I don’t have a TV set these days. I stopped watching years ago when I realised that all TV channels were thoroughly antismoking. They weren’t speaking for smokers like me. So I stopped watching.
But when, as at present, I’m house-sitting for my brother, I get to watch TV again. And it’s very interesting to pick out the messages that it’s sending.
I’ve just been watching a programme about the decay of plants and animals by fungi and bacteria and maggots. I was a bit shocked by a piece of raw Darwinism that appeared in the middle of it, as Penicillium fungi were described as ”poisoning competing fungi.” That’s the Darwinian war of everything against everything else.
I shouldn’t have been shocked, but then I don’t watch much TV these days. Probably everybody who watches TV gets given a bit of Darwinian education every day. It’s a central part of contemporary ideology. It’s one that I reject because the idea of a war of nature is entirely incompatible with my least-action view of life: in my view war is simply far too energetic a business for the natural world to engage in.
Apart from that, in my two evenings of viewing I’ve seen no smokers at all. Well, almost no smokers. In a history of lunar spaceflight, when the Eagle lands on the Moon, and everyone is celebrating, one of the NASA engineers lights a cigar. I’m surprised that this shocking sight wasn’t cut. It sent the wrong message: cigars as celebration. Oh dear!
But if I’ve seen few people smoking, I haven’t seen any antismoking messages either. So that’s a bonus.
Nor, surprisingly, have I heard any mention of global warming. It used to be de rigueur for any programme about the natural world to mention global warming at some point. But perhaps I’ve not been listening hard enough.
Another surprise was a new focus on Africa. For example, Dan Snow’s History of the Congo was very much an immersion in black Africa, and seemed to be about the expiation of colonial crimes. The same theme emerged in several other programmes.
The oddest thing of all was Channel 4 News’ John Snow interviewing Tom Hanks about a new movie he’d just made about Somali pirates. In the middle of this Snow suddenly burst out about how the US “Tea Party” in Congress was about to bring about “the collapse of civilisation.” It was clearly something that was more on the veteran anchor’s mind than some new movie. It had nothing whatsoever to do with Somali pirates, and Tom Hanks neatly skipped over the matter by saying it was “above his pay grade” to address such issues. But, unlike my US commenters, all the media are united in a shared apocalyptic view of the US government shutdown.
Apart from that, everything on TV seems to share an implicit (and occasionally explicit) set of values. And to sit and watch it every day entails absorbing those values, which are more or less identical from one channel to the next. It’s a conditioning medium. It’s like being immersed in warm soup.
The same isn’t true of surfing the web, where there’s a genuine diversity of opinion. It had me wondering how long the mass media could continue to condition entire populations, when people like me have simply stopped watching.