Television is a dead medium; it died about ten years ago when the streaming services came online—now only people over sixty watch it. However, its aftermath lives on; for about sixty years the world was dominated by television—and television is an awful medium. This is one invention that the world would have been better without.
Anyone who grew up in the television era will know what I mean when I say that there was always “that one family” where the parents would not allow their children to watch television. They were usually hippies, very religious, or intellectual snobs—and to say, “I don’t watch TV, actually,” used to be a counter-signal, a way to look down on you. “I’m smart, you’re stupid.” Of course, for some people, for the religious, it was due to a genuine revulsion as regards the content—so it was not all insincere snobbery. The balanced person, the person who hardly watched television but never made a point to say, “Of course, I never watch the idiot box. I don’t even have one,” existed—yet, being balanced, you never heard from them.
Television is insidious because it passively indoctrinates and programs you. It encourages you to sit, eyes slightly glazed, and allow some thing into your mind. Unlike radio and reading—activities that require conscious effort and imagination—television does all the work for you; it makes you soporific—a coach potato, as they used to say. Humans love to imitate: I knew a man who loved the TV series Due South as a boy, a comedy about an uptight and fastidious Canadian Mountie who is paired with a dissolute Chicago cop—the classic comedy double act, polite Canadian and coarse American. This man modelled his personality on the Mountie; yes, in part, it was ironic—and yet in another way it was not; he actually acted out the Mountie persona as “him”. Yet, of course, it was not “him” at all. I have seen similar effects with women, even more labile, who watch daytime TV; they start to sing the jingles from adverts, at first I thought it was ironic—later I realised that it is rarely so, they have been brainwashed.
What starts as “ironically singing the jingle”, knowing it is cynical manipulation to make you buy something, can easily become memetic contagion—you are singing the advert because you are the advert now, you are the Mountie. Hence television leads to a deep alienation from self, to a chronic soullessness—it is a realm where narcissistic imitation rules. If you want to see a man entirely formed by television, look at Quentin Tarantino; he grew up at the VHS store and with television—and he is a nasty man with a permanent cynical sneer.
The Americans speak about “shows” and “seasons”, whereas the British speak about “programs” and “series”—although we have now mostly switched to “seasons” too. American English reveals how television is fundamentally frivolous and trivial—it is all “a show”; even if the subject is “the news” or “the holocaust” it is all primarily a show. There is no such thing as serious television—it is all entertainment, all tits and teeth. Similarly, “season” is organic—just as “a show” is organic and human—there is a suggestion that TV is a cybernetic ecology, a technology for all seasons (it will be with you as a tot when you watch Sesame Street and learn your ABCs and it will be with you when you nod off in the retirement home to reruns of Murder, She Wrote). As with Quentin Tarantino, TV was your true parents—your real family. “This fall the CBS family proudly presents…”
British English takes a more scientific approach. The telly has “programs” and “series”, put correctly the television provides programs in a series—as opposed to a show with its seasons. Although “program” is a noun, it is more accurately related to “computer programming”—and what the TV programs is you (“Double the pleasure, double the fun with double-mint, double-mint, double-mint gum.” See, reader, they got me early). What British English reveals is that the TV was always a means for control and scientific domination. The Americans speak about the TV in folksy way—as if it is a Chautauqua that rolls into town every summer, whereas British English suggests that there could be a “serious program”, not just a “science show”—actual information might be conveyed, not just infotainment. British English is more accurate about how television works—as a means to program human beings—whereas American English is more accurate about the frivolous ways the technology is actually used. There is no such thing as “a serious TV program”, the medium cannot convey gravity—it is mental bubblegum (“Enjoy your show, honey!”).
The basic observation that television is a control mechanism was made early on. In the 1950s, Jack Kerouac lamented all the people he saw locked in their living rooms before the box—outside the windows the stars wheeled on and the trees murmured. By the 1980s, the band Depeche Mode summed up the sentiment in the song “Stripped”: “Let me hear you / Make decisions / Without your television / Let me hear you speaking / Just for me”. To be stripped down to the bone, to be without televisual control—we can only dream about that, most people are h-y-p-n-o-t-i-s-e-d. Perhaps what Orwell got wrong in 1984 was that the telescreen would not be seen as an intrusion—it would be voluntarily and actively welcomed; indeed, by 1980 it would probably seem an oppressive act to take away a person’s television (“The Soviets don’t even have colour TV, that’s totalitarianism for you! Not like us! We have this nifty little Japanese set I picked up duty free in Hong Kong…”).
Television is definitely a liquid medium: it rots your mind—people soak in it, as they soak in their own filth. Unlike a cinema film—an event—television is always cheap and meritorious, just like the whore it is. The TV specialises in the soap opera and, eventually, reality television—the terminal stage being naked dating games, where the goods, the giblets, are on immediate display. Television is melodramatic; it is a feminine medium—daytime TV for the wife to watch while she does the ironing. The television uses cheap tricks—sentimental music, quick cuts, trite storylines—to win you over; again, lots of slap and frilly knickers—fundamentally tarty. A film can be watched in an evening and then digested, you can reflect on a film. There is never any time to digest TV, the medium has to keep you watching—as soon as one program has finished the next one is on. Time is money. Hookers keep them hooked, the pimp says only half an hour—no wastin’ time, no dead air.
This is why television is hypnotic. A person has no time to reflect, all they have is the soundbite—not the full meal. Although the condemnation levelled at the Baby Boomers is, in part, standard inter-generational warfare there is some truth to it. The reason why the Baby Boomers are such a dull cohort—so smug, yet utterly empty—is that they were the first generation entirely by brought up by TV. Further, when the Baby Boomers grew up there were hardly any channels: Britain had three channels until the 1980s, when it got four—America had more channels, yet not that many more. Between 1945 and 2003 (when general Internet usage began in earnest) Western populations were basically brainwashed en masse. The spectrum of views permitted on television was only the standard Overton window. Before TV, bored people would be forced to read the Bible—or read something, anyway—or play a game or go outside, but now the masses were indoctrinated by lovely-wovley bright colours and jingles. Indeed, TV world is Clockwork Orange world—viddy well that film with your eyes-wiseys openy-wopeny and see well how to program a person.
Accordingly, the Baby Boomers are the most shallow generation in human history; the illiterate ploughman who lived with neighbourhood gossip, Bible passages in church, and the sky was deeper and more profound than the brightest Boomer. He was more thoughtful, too. Television destroys reflection, rather like cannabis—another popular Boomer hypnotic—it removes your capacity for deep thought. Television is for the masses: notice that people say that you binge on a box set—you never take a dainty bite, not even a soundbite. The idea that you would compulsively view every episode in one go is very televisual. You cannot binge on Beethoven or Tolstoy; these have to be digested. The “box set“ is a physical skeuomorph—just like that little “floppy disk” you know means “save”. Box sets are all streamed now, today’s children do not know the bulky cassette or DVD case—and this is the respect in which modern streaming services remain similar to the TV; they retain the gobble-gobble mass hypnotic aspect found in television, you get “the munchies” for the whole season.
It is difficult to imagine, especially in today’s fragmented media environment, quite how far television dominated the mass mind. Soap operas, such as Dallas or Coronation Street, could attract 28M viewers for a single episode; and then “everyone” would talk about that one episode—on the tube, at the office, in the loo. In comparison, contemporary series, such as Game of Thrones, have hardly any psychic impact. This was entirely novel and, as Marshall McLuhan observed at the time, it turned us into a village—the global village; everyone had seen the same shows—everyone, even obscure African tribes, had the same programming beamed into their minds. The implications for society were probably more profound than anyone suspected. Notice that by 2011, when everyone—even your old gran—was now online, that suddenly the world seemed to experience a psychic break; everything, starting with the ructions in the Middle East and moving onward to Brexit and Trump, “went mad”.
The reason was that the Internet—social media especially—is not a passive medium like television. After decades where people were passively programmed from the technocratic centre—with a few bookish intellectuals resisting—we went to a fragmented environment where people “made their own fun”. Whatever can be said about social media narcissism, at least it is not passive: at least some vain woman who poses for a selfie is doing something creative—okay, it is narcissism but at least she is not being programmed by “dha telly”. Similarly, the Internet led to a profusion of independent writing, video, and image creation—and this only accelerated as more people gained access, speed increased, and capacity for images and videos grew. Video games also, however weak the content, provide a puzzle to solve—the mind has to engage to an extent, although, in recent years, games have become progressively easier, so as to often be little more than walkthrough television shows.
The narrative fractured: this is why Baby Boomers often seem hopelessly out of touch and naïve—a good many sit before the television and await the next program update, await to be hypnotised into what they should say or think next. A few, admittedly, confess private reservations as to whether it is all “real”; they notice, for example, that when Hillary lost it seemed odd that a prominent TV show appeared with a female President—almost as if it was all scripted beforehand; the show had been made for the first female President, but then everything went off script…
Conservatives sometimes complain about how “oppressive” so-called woke advertisements are—the mandatory inter-racial couples or transsexual models. If you think that the current situation is oppressive, imagine what it would have been like if it happened in 1978’s media environment. The technocrats—all basically schooled in the same institutions, whether they work for ITN or the BBC—would have pulled the switch at the same time and there would have been nothing you could do. You could write a letter to the BBC or to The Times, you could form a society (and be savaged by the mass media, as happened to the morals campaigner Mary Whitehouse), or you could produce your own tiny mimeographed news sheet read by a few thousand people—possibly you could sit at home and think, “Am I going mad? Did all the adverts just change?”. In fact, this is exactly what happened—time and again, the switch was pulled and the new programming dropped.
Today, the entire phenomenon can be commented upon, dissected, and mocked as it happens—the programming has broken down. This is why Western states have entered political crisis in the last decade: the technocratic elites used to use tee vee to build a cosy consensus (“28M viewers for the first gay kiss on Coronation Street, Bob. We’re progressing.”); sure, there would be “a debate” about the controversial new development, but the debate would be between journalists and intellectuals who were safely within the consensus—the tame conservatives would put up a pretend complaint and then dutifully lose. The tee vee was a crucial means to build consent for the system—manufacturing consent, as Noam Chomsky would say; although, ironically, he himself was among the chosen “safe” intellectuals for tee vee. Without mass indoctrination, the legitimisation process for Western states has broken down—nobody knows what program we are meant to be running now.
It is important to recognise that certain so-called woke measures—the introduction of transsexual models or inter-racial couples in adverts—have been the norm for decades. Your history, if you were born before 2000, is a history of indoctrination and programming—mostly by lies—and the same goes for your parents and even your grandparents. The reason why the political programming now seems so obvious and clumsy is because the media environment has changed. Whereas previous changes were barely contested and slipped subliminally into the masses without kickback, the media environment has now fragmented and so new “programs” are contested—or widely commented on, anyway. Sure, people can be censored and banned from platforms, yet they return—or others do—and, further, plain ordinary raw reality filters in through in pictures and comments that disrupt the narrative. We have found the limits of control—and the Internet itself, even if it were reduced to emails, remains an information exchange structure that defies the old centralised media models.
The change is not without possible drawbacks; in the old days, if you bought a video cassette or DVD you owned the media—today, it is possible to imagine that the centralised streaming services might decide to retroactively cancel or delete entire series, even off your own computer, in order to maintain moral rectitude. This retroactive amendment to reality was not so easily possible before. On the other hand, the Internet was built on “the two ps”: porno and piracy—often together. The centralised streaming services might retroactively delete that obscure 1976 Christmas show Nigger Jim and the Jamborees from the comedy archives, but the files will pop up again “in” Roosia; and, unlike with cassettes, the mass distribution factor remains. Hence centralisation online is somewhat irrelevant; it is impossible to go back to the total control system that was in operation by the 1970s.
I occasionally see people complain that their favourite telly program has been ruined and gone woke. Yet, on investigation, it always proves that the show was always “woke”—what the viewer objects to is the latest update or patch. For example, many people claim that the BBC show Dr. Who has become politicised over recent years. I skipped back and watched a few episodes from the 1970s—easy to do, thanks to streaming—and what I discovered was that even in the 1970s the show complained about “male chauvinists”, featured “strong women” in commanding positions, discussed “robophobia” (cyborg analog for homophobia), and explored progressive themes about race. Indeed, it could pretty much be said that almost all “the baddies” in Dr. Who—from the Daleks to the Cybermen—are rightist in nature: objective, analytical, scientific, honourable, warlike, masculine, and aristocratic.
In short, Dr. Who—just like every show on the telly—has always been progressive propaganda; just as every show in the USSR endorsed a Marxist narrative in some way, even if it had entertainment value as well—the two are not by any means mutually exclusive. Conservatives in the West are merely conservative within the system; they pine for feminism, racial equality, and gay rights as understood in 1975—“true progress” for them. They never step outside the program—step to the outside, “Let me hear you / Make decisions / Without your television / Let me hear you speaking / Just for me.”
The reason why music is queen of the arts is because, per Schopenhauer, it is pure reality; it speaks to reality’s very structure. This is why it is difficult to politicise music, although pop music—very similar to jingles on TV spots—can be bent, the lyrics can directly instruct you; and this is very true with contemporary female performers, such as Katy Perry and Ava Max, whose lyrics basically instruct women to destroy their relationships and indulge in pointless hedonism. However, lyrics cannot do all the work and music is not primarily about lyrics; even mass cult music cannot easily be politicised—it is difficult to write “gay” music, just as it is difficult to say Shostakovich composed “Stalinist” music; nominally, everything he did was Stalinian—yet music really escapes these categories, especially classical music. Pop is more closely related to tee vee, being for the masses—so it is always about sex and hedonism, shopping and fucking; when the Beatles sing “all you need is love” they mean fucking and that is because there is no depth to what they sing. Pop and TV grew together—Top of the Pops being a favourite BBC show for many years. You have been instructed by that loveable national uncle Jimmy Savile, he of the rape—the national uncle, as with Uncle Stalin, always being a perverted totalitarian figure.
The household goddess was Hesita and Hestia’s realm was the fireplace—also the woman’s domain, as it happens. Televisions typically occupy the space where the fireplace once was. Hence the television was the new god that replaced Hestia around 1945-–hearth and home turned into TV and home. Initially, mother did her ironing in front of the soap—until the soap instructed her to liberate herself and divorce her husband. The family used to gather round the fire for warmth, and, traditionally, you could see spirits in the fire—intimations as to what would be. This imaginative exercise—a communion with another realm—was replaced by the telly, the strange gods of the telly poured into living rooms around the world and possessed people. Hestia was dead, her altar profaned. The family now gathered round the TV, round the new altar; for a time they were programmed together, now they are programmed apart—everyone lives in their own iPad or phone or computer world; just as the media environment splintered, so too did the family unit—as bound together by the television.
The situation is better and worse; in a sense, people have become more atomised—more contained within their own little worlds—and yet, at the same time, people have been freed from collective hypnosis; the problem is that they have been freed into a rather bleak environment—it is cold on the outside. Various experts cluck about extremism and the social media menace, and yet they are simply quasi-religious technocrats who are disappointed that their hypnotic victims have broken conditioning; they are rather like the scientists in A Clockwork Orange who are dismayed that their attempt to “recondition” the violent young thug, Alex, through cinematic aversion therapy has failed. Yet the experts do not really know any better—their content sucked, anyway. It cannot compare to the old Ludwig van—actually, they want to condition you to vomit when you hear Beethoven, he is a quasi-fascistic figure.
Per Hunter S. Thompson: “The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.” In other words, the ideal product from TVland is Quentin Tarantino: a cynical leering man riddled with self-hatred—fear not, the last TV execs want to protect you from “extremism”.