(Paper 1) Television and Technology: An Outgrowth of A Means of Control By Trudy A. Martinez
According to The America College Dictionary, the term technology originated from the Greek form of the word technologia which meant: systematic treatment. With this logic and reasoning in mind, I intend to examine the relationship (in my series of papers (2)) between the root meaning of technology and the specific technological advancement of modern television and the outward application of systematic treatment. A historical review of technology will foreshadow progression through the modern applications. In the process, the hazards and possible ramifications of the modern application of television should parallel the historical and come into focus with a convergent force, leading to the question: are we as individuals free and in control? Or are we being controlled?
Before industry was introduced on a large-scale to society, government, the nobles, and the church fashioned and maintained a systematic treatment of the populace. Imagination was quailed through fear. Few had the fortitude, determination, or endurance to contradict the status quo. The church functioned as the mediator of facts and legitimacy. Only upon emergence of the period of history known as the scientific revolution did individuals bring forth a challenge that would relinquish, foil, and peel the ideology of the church from the face of society. As a result of the peeling of ideology, new doctrines emerged and created a new freedom that evolved around imagination.
Creative imagination became the forerunner of technology as we know it today. The imagination of specific individuals brought about technology which resulted in an industrial revolution that was fueled by greed in Western Europe. Expansion of industry facilitated the greed at the expense of the up and coming middle class and the lower classes. Ultimately, reaction to overwhelming greed resulted in revolution. After the French Revolution, it became apparent that repressive controls were needed to preserve the status of aristocrats in an industrial society.
American Historical Factors:
In the beginning, our forefathers sought to establish a governmental system of systematic treatment of equality and justice for all. In their estimation, revolution would ideally be prevented through unity. The America promise-land was established to free the people from oppression of their oppressor, England. After freedom from oppression was gained, America remained isolated: close to nature and close to God.
Even though industrialization in the United States of America was not a revolution, technology was allowed to flourish. As a result, technology seemed to change the emphasis of the America objective from freedom of the people to freedom of big business. This change of emphasis paralleled a change in ideology.
In the beginning, American commerce flourished under the ideology of the Enlightenment: “It assumed that history, at least modern history, was driven by the steady, cumulative, and inevitable expansion of human knowledge of power over nature” (Marx 1987, p.5). Under this assumption, the “ideas of progress” grew to “a necessary criteria” for progress to achieve “political and social liberation” (Marx 1987, p.5) As a result, “scientific knowledge and technological power were expected to [work for the benefit and] improvement in all conditions of life–social, political, moral, and intellectual as well as material” (Marx 1987, p.5). The ideology emphasized the importance of the free individual.
Whereas, “the rhetoric of Daniel Webster . . . [and] Edward Everett . . . [produced] a new version of . . . progressive ideology”. Webster’s version of ideology emphasized big business rights over individual rights and instrumentation value over social value. Technology came first and the individual second (Marx 1987, p. 7-10). Big business literally took the ball and ran with it. They identified and established their own systematic treatment of the people of America. As history had previously shown in France, as systematic treatment of the populace was necessary for control to be manged effectively, while at the same time, preventing revolution.
America’s industrialization followed a Civil War. The establishment of a mandatory school system to educate the masses to a specific way of thinking provided a means of a futuristic control of a government for the people, while Yellow Press Journalism worked towards a more immediate end for business by directing favorable thought toward imperialistic expansion. Occasionally, fear tactics were exploited in the Yellow Press when necessary to maintain control (of the populace and the government) or expand the interest of business. European technology had furnished the examples. American technology needed only to maintain control.
There was an air of excitement in the communication industry with radio transmissions. (Yellow journalism had had only the ability to exploit the literate, whereas radio had the ability to increase the realm of influence.) The “radio transmitter” allowed listeners to “hear the whack of the bat and the call of the umpire”; the listener’s imagination did the rest. Future advancements of technology was not “an idle dream”. Technology predicted that the viewer would some day “see the dust raised by the sliding player’s feet”. Even though America had the technology to proceed with the production and transmission of television broadcasting as early as 1930’s, wide-spread transmission did not occur until after World War II (Mac Donald 1990, p.8).
With the technological advancement of the radio, communication control emerged. Technological advancement and government control have always gone hand in hand. The reason being that government found it necessary to become the protector of the people (as a force measure) to balance the scales of justice. Radio advertising “jingles” stimulated commercial economic growth, while at the same time, programing provided entertainment which aimed on educating; this eventually permitted individuals to relinquish some reliance they may have place upon their own individual enterprise.
With more and more progressive entertaining innovations, the industry grew. Advertisements made the programing possible. Communication enterprises and education institutions became the major controlling factors of maintaining the status quo of both government and big business. Thus, continual growth was insured to satisfy the upcoming entrepreneurs through education and the expansion of industry through advertisement and enterprise.
The thrust of technologies modernization, in the realm of communications, brought the radio into the homes nearly all Americans. Americans listened. Americans believed. And Americans reacted. They utilized their active imaginations in ways never believed possible. Orson Wells’ broadcast of “The War of the Worlds” broadcast on a Halloween night proved a point: the American mind could be controlled through the innovations of technology and imagination. The broadcast had brought about panic; it had brought about death. Some Americans had offered their lives as a sacrifice by committing suicide to avoid the awful death imagined by their unconscious perception.
Can’t you just imagine the secret back-room conversations of corporate management and the questions that might have arisen: What if advertisements could capture the same thrust as that of “The War of the World” broadcast? Would the consumer’s imagination be the driving force that would determine whether or not to buy the product? Advertisements on radio stimulated the imagination. Advertisements on television replaced imagination with a sense of imagined reality.
Television was an outgrowth of radio. Advertisements paid the way. A struggle for control of the industry emerged. “RCA (Radio Corporation of America) controlled radio” (Mac Donald 1990, p.22). Their dream was to control the television industry by monopolizing both production and programing. In opposition to RCA’s control, fierce competition arose for jurisdiction in the up and coming television industry as it emerged. When Radio Corporation of America (RCA) sought a controlling interest of not only production but also programming, government commission stepped in and attempted to avert RCA’s influence through government intervention and controls. But when RCA formed the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), and “. . . enormous technical and financial power to programing and station ownership. . . ” it won the “governments blessings”. Even so, Zenith and Phil co provided competition for manufacturing while Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) provided competition for programing (Mac Donald 1990, p.22).
The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) was established by Congress to superintend the broadcasting industry of both radio and television. Its job was to protect the public and the critical aspects of the American economy. But the magnitude of its “regulatory power raised questions” from both the “political left and right”(Mac Donald 1990, p. 23). While in the arena of free business, there was a fear of “state control of capitalistic commerce and creation of centralized planned economy”(Mac Donald 1990, p. 24-25). The FCC curtailed RCA’s standards and literally forced NBC (owned by RCA) to sell part of its interest. As a result, the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) emerged as another competitive programming force. The FCC validated the criteria and Public Service Responsibilities of Broadcasting Licensees. The FCC role was to monitor broadcasts.
The American public reactionary comments remain somewhat unchanged. The only difference between the earlier era of television versus the current is that the broadcasters programing has gotten progressively more presumptuous. The following comment made in reaction to a survey conducted in the 1930’s could just as easily serve to summate the public reaction today.
“In no country except the United States have consumers’ organizations expressed so much or such bitter criticism of their national broadcasting systems and programs” (Mac Donald 1990, p. 29).
The general public opinion concerning programing really hasn’t changed that much. The programing has just gotten progressively more presumptuous.
The Pros and Cons of Advertisements:
Without advertising, television would not have flourished. Advertisers paid the pay checks of the communications industry. The U. S. Department of Commerce had predicted that television “would become the nation’s leading sales tool” (Mac Donald 1990. p.51). They fulfilled that prophecy. But what effect has the bombardment of advertising over the television tube had upon society?
In the perspective of my reviewers, advertisements have a negative impact upon society. For instance, Michael Parenti (1986), “. . . believes that advertisers not only market their products, but sell a complete way of life”. Parenti comes close to saying that commercials are hypnotic to the viewer. he suggests, even though the consumer may know that the commercial speaks untruths and may be critical of its content, the consumer is affected by the commercial through suppressed suggestions. It is important to keep the goal of the advertising campaign in mind. The advertiser wants us to buy the product. Therefore, the advertising tactics are not always straight forward. The advertisements may waiver from a direct approach in order to achieve the goal of selling the product. Viewers are taught through visual aids that “In order to live well and live properly, consumers need corporate producers to guide them . . . [they] are taught personal incompetence and dependence on mass-market producers” (Parenti 1986, p.191).
Contrary to what Parenti says concerning the advertising market, Christians, Rotzoll, and Fackler (1987, p.193) say that “the sheer volume of mass advertising dulls its message, thereby making it less effective”. But is this were so, why then does an effective campaign find consumer mocking the jingles the commercial advertising produce?
Accordingly, Christians, Rotzoll, and Fackler argue that consumers have no difficulty perceiving the intended meaning of advertisements, nor are they “manipulate” by them. In their reasoning, “advertising serves as part of our culture” and they argue that we should not “forget that we are, in part, a nation founded because of advertising” (Christians Et Al 1987, p. 194-195). When they elaborate on this aspect of advertising history, they fail to realize that they contradict themselves; the observations of Daniel Booskin, they so earnestly quote, draws attention to contradictions and discrepancy:
“Never was there a more outrageous or more unscrupulous or more ill-informed advertising campaign than that by which the promoters of the American colonies brought settlers here. Brochures published in England in the seventeenth century, some even earlier, were full of hopeful overstatements, half-truths, and downright lies along with some facts . . . ” (Christians et al. 1987, p. 194).
What the pro-advertisers fail to recognize here is the fact that those people who were coerced into coming to America were manipulated by the falseness of the advertisements which ultimately resulted in oppression by the oppressor (the advertiser). America fought for freedom to alleviate the pretext of a false front. Americans fought to free themselves from the oppression of their oppressor.
The advertisers’ message says: when there is no clear defense, claim ignorance; this ambiguous message is loud and clear:
“Advertising’s actual effects are. . . not clearly known” . . . “We understand advertising only if we understand its complexity . . . We understand advertising only if we understand its uncertainty. . . We understand advertising only id we understand its ambiguity” (Christians, Rotzoll, and Fackler 1987, p. 193-196).
With advertising’s overwhelming systematic treatment of the consumer, how can the advertisers say: The public is not helpless to its influence? Does not ambiguity, uncertainty, and lack of understanding present a hazard to society? Does not the convergent force of the advertising messages take control of the unsuspecting?