March 15, 2006   

Rejecting Television

I don’t have a television set. I do own one, but it is in a box somewhere in the attic (I think).
      When I tell people of this, they usually think I’m crazy: “How the hell can you do without television?” Well, it’s easy, especially with my libertarian convictions and anarchist morality. I haven’t missed a moment of TV gawking since I threw the set out. Since you probably share (most of) my ideals, I’d like to tell you of my reasons for rejecting television.
      Firstly, what’s on television is mostly crap. Actually, television is hardly ever intellectually stimulating or morally satisfying. Rather, it is about stupid people making even bigger fools of themselves than they are on Ricky Lake . It is about people on Dr. Phil who want nothing more than to shove their personal problems in the faces of a whole generation. It is about wannabes of the homo politicus species exercising their fraudulent skills on reality shows like “Big Brother” and “Survivor.”
      That’s the reason I don’t miss it--there is really nothing to miss. I still get to see whatever films I like in the movies and I can buy interesting documentaries or entertaining series on DVD. Also, the Internet provides enormous opportunities to download almost anything you like. All the things on television I can’t find elsewhere is really crap.
      Secondly, television programs are horribly expensive. Now you probably ask, why would you care about that? It is all paid for by companies buying air time in the programming to advertise their products. Sure, if you don’t live in a socialist country such as Sweden , there would be no television tax (to finance commercial-free regime television), but the cost is still there.
      The enormous cost would mean nothing in a free world, but it means quite a lot in our super-politicized welfare-warfare state society. In a free world, anyone could set up a television station and broadcast whatever shows he or she feels like, or whatever people want to see.
      In this world, almost no one can afford the costs of producing and broadcasting television programming. That means there is limited supply, which means politicians have seized the opportunity to regulate who gets to broadcast (and what they can broadcast) in order to create “multitude” and “neutrality” in programming and news broadcasts. So: unlicensed operation of television broadcasting is prohibited by government. That, of course, means political correctness and good relations with Capitol Hill has become more important than good programming.
      Even though it is not always explicit, and usually denied by both politicians and television networks management, television is a great (if not the greatest) channel for propaganda. Programming is controlled by the FCC, and if programming does not adhere to government regulations, the license is revoked. Does anyone really believe that television will be a source of facts about government? I guess it really depends on how gullible you are.
      Thirdly, it brainwashes people. As I have already shown, what’s on television is hardly the truth--it is whatever truth is already approved by government. Television doesn’t just passively avoid programming that criticizes government; television networks base their news reporting on “facts” presented by government. When did you last find a reporter questioning the facts in a government press release? It probably never happened, and if it did, the reporter is probably without a job nowadays.
      It is not an incentive of television networks and stations to criticize or review government policies; rather, there is a great deal of incentive for them to make friends with government and thereby get political leverage in order to beat competition. Sure, the world isn’t black and white--if it were, people would probably see what’s going on.
      The truth is there are television programs that question some government policies and even individual politicians. But how far do you think these programs are allowed to go? The television stations and networks cannot allow themselves to seem biased (i.e., to question government “too much”), but they do want to be perceived by their audience as independent and trustworthy. They’re in a position where they need to keep a balance between having government’s support and making the market believe they are independent rather than (which is a fact) government-controlled.
      Fourthly, I’d like to stress another aspect of brainwashing which is nevertheless important. Television is not only disinformation and biased news; it also takes people’s attention from what is really important. News programs seem to emphasize “progressive” government policies while casually reporting on bad news too important to leave out; they emphasize “domestic” news while uninterestedly reporting on crises “far away” (such crises are almost without exception the result of “failing” politics abroad); and they tend to cut back on news reviewing and investigating journalism in order to provide swift reporting of what’s happening on Capitol Hill.
      What they are actually doing is directing people’s attention from that which is important to politics. On television, people can watch only politics and brain-dead entertainment, to put it incisively. Since people spend multiple hours in front of their television set every day, it seems reasonable to suggest the programming they watch is a common topic when talking to people. If this is true, then people would mostly tend to talk about politics, in the way directed by government via television, and reality shows, soap operas, etc.
      This analysis seems about right--people don’t talk very much about things that are really important in their lives (such as their families, work, the quality of education, their plans for the future, etc.). Instead, they talk a lot about school reforms, the new public daycare policy, the terrorist threat and the Middle East , and mix it with what was on last night’s “Big Brother.”
      Sure, one might claim that politics today is an important part of people’s lives. Sure, that’s one of the effects of the ever growing welfare-warfare state. But politics alone doesn’t make people suckers for politics, and the fact that there are people making up new rules and regulations doesn’t mean people ask for even more rules and regulations. The natural attitude to adopt is not to ask for more but to ask for less. People generally want to lead their lives without people bossing them around. Actually, I would say people in general are anarchists. But the political brain drain has made them unable to apply their own natural right on other individuals or on society as a whole. The reason for this is that politics teaches that “other people” are assholes and need to be ruled (to protect your right).
      Only propaganda and social pressure can make people give up their individual rational thoughts to believe in something that is inherently irrational, at least if the world is populated by individuals rather than groups or communities. Television is probably the most effective means of propaganda in our age; without television, we would probably enjoy a much freer life.
      Another important feature of television is that it is one-way communication only. As a viewer, you can only accept and receive, you cannot interact, ask questions, or influence discussions. To do so, you need to use other means of communication. That makes television perfect for propaganda, since people will sit alone and be fed with “truths” without a chance of knowing what is really going on. When they later on meet other people, they have all been fed with the same “truths”--how many of them do you think will claim all they heard is really untrue?
      To me, it can be entertaining to watch a movie sometimes or watch the news or a television series. But I wouldn’t want a television set in my home, it is far too dangerous. I know how it is if the television set is there, after a long day’s work you usually end up passively watching something that is not really that interesting--and that you know has been government approved. No thanks. I’d rather get on the Internet or read or talk on the phone. Television is not the future, it is the past.

Subscribe to the Update! Subscribers receive a short e-mail message every time one of Per Bylund’s columns is published, with a synopsis and link.

Subscribe here: