(Paper 2) Television and Technology: An Outgrowth of A Means of Control: Changing The Face of America?
By Trudy A. Martinez
The Television technology, in itself, was welcomed into society. It provided an avenue of entertainment within the home of Americans. It allowed culture to be fed to the uneducated. It was a tool that could enhance the learning capacity of Americans. But what happened to change the aspects of Television’s perspective use? Can advertising, the outgrowth of the television industry, be seen as the reason for technology’s changing roles? Advertising’s changing role will be examined.
Fond memories of sitting in front of the television set, watching the variety of test patterns and waiting for the set to come alive, invade my head. It was exciting. It stimulated my imagination and electrified my thought processes. Television was not in every home as it is today. Instead, there were few televisions in the homes of Americans. There was a sense of sharing in the neighborhoods; if one family was lucky enough to own a television set and another was not, the more fortunate family invited the less fortunate over to view programing. Today, you rarely see your neighbors because everyone has their own television set. In the past, programming was sporadic. it was not unusual to see only a test pattern when the TV set was turned on, unlike today where 24 hour programming is available.
Earlier Programming Influence
Test patterns identified the big three broadcasters: NBC, CBS, and ABC. These “. . . American broadcasters were neither government agents serving the public good nor philanthropist willing to lose money to enlighten the masses (Mac Donald 1990. p.27)”. The broadcasters were like any other business, out for the money.
Advertisers wishing to promote their products to the American public had the money the broadcasters wanted. Broadcasters seized the opportunity of enticing advertisers to promote entertaining programs with “glamour and glitz,” knowing that this type of programing would draw big audiences. The bigger the audience, the bigger the broadcaster’s paycheck. In this manner, the American public was literally merchandised over unto industry (Mac Donald 1990, p.28).
Public Service programs that were educationally based lost out and so did the American public. The programing brought debate from educators: “. . . Networks [defended] their . . . [programing] . . . [by claiming] that Americans were too good for broadcasting as envisioned by educational reformers out to undermine mass culture (Mac Donald 1990. p.28-29)”. A Network spokesman, William S. Paley had said: “. . . We . . . have . . . the most critical audience, and one of the most independent in establishing its own standards of appreciation and judgment (Mac Donald 1990, p.29)”. Maybe at the time TV commercials were first aired, the consumer was able to establish his own standards. But is he or she now? Or is the advertising establishing the standards for the consumer?
Ultimately, advertising ” . . . influences the kind of programing that is produced (Barwise & Ehrenberg 1988, p. 7)”. some might have said, without advertising, there would not be television programing; and without advertising, the public would not be kept informed and up-to-date on new innovations. The public was too excited with the new innovation, the exciting programing, and the entertainment potential of their investment in the television set to think about the futurist consequences of advertising’s influence. Quite often, the viewer paid the advertiser back by buying his product. In the past, buying the product, when the need arose, was a way of saying, “thank you”. Then, the advertisements were informative: the product was shown and the manufacturer’s name given. There was usually only one sponsor for each program and the advertisements were spaced further apart than current fifteen minute intervals. The General Electric Theater is a prime example of a one sponsor program. Advertisements were shown after the close of specific Acts. The Advertisements showed new products, but they were not entertaining nor did they hold the viewer’s attention. The viewer quite often used these advertisement breaks to get a snack or relieve themselves like they might have also done during the intermission at a real theater.
Advertising now does more than just inform. It persuades. It is innovative and holds your interest. You remember the jingles. You remember what the advertisement told you. Let’s say you are shopping for a pair of comfortable shoes. in the store when you are trying to decide which to buy, you remember that one advertisement said that walking on a specific shoe made you feel like you were walking on a cloud. If you have tired feet when you get home from work, you will consider this product over the others because the advertisement has persuaded you that your feet will feel better and therefore, so will you. If advertising still only informed the public, there would be little controversy over it. But advertising goes beyond informing.
The greed of industry has aimed TV commercials toward children as consumers. As a result, value changes appear to have surfaced that instill greed in young minds; this reaction has caused conflict between children and their parents (McLauglin 1991, p.D2).
I can personally substantiate McLauglin’s claim that advertising caused friction between children and parents. I remember, on more than one occasion, resorting to a negative presentation of myself in public just because of advertising’s effect upon my children. Others viewed me as violent because I had to lecture and spank my offspring in public. I had taught my children right from wrong and to obey. And most of the time, they did. But all I had to do is take them with me to the supermarket or shopping anywhere, and they became monsters. Suddenly, they were not satisfied with the products within our budget; they wanted the one they saw on TV. It became an obsession with them. When I told them “no”, they began to scream and throw a fit. I had no other alternative but to revert to what others called violence, if I were to remain in control.
What had happened since my childhood? I don’t remember myself or my siblings acting this way when we went shopping with my mother. And I certainly never had to be spanked in public. At first, I questioned my own ability as mother and guardian over my children. But when I began to investigate what it was I had been doing wrong, I found that I may not be at fault.
Identifying Advertising’s Changing Face
Paul Santilli, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy (1983) says, “Advertising can be regarded as having two separate functions, one of persuading and one of informing consumers”. He argues that persuasive advertising may be ” . . . denigrating human reason” and when used as a persuasive tool through irrational means “is . . . immoral” (Santilli 1983, p. 27).
The informative purpose of advertising grants the viewer of an advertisement a choice by presenting to the consumer only information about the product. In this way, the consumer is the one who makes the decision of whether the product is needed (Santilli 1983, p.27).
The Persuasive purpose of advertising goes beyond providing information; its purpose is to convince the consumer that he needs the product whether there is a need for the product or not.
In my opinion, no advertising should be directed toward children. I feel this way because by combining the informative with the persuasive approaches of advertising, a sense of control over the viewer’s choice is relinquished to the manufacturer of the product for the sake of greed. This relinquishing reaction may be seen when the viewer of the advertisement is a child and the advertisement portrays the product in imaginative ways that stirs the child’s desire. Total control of the child’s reasoning factors (if a child is seen as a reasoning person) are relinquished. The child thinks only of the pleasure of the interaction the commercial portrayed. As a result, the child is put in a persuasive position over the parent. If the parent does not want to be in a position of ridicule in public, the parent may opt to purchase the product just to shut the child up. In this sense, the advertiser has used the child and has gained control through the child of the parents decisions to purchase. According to Santilli (1983), “. . . information even about inherently good thing . . . may be destructive if presented at the wrong time in the child’s development (p.32).”
The mind of a child is easily impressed. The fact that the child is undeveloped and has not learned to reason as an adult puts his or her mind in a compelling position. As a child, he or she is in the early stage of learning. The child imitates and learns through what is presented to him or her. As a result of his or her learning, the child reacts. It is because of the child’s reaction, as a result of viewing commercials on TV, that I question the ethics and morality of advertising.
Behavioral Effects of Advertising
Conduct is a learned behavior. A child learns how to act through the significant others in his or her life. A significant other may be anyone that has influenced the child’s behavior in meaningful ways. The amount of time the significant other spends with the child may or may not be an aspect. But I feel assured, the more time a child spends with the significant other, the more the child will be influenced.
The most impressive learning years of a child is between the age of 1 and 9. Once a child has reached the age of ten, the child has formed his or her own patterns of behavior and is influenced then by situations and others. Prior to the age of ten, the child imitates that of a significant other. The child is persuaded, through watching the actions of the significant other, how to act. After the age of ten, the child considers his options; he can either react as his parents or from accepted practices of the crowd.
Let me demonstrate this concept with a few photographs. The photographs portray behaviorism in action. See the first photograph (figure 10001) below. A crowd has joined to watch a street performance. Please note the father (in a tan jacket) and two children (in red) that have just approached the performance. The youngest child questions what he sees by the outward expression of scratching his head in the first photograph, as if to ask, “How am I suppose to react to what I am seeing?’
In the second photograph (figure 10002), both children stand still as statues, watching the performance with their hands at their side, as if to ask: “Am I just suppose to look?”
In the third photograph (figure 10003), please note the remarkable difference in the reaction of the children. The oldest boy does not seek assistance from his father before he determines how to react; he, instead, follows the reactions of the remaining crowd. Whereas, the younger boy imitates his father’s reaction, as if to say: “I’ll just follow my dad’s example and do as dad does”.
The reactions of the younger child is what is called learned behavior. The reactions of the older lad stems from contemporary culture.
In my opinion, just as a child learns behavior from his or her parents, the child also learns from other sources of influence such as television. It doesn’t matter what the length of exposure is. What matters is the message that is conveyed. The significant other need not be the mother or father. The significant other could very easily be replaced by television. “Therefore, there is a moral obligation on the part of advertisers [as well as the] . . . parents to be prudent about having children see and hear even the most non-enticing information about the best products”(Santilli 1983, p.32). On television, advertisements influence and divert the values and morals of children and teach them to want, want, want and buy, buy, buy.
The advertiser’s preferred reaction is for us to buy. The age of the viewer is a factor that is taken into consideration by advertisers. Even though a child watches less television than an adult, the advertiser knows the child is an easy mark and the child can influence the parent through his or her behavior. When I was a child, tennis shoes came in two colors: black and white for boys and white for girls, and they were multiple purpose: for jumping, running, walking, and etc. But today, the children (and some adults) have been conditioned through commercials to think they must have a pair of shoes for each activity; jumping, running, walking, and so on and so on. Not only do children think they need a separate pair of shoes for each of these activities, but they think the color and design of these shoes are a very important aspect to them. For example, in Los Angeles, a child lost his life because he didn’t want to give up his stylish tennis shoes to a less fortunate child (whose parents may have told him no) who happened to have a great desire for them, a desire most likely created by a television advertisement.
A child does not need to watch much TV to be influenced by it. If it were not the advertiser’s intent to enhance the sales of products through the children, then why do the advertiser’s target this audience? Why are so many products aimed at the child? Why do we allow it? Have we become programmed as good little consumers just as our children are being programmed? Or are the economical trends, of not spending, the public revolting reaction to advertiser’s unethical practices?