Considering the Source

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I am a Flyers fan. I know, I know; I’ve lost many of you already. And if I were to predict a playoff series victory against our cross-state rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, I can only imagine the comments this post would receive. I might even hit a record high since starting this site. But you have to consider the source.

Sadly, so few of us seem capable of this essential life skill, especially when fear or other emotions get in the way. It is why I champion all students having to take debate and logic classes, why I demand students consider both sides of any controversial topic in thesis papers, and why Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death still rings so true for me.

One cannot avoid network news, it seems, unless you don’t have a television like me. Yes, I have a television that we use to watch DVDs (gasp!) and stream videos from our computers. But I haven’t given valuable hours of my life to any of the major television networks for some time. Why? Well, Pink Floyd said it best in their song “Nobody Home” from The Wall: “Got thirteen channels of *@#! on the T.V. to choose from.” Only thirteen? How many come with the basic DIRECTV package these days? Don’t get me wrong: I’ve enjoyed my share of television shows … for entertainment. The problem comes when television is a person’s ONLY source of news, which in itself (based upon its definition) is far from “just the facts” and the simple truth.

I chose to deepen here tonight because I thought to myself the other day, “Why do so many people think that television networks care about them?” Does CNN or FOX care about you? Is that why they report on the most pressing narratives as they do? (By the way, isn’t a narrative a fictional story? Just a question.) Are they altruistic organizations at the core? These are rhetorical questions. Ratings. Ratings matter more than anything else. And that’s not even considering the darker side of media.

So consider these two excerpts before you find a large hook protruding through your lip after taking a nibble on the many narratives dangling about the television waves. The first comes from Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death and the second from the 1976 Chayefsky film Network.

Amusing Ourselves to Death – Neil Postman

From Dan Silvestre’s “Lessons from Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman”
From “The Peek-a-Boo World”
There is no subject of public interest — politics, news, education, religion, science, sports — that does not find its way to television. Which means that all public understanding of these subjects is shaped by the biases of television.

“Television has achieved the status of “meta-medium” — an instrument that directs not only our knowledge of the world, but our knowledge of ways of knowing as well.”

We have so thoroughly accepted televisions’ definitions of truth, knowledge, and reality that irrelevance seems to us to be filled with import, and incoherence seems eminently sane.

From “The Age of Show Business”
The television is devoted entirely to supplying its audience with entertainment.

A news show is a format for entertainment, not for education, reflection or catharsis.

Thinking does not play well on television, as there is not much to see in it. It’s not a performing art.

From “Now … This”
Television alters the meaning of “being informed” by creating misleading information: misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information that creates the illusion of knowing something.

We lose the sense of what it means to be well informed. Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?

“Television has achieved the power to define the form in which news must come, and it has also defined how we shall respond to it. In presenting news to us packaged as vaudeville, television induces other media to do the same, so that the total information environment begins to mirror television.”

Network (1976) – Paddy Chayefsky

In the following excerpt, unhinged newsman, Howard Beale, broadcasts this message to his audience on national television: (credit John Rappoport)

“So, you listen to me. Listen to me! Television is not the truth. Television’s a god-damned amusement park. Television is a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of acrobats, storytellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, sideshow freaks, lion tamers, and football players. We’re in the boredom-killing business… We deal in illusions, man. None of it is true! But you people sit there day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds. We’re all you know. You’re beginning to believe the illusions we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think that the tube is reality and that your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you. You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube. You even think like the tube. This is mass madness. You maniacs. In God’s name, you people are the real thing. We are the illusion.”

It’s time we all consider the source more carefully, be it television networks, newspapers, your friends on Facebook, the artists you follow on Twitter, and that guy in front of you at the grocery store who can’t help himself but must enlighten you to the truth. At the very least, check for hooks.

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