Monday, March 30, 2009


"We shall stand or fall by television-of that I am quite sure" - E. B. White, 1939, One Man's Meat, essay Removal

I was discussing Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 with a friend today. I've read the book a few times, and always thought it was a meaningful, entertaining book. I learned something new today though (always a good feeling of a day well lived). I had always been taught that the book was about the evils of censorship.

But, the friend I was discussing it with, sent me this small Wikipedia bit

"Bradbury has stated that the novel is not about censorship; he states that Fahrenheit 451 is a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature, which leads to a perception of knowledge as being composed of "factoids", partial information devoid of context, e.g., Napoleon's birth date alone, without an indication of who he was."

I'm not writing this blog right now about the evils of television. I like television as much as the next guy, and watch probably too much for my own good.

I'm writing because that little bit of information gave me a chill, given the proliferation of a new kind of shrill television entertainment.

Back on August 1, 2008, I wrote my own piece about this type of new "media" (

"I believe that the proliferation of shows like Limbaugh, etc prove just how shallow we've become as a people, and despite how much we say we want to debate and understand the issues, we really just want to make all the issues a simple x = y event.

If "x" happens it is because of "y". And so much the better "y" is black, Latino, an immigrant, on welfare, or whatever.

We are in deep trouble as a country. Watching Fox News or listening to Rush Limbaugh will not help us solve our problems which are extremely deep and widely systemic."

That is just as true today as it was back in August 2008. Maybe more so, given the continued deterioration of the economic situation.

I believed then, and believe now, that this is the main purpose of the Hannity's, the Limbaugh's, the Glenn Beck's and the Lou Dobbs (and, to be fair, some on the left as well - to sow fear about their fellow Americans on the right side of the spectrum):

"Fear is their stock and trade, and fear is what they want to sow. Oh, they wrap it up quite righteously saying they only want to "spread the truth". But at the bottom, it's fear they want to spread.

For there is power in making people afraid."

There is amazing power in fear. There are also great ratings, and a LOT of money to be made.

What constantly amazes me is that people will sit at home and watch these shows (mostly middle, working class people), or listen to them on the radio, and actually believe these "talking androids" have something in common with them, or that they think like them, or that they somehow have their interests at heart.

If you make $10 to $20 million dollars a year and wear $1000 dollar suits to work, then, yes, they probably do have your interests at heart.

They seem to always "magically" know what their viewers or listeners are thinking. That is not because they necessarily believe in these issues deeply (or understand them at all).

It is because they have great demographics people, and great production people. It is because they pander like the slickest politician to their audience for, you guessed it, RATINGS.

I still believe what I wrote back in August, with regard to the solution:

"The final solution is to turn them off and ignore them. Read a book. Talk to your wife and kids. Go to the library. Love your neighbor as yourself as Jesus taught us.

Anything but feeding off of those parasites."

How about actually talking to your neighbor, even though he may be diametrically opposed to what you believe in? How about reading a book about ideas that are diametrically opposed to those you believe in.

A few years ago, I read Senator Paul Wellstone's Conscience of a Liberal. At the time I read it, I agreed with almost nothing in the book and several times I wanted to quit reading it, or set it on fire. But over the next few years, the ideas worked on me, and I thought about them a lot. I'm nowhere near as Liberal as Senator Wellstone was, nor do I think I ever will be. But, I got an understanding of some things I didn't have an understanding of before.

To turn the TV off and work on something that is not passive was sound advice then, it is sound advice now, and it will be sound advice tomorrow.

No comments: