Four Arguments For The Elimination of Television: Colonizing Lived Experience

This excerpt from Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television expands on two themes: how television tries to turn lived experience into an endless quest to meet artificial needs, and how the symbiotic relationship between large corporations and broadcasters has facilitated a tremendous concentration of power and wealth.

| November/December 1978

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    Jerry Mander argues television tries to colonize lived experience and sell it back to us.

  • 054-144-01

Excerpted from Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander, copyright 1977 by the author. Reprinted with the permission of William Morrow and Company, Inc.

Argument Two: The Colonization of Lived Experience

It is no accident that television has been dominated by a handful of corporate powers. Neither is it accidental that television has been used to re-create human beings into a new form that matches the artificial, commercial environment. A symbiosis of technological and economic factors made this inevitable. This then is the thrust of Argument Two: The colonization of lived experience and concentration of power.

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We have seen how the natural environment has been transformed into secondary, artificial and abstracted forms. This process has been described as though it happened by accident, without purpose. I have been avoiding conspiracy theories.

It is true that no small group could successfully plot to dominate social and technological processes that take millennia to evolve. Yet at any one moment, some people may benefit considerably more than others from particular forms of social organization and the technologies that accompany them. These will be the people who sit at the hub of the most critical institutions at any given time. They will naturally seek to consolidate their own position by concentrating their control while widening its effect. In this way, a tendency that may have been going on for hundreds of years or longer, beyond the range of human conspiracy, gains power over time. And so the tendency, the social and technological line of development, becomes more monolithic, more dominant, more difficult to stop.

Take, for example, the growth and centralization of energy-production systems during the last few hundred years. No single human could have planned to reap the great benefits that some have gained from the evolution of wood-burning stoves into coal-burning stoves into electric utilities, gigantic power companies with nuclear facilities and multinational oil companies. Each technology grew out of the previous one. At each stage, a small number of people occupied key spots and were able to guide change in ways that would concentrate the direct benefits in their hands. By now, the energy technologies and the institutions that serve them are so large, they dominate virtually all of life and even our political and social systems, while an exceedingly small number of people have come to control them.

Meanwhile, other technological systems have also become larger and more monolithic at the same time. Transportation systems, for example, have advanced from horses to horses and buggies to railroads to cars and trucks on freeways to SSTs. Long-distance communications systems have gone from telegraph to telephone to radio to television to satellite. As these technologies grow, their power and influence grows with them, but the number of people who control them shrinks.


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