Tearing Down the Temple

Reactions to reading the book of Romans

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Romans 1:18-24. The Unholy City—XII. A pretty picture

American commercial television is a vehicle for the expression of very great evil and temptation, more so perhaps than any other popular medium.

Those who agitate against the contents of the newspapers do so in vain, I think. A newspaper is composed, consistent with the economics of its production, to appeal to readers. It sells readers what they already want to read, on a daily basis. Morally, it is like a mirror. It reflects, imperfectly, of course, but as closely as the skills of the writers and editors can come, the values and expectations of its readership as a whole. If it does not, it will soon fail.

Television works the same way. Television productions are designed to appeal to the audience, by pandering to their tastes, by making them feel superior, or morally satisfied, or engaged to the extent that the viewers will sit in front of it for a sufficient time to take in the messages that the program has sold. It is intended to be appealing and attractive. When a network discovers that a program is not attracting viewers to the network, the program is discontinued, and quickly. The mechanism is quite simple and ruthless. After all, this is big money, and they take it seriously.

Now the messages we take in are not all contained in the commercials; some are embedded in the programs themselves, the programs being the features that are supposed to attract the viewers. For, the great value is not usually in attracting viewers to watch one particular hour, but the same hours, week after week. Therefore, part of the message embedded in the program is, “Come back next week.” The line between the commercials and the programs is also being blurred the other direction, too, in that commercials are now designed to have entertainment qualities of their own.

In the main, television programs, when we watch them, mirror and echo our own ideas and values, horrifying as that thought might be. If they did not, they would not last. This is the inescapable conclusion of economics.



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