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Four Arguments for the Elimination Of Television: TV Content Is Without Life or Context

TV content is without life essence or context, according to the author.

| November/December 1979

  • jerry-mander-tv-content.jpg
    In his book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, Jerry Mander argues TV content and mechanically-reproduced images in general are without life essence.

  • jerry-mander-tv-content.jpg

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 In a continuing analysis of the effects of watching TV, this installment considers the inherent limitations of mechanically reproduced images. They are incapable capturing the true essence of living things—their life force and the context in which they exist—thus turning them into objects. By extension, TV content is without life or real context.

In his novel Being There, Polish writer Jerzy Kosinski describes a man who is born and raised in a house that he never leaves. His only contacts with human beings are occasional encounters with a half-crazy maid, a crippled, senile old man confined in a room upstairs, and a television set. He watches television constantly.

In middle age the hero is suddenly thrown out of the house into the city. Attempting to deal with a world which he has seen only as reproduced on television, he tries to apply what he has learned from the set. He adopts television behavior. He tries to imitate the behavior of the people he has seen on the screen. He speaks like them, moves as they do, imitates their facial expressions. However, because these people were only images to him, and he has never experienced real people, save for the crazies in his house, he does not know anything beyond the images. He does not know about feelings, for example. He adopts the movements of the images but can't connect this with anything deeper inside himself. Because he has not exchanged feeling with a live human, his ability to feel has atrophied. He is a mechanical person, a humanoid. He is there physically, but like the television images, he is also not there.

I wonder if you would be willing to try another little experiment. Please go look into a mirror. As you gaze at yourself, try to get a sense of what is lost between the mirror image of you, and you.

You might ask someone to join you facing the mirror. If so, you will surely feel that other person's presence as you stand there. But in the reflection, this feeling will be lost. You will be left with only the image, possibly an expressive one, but only an image. What is missing from the reflection is life, or essence.

Finally, place an object in front of the mirror: a hair dryer, a chair, a vacuum cleaner, a comb. What is lost? I won't say nothing is lost in the reflection, a mirror image does slightly alter the dimension and the color of an object. But life has not dropped out, because the object did not have any life in it. Nothing emanates from it.

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