Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television: Information Loss

In this excerpt from his book, Jerry Mander argues that the limitations of the television medium entail multiple forms of information loss.

| September/October 1979

The following is an excerpt from Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander, copyright © 1977. Reprinted with the permission of William Morrow and Company, Inc. In a continuing analysis of the effects of watching TV, this installment examines how information loss—the exclusion of marginalized groups from usages of the medium, as well as the medium's inability to convey subtlety or certain modes of sensory input—diminishes a viewer's perspective of real life.

A good way to think about television—in fact all the media—is as a kind of telescope in the sky, flying around, constantly looking. Then from its perch in the sky, it zooms down to a single spot on the planet, a small group of people shooting each other. It takes this single event out of billions and billions of other little events and sends it zooming through space to television antennas, and then out through an electron gun into (on the average) 30 million people sitting at home in dark rooms with their eyes still. The event gets reconstructed in the brains of these people as an image. Recorded. All these 30 million people have recorded the same image from this single distant spot where they are not. This becomes their experience of that moment.

Bias Against the Excluded

If the telescope has selected for broadcast relay a shooting from an entire planet's worth of activities, in the next moment it may just as easily choose a Super Bowl game, or a threatening remark by a Middle Eastern leader, or a program of people trying to win prizes, or a movie about the Old West. All other subjects were not selected, at least at this moment. The telescope did not select views of the ocean as the tide comes in, or people sitting on front porches, or young people knocking on doors to tell a neighborhood about a zoning hearing.

The question to ask is if there is a logic in this selection. Are there reasons why the telescope selects one thing and not another?

There certainly are. Dozens of them.

The first and most obvious of these reasons is the one that most critics of television devote themselves to. The people who control television, businessmen, operate strictly out of considerations of budget and profit, in addition to bringing along their own political, perceptual, and social biases. It was to array their influence that so many thousands of media reformers devoted years of effort to democratizing access to the medium and its content. And yet at present there are still no poor people running television, no Indians, no ecologists, no political radicals, no Zen Buddhists, no factory workers, no revolutionaries, no artists, no Communists, no Luddites, no hippies, no botanists, to name only a few excluded groups.

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