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Craig Russell: Television and the State

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  • Bob Martin
    Television and the State by Craig Russell http://www.strike-the-root.com/3/russell/russell5.html Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 2003
      Television and the State

      by Craig Russell


      "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing
      that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the
      water under the earth." ~ Exodus 20:4

      Gore Vidal said once � somewhat jokingly but accurately nonetheless � that the
      National Security State under which we now live would have been impossible
      without air conditioning. It used to be, he said, that Washington DC would be
      abandoned in summertime because it was simply too hot and muggy for government
      workers to stay there, but with the advent of air conditioning, they could
      comfortably remain to plan and plot and control year round.

      There�s no doubt that the power of the State is fueled by oil and powered by
      electricity. The State relies on technology. You could perhaps make the case
      that the modern State is a direct result of technology, a logical extension of
      its principles. Technology, of course, gives the State bombs, jets, and
      satellites: in other words, its weapons and its modes of transportation and

      But the most powerful and arguably most essential of the State�s technological
      tools is the one that reaches directly into a person�s mind. And the beauty
      part of it, at least for the State, is that it has no need to order the People
      either to obtain one of these devices or to submit themselves to it. Americans
      want them. They�re eager to have them. They want and crave them. Some will
      spend thousands of dollars to have the biggest and most elaborate of them.
      People voluntarily, willingly, eagerly, offer up their minds and their bodies
      and their souls to it, exposing themselves for hours on end to its toxic,
      conformist emanations.

      Without televisions in every home in America � without so many watching them so
      much � the power of the State would be greatly diminished, for its power in the
      end depends upon the consent of the People, and that consent would not and
      could not exist without the boob tube.

      It is, perhaps, not a mere coincidence that the rise of television coincided
      with the rise of what Vidal calls the National Security State . The State knew
      very well that television had the potential to become the greatest mass medium
      of all time. It could reach millions of people at the same time with the same
      imagery. And it also knew that control of that imagery would give it
      unprecedented power over the People because it would for the first time have
      the ability to circumvent the troublesome, quarrelsome left brain � the part
      that uses words, that parses and doubts, that questions, that makes curious and
      sometimes highly individualistic connections, that uses logic and creates
      meaning � because images are received by the accepting, holistic, unquestioning
      right brain. And while it�s certainly true that pictures can be questioned or
      interpreted, they don�t have to be questioned or interpreted and quite often
      aren�t. But, even (or, perhaps, especially) unquestioned, they still remain in
      the mind and they still have an effect � often a very powerful one because they
      engage the emotions rather than rationality.

      Have you ever wondered about the Second of the Biblical Ten Commandments? I
      found this the most curious of them when I was a boy. It seems pretty clear
      why God would want to prohibit murder and stealing. But why would God prohibit
      �graven images�? The version in Deuteronomy is even more explicit than the
      version in Exodus: �Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves�lest ye corrupt
      yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the
      likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the
      likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, the likeness of any thing
      that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters
      beneath the earth.� Why does God have a bug up His butt about images?

      In his intriguing book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, Leonard Shlain says
      that �having discovered the immense utility of alphabetic writing, (the
      Israelites) considered iconic information to be a threat to their newfound
      skill� (p. 83) and explains that the first four Commandments reinforce �the
      ability of a people to think abstractly, linearly, and sequentially. Together
      they encourage a mindset that enhances the use and facility of alphabet
      literacy� (p. 85).

      Literacy gives us this ability to think abstractly, sequentially, and linearly
      � literacy gives us the ability to think, period. And in the postwar era, the
      State has systematically denied literacy to the People on one hand while giving
      them television with the other. As John Taylor Gatto points out in The
      Underground History of American Education, the illiteracy rate by 1940 was 20%
      for blacks and 4% for whites. Sixty years later, �40% of blacks and 17% of
      whites can�t read at all. Put another way, black illiteracy doubled, white
      illiteracy quadrupled . . . . we spend three to four times as much real money
      on schooling as we did 60 years ago, but 60 years ago virtually everyone, black
      or white, could read.� And the cause of this? Gatto says that �one change is
      indisputable, well-documented, and easy to track. During WWII, American public
      schools massively converted to non-phonetic ways of teaching reading� (p. 53).

      And television not only bypasses the questioning, literate left brain, it
      apparently shuts it right down. Joyce Nelson reports in The Perfect Machine on
      a researcher who in 1969 discovered that television �effortlessly transmits
      information not thought about at the time of exposure� (p. 70). He and other
      researchers, she tells us, found that �watching television tends to shut down
      the left hemisphere, disengaging the information processing of this area of the
      brain . . . . we must recognize that he is referring to logical-critical
      thought � the thinking of the left hemisphere. The right hemisphere, which has
      its own mode of thinking, stays tuned� (p. 71).

      This ability to transmit �information not thought about at the time of
      exposure� accounts, among other things, for the basic content change in
      commercials since the Sixties. Then commercials tended to concentrate on the
      left brain and tried to give viewers logical reasons for buying particular
      products. But over the last 30 years, commercials have become increasingly
      focused on the right brain, providing sub- or non-logical persuasion to
      consume. Think, for example, of the recent Levi�s commercial in which a young
      couple walking through an empty city withstand a charging herd of buffalo.

      It also accounts for the State�s need for television, because it�s the power of
      the picture, the unreasoning emotion of the right brain, that allows the growth
      and acceptance of the National Security State . Television provides constant,
      easily accessible pictures of danger that only the State can protect us from.
      Nelson points out that one of the first functions of television was to create
      fear of Communism and thus justify the permanent war economy by providing the
      People with an enemy (p. 40-6). Today, from the drug shooting on the local
      news to the latest episode of "NYPD Blue" and the nationally televised fall of
      the World Trade Center, television continues to provide horror and tension much
      more immediately and effectively than words ever could and in turn generates
      the emotional intensity, the unthinking, visceral fear, that the State needs to
      justify its actions to the People and take as much power as it wants.

      Vidal was right about air conditioning. But that just set the physical stage.
      Television has helped provide the unthinking, un-critical American mind-set
      that has allowed the People to view the increasingly fascistic National
      Security State as its savior and protector. And one of the first steps in
      ending this virulent threat to our lives and our liberties is to deny
      television free and unfettered access to our minds. Images are corrupting us.
      If we want to begin to weaken the power of the State and start to re-establish
      freedom in our lives, we have to �just say no� to the most powerful and
      destructive drug of all: television.
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