Television today is very different from the medium of the 1970s and 1980s. Ecosystems burn and people gather in search of positive change. Yet news programs are more interested in, as writer George Monbiot recently observed, “the dress the Duchess of Cambridge wore to the James Bond premiere, Donald Trump’s idiocy du jour, and who got eliminated from the Halloween episode of Dancing with the Stars. The great debate of the week, dominating the news across much of the world? Sausages: are they really so bad for your health?”
As we move from one spectacle to another, be it fictionalized, serialized, or politicized, it behooves us to take 10 seconds or, in this case, just over 10 minutes to remind ourselves of what a force Television is, and what a unique enterprise each of our communities represents.
This weekend, millions of people will wander out into their physical communities, roaming from home to home, as they meet one another briefly in the annual ritual of “Trick or Treat”. The origins of the ritual are all but forgotten, as children race from door to door to grab as much candy as possible, barely pausing to glance at the face and person that are attached to the arm that offers the treat. Parents idle distractedly on the pavement outside, worrying about the work week past, or the chores awaiting them in the next couple of days. The brief but wondrous opportunity for connection and community interaction is lost in our collective impatience and self-centeredness.
It used to be that media, whether televised or printed, served as a utilitarian resource for our individual and collective edification. We would reference several newspapers, as we developed an opinion about one issue or another. We would look to our television for the latest images and coverage, trusting in a relatively objective perspective, or balanced programming that ensured transparency whenever objectivity was not possible. I still own the letters my grandfather wrote to his sister in the 1930s and 40s, as he led the Allied Correspondents through Europe, covering the War. His distaste for Hitler was not hidden, but he always balanced his contempt for the man and his minions with insights into how and why the German populace might have been convinced to follow such an unholy agenda. To listen to and socialize the opinions of others is not a weakness, but rather a manifestation of one’s own strong convictions. What are ideas worth, if they are not tested?
Today’s media, instead of serving our community of diversity, so often collaborates with our own prejudices, that it compounds the memes within which we exist.
Whether our media is a servant to our citizens, vice versa or, worse still, whether both become servants to a culture devoid of useful information or humanity, is still a matter of choice. For now.