Television and Technology:(Paper 2) An Outgrowth of A Means of Control:  Changing The Face of America?

By Trudy A. Martinez


The Television technology, in itself, is welcome into society.  It provides an avenue of entertainment within the home of Americans.  It allows culture to feed the uneducated.  It is a tool that can enhance the learning capacity of Americans.  But what happens 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.

Historical Insights

Fond memories of sitting in front of the television set, watching the variety of test patterns and waiting for the set to come alive, invades my head.  It is exciting.  It stimulates my imagination and electrifies my thinking processes.  Television is not in every home as it is today.  Instead, there are few televisions in the homes of Americans.  There is a sense of sharing in the neighborhoods; if one family is lucky enough to own a television set and another is not, the more fortunate family invites the less fortunate over to view programing.  Today, you rarely see your neighbors because everyone has their own television set.  In the past, programming is sporadic.  it is not unusual to see only a test pattern when the TV set is turned on, unlike today where 24 hour programming is available.

Earlier Programming Influence

Test patterns identify the big three broadcasters: NBC, CBS, and ABC.  These “. . . American broadcasters are neither government agents serving the public good nor philanthropist willing to lose money to enlighten the masses (Mac Donald 1990. p.27)”.  The broadcasters are like any other business, out for the money.

Advertisers wishing to promote their products to the American public have the money the broadcasters want.  Broadcasters seize the opportunity of enticing advertisers to promote entertaining programs with “glamour and glitz,” knowing this type of programing will draw big audiences:  The bigger the audience, the bigger the broadcaster’s paycheck.  In this manner, the American public literally merchandises over unto industry (Mac Donald 1990, p.28).

Educationally base Public Service programs lose out and so does the American public.  The programing brings debate from educators:  “. . . Networks [defend] their . . . [programing] . . . ,[claiming] Americans [are] too good for broadcasting as envision by educational reformers out . . . [undermining] mass culture (Mac Donald 1990. p.28-29).” A Network spokesman, William S. Paley says: “. . . 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 are first aired, the consumer is able to establish his own standards.  But is he or she now?  Or is the advertising establishing the standards for the consumer?

Advertising’s Role

Ultimately, advertising” . . . influences the kind of programing that is produced (Barwise & Ehrenberg 1988, p. 7).”  Some might have said, without advertising, there will not be television programing; and without advertising, the public will not be kept informed and up-to-date on new innovations.  The public is 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 arises, is a way of saying, “thank you”.  Then, the advertisements are informative:  the product is seen and the manufacturer’s name given.  There is usually only one sponsor for each program and the advertisements are spaced further apart than the current fifteen minute intervals.  The General Electric Theater is a prime example of a one sponsor program.  Advertisements are seen after the close of specific Acts.  The Advertisements shows new products, but they are not entertaining nor do they hold the viewer’s attention.  The viewer quite often uses these advertisement breaks to get a snack or relieve themselves like they might also do during the intermission at a real theater.

Controversial Advertising

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 tells 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 the one the advertisement says walking on a specific shoe makes you feel like you are walking on a cloud.  If your feet are tired when you get home from work, you will consider this product over the others because the advertisement persuades you your feet will feel better and therefore, so will you.   If advertising still only informs the public, there will be little controversy over it.  But advertising goes beyond informing.

The greed of industry aims TV commercials toward children as consumers.  As a result, value changes appear to have surfaced that instill greed in young minds; this reaction causes conflict between children and their parents (McLauglin  1991, p.D2).

I can personally substantiate McLauglin’s claim that advertising causes 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 view me as violent because I lecture and spank my offspring in public.  I taught my children right from wrong and to obey.  And most of the time, they do.  But all I have to do is take them with me to the supermarket or shopping anywhere, and they become monsters.  Suddenly, they are not satisfied with the products within our budget; they want the one they see on TV.  It becomes an obsession with them.  When I tell them “no”, they begin to scream and throw a fit.  I have no other alternative but to revert to what others call violence, if I am to remain in control.

What 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 did not need a spanking in public.  At first, I question my own ability as mother and guardian over my children.  But when I begin to investigate what it is I am doing wrong, I find 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 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 in need (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 portrays.  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 uses the child and gains control through the child of the parent’s 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 is learning 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 influences 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 reaches 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 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 joins 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 supposed 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 supposed to look?”

In the third photograph (figure 10003), please note the remarkable difference in the reactions 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 reaction of the younger child is called a learned behavior.  The reaction 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 conveyed.  The significant other needs not be the mother or father.  The significant other can 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 know 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) are 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 economic trends, of not spending, the public’s revolting reaction to advertiser’s unethical practices?

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An Outgrowth of the Means of Control: Television and Technology (Paper 1)

by Trudy A. Martinez


According to The America College Dictionary, the term technology originates from the Greek form of the word technologia which means: 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 shall 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?

Influential History:

Before industry is introduced on a large-scale to society, government, the nobles, and the church fashion and maintain a systematic treatment of the populace.  Imagination quails through fear.  Few use the fortitude, determination, or endurance to contradict the status quo.  The church functions as the mediator of facts and legitimacy.  Only upon emergence of the period of history known as the scientific revolution do individuals bring forth a challenge that will relinquish, foil, and peel the ideology of the church from the face of society.  As a result of the peeling of ideology, new doctrines emerge and create a new freedom that revolves around imagination.

Creative imagination becomes the forerunner of technology as we know it today.  The imagination of specific individuals brings about technology which results in an industrial revolution fueled by greed in Western Europe.  Expansion of industry facilitates the greed at the expense of the up and coming middle class and the lower classes.  Ultimately, reaction to overwhelming greed results in revolution.  After the French Revolution, it is apparent that repressive controls are in need to preserve the status of aristocrats in an industrial society.

American Historical Factors:

In the beginning, our forefathers seek to establish a governmental system of systematic treatment of equality and justice for all.  In their estimation, revolution will ideally be prevented through unity.  The America promise-land is established to free the people from oppression of their oppressor, England.  After freedom from oppression is gained, America remains isolated: close to nature and close to God.

Even though industrialization in the United States of America is not a revolution, technology allows it to flourish.  As a result, technology seems to change the emphasis of the America objective from freedom of the people to freedom of big business.  This change of emphasis parallels a change in ideology.

In the beginning, American commerce flourishes 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” grow to “a necessary criteria” for progress to achieve “political and social liberation” (Marx 1987, p.5) as a result, “scientific knowledge and technological power are 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 emphasizes the importance of the free individual.

Whereas, “the rhetoric of Daniel Webster . . . [and] Edward Everett . . . [produce] a new version of . . . progressive ideology”.  Webster’s version of ideology emphasizes big business rights over individual rights and instrumentation value over social value.  Technology comes first and the individual second (Marx 1987, p. 7-10). Big business literally takes the ball and runs with it.  They identify and establish their own systematic treatment of the people of America.  As history previously shows in France, a systematic treatment of the populace is necessary for control to be managed effectively, while at the same time, and still prevent revolution.

America’s industrialization follows a Civil War.  The establishment of a mandatory school system to educate the masses to a specific way of thinking provides a means of a futuristic control of a government for the people, while Yellow Press Journalism works toward a more immediate end for business by directing favorable thought toward imperialistic expansion.  Occasionally, fear tactics are exploited in the Yellow Press when necessary to maintain control (of the populace and the government) or expand the interest of business.  European technology furnishes the examples.  American technology needs only to maintain control.

Technological Innovations:

There is an air of excitement in the communication industry with radio transmissions.  (Yellow journalism had only the ability to exploit the literate, whereas radio had the ability to increase the realm of influence.)  The “radio transmitter” allows listeners to “hear the whack of the bat and the call of the umpire”; the listener’s imagination does the rest.  Future advancements of technology are not “an idle dream”.  Technology predicts the viewer will someday “see the dust raised by the sliding player’s feet”.  Even though America has the technology to proceed with the production and transmission of television broadcasting as early as 1930′s, wide-spread transmission does not occur until after World War II (Mac Donald 1990, p.8).

With the technological advancement of the radio, communication control emerges.  Technological advancement and government control always goes hand in hand.  The reason government finds it necessary to become the protector of the people (as a force measure) is to balance the scales of justice.  Radio advertising “jingles” stimulates commercial economic growth, while at the same time; programing provides entertainment which aims on educating; this eventually permits individuals to relinquish some reliance they may place upon their own individual enterprise.

With more and more progressive entertaining innovations, the industry grows.  Advertisements make the programing possible.  Communication enterprises and education institutions become the major controlling factors of maintaining the status quo of both government and big business.  Thus, continual growth insures the satisfaction of the upcoming entrepreneurs through education and the expansion of industry through advertisement and enterprise.

The thrust of technologies modernization, in the realm of communications, brings the radio into the homes nearly all Americans.  Americans listen.  Americans believe.  And Americans react.  They utilize their active imaginations in ways never believed possible.  Orson Wells’ broadcast of “The War of the Worlds” on a Halloween night proves a point:  the American mind can be controlled through the innovations of technology and imagination.  The broadcast brings about panic; it brings about death.  Some Americans offer 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 arise:  What if advertisements can capture the same thrust as that of “The War of the World” broadcast?  Will the consumer’s imagination be the driving force that will determine whether or not to buy the product?  Advertisements on radio stimulate the imagination.  Advertisements on television replace imagination with a sense of imagined reality.

Technological Growth:

Television is an outgrowth of radio.  Advertisements paid the way.  A struggle for control of the industry emerges.  “RCA (Radio Corporation of America) controlled radio” (Mac Donald 1990, p.22).  Their dream is to control the television industry by monopolizing both production and programing.  In opposition to RCA’s control, fierce competition arises for jurisdiction in the up and coming television industry as it emerges.  When Radio Corporation of America (RCA) seeks a controlling interest of not only production but also programming, government commission steps in and attempts to avert RCA’s influence through government intervention and controls.  But when RCA forms 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 provide competition for manufacturing while Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) provides competition for programing (Mac Donald 1990, p.22).

Technological Control:

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is established by Congress to superintend the broadcasting industry of both radio and television.  Its job is 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 is a fear of “state control of capitalistic commerce and creation of centralized planned economy” (Mac Donald 1990, p. 24-25).  The FCC curtails RCA’s standards and literally forces NBC (owned by RCA) to sell part of its interest.  As a result, the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) emerges as another competitive programming force.  The FCC validates the criteria and Public Service Responsibilities of Broadcasting Licensees.  The FCC role is to monitor broadcasts.

Public Reaction:

The American public reactionary comments remain somewhat unchanged.  The only difference between the earlier eras 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 can 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 will not flourish.  Advertisers pay the pay checks of the communications industry.  The U. S. Department of Commerce predicts that television “[will] become the nation’s leading sales tool” (Mac Donald 1990. p.51).  They fulfill 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 . . . 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 if this was 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 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 are coerced into coming to America are manipulated by the falseness of the advertisements which ultimately results in oppression by the oppressor (the advertiser).  America fights for freedom to alleviate the pretext of a false front.  Americans fight 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 if 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?