's what you mean by a billion or none.

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"TV has only made her as... (Below threshold)

November 16, 2010 6:13 PM | Posted by "David O'Bedlam": | Reply

"TV has only made her ask what she would like for herself. It promotes of the right to self-identify."

If it stopped there that would be okay. The problem is that TV can't help Mathilda Wartheimer be Mathilda Wartheimer, it can only help her fit herself into a ready-made marketing category, e.g., white suburban middle-management office worker who digs other chicks and likes shoes.

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