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Saturday morning quote #15: Turn off the TV

August 27, 2011

kill your television

If we had to choose an emblem that represented our collective global culture over the last 50 years, it would probably be television.  At first a medium of news and entertainment, TV has blurred the two categories to the point where it is impossible to tell the difference.  Stern voices spewing forth from talking heads with furrowed brows are keeping us up to the minute with important news, with details (accent on the second syllable) at 11:00.  But upon closer examination, the talking heads are wearing no trousers, and the ‘news’ is nothing more than random facts mixed with fantasy formed into propaganda aimed at selling things – and reinforcing the opinion of the guy who owns the media empire.

Today, we share a few quotes that offer insightful impressions of how TV was affecting the world 50 years ago.

“Art is moral passion married to entertainment. Moral passion without entertainment is propaganda, and entertainment without moral passion is television.”
–Rita Mae Brown

“Television: A medium. So called because it’s neither rare nor well done.”
–Ernie Kovacs

The next quote is by a writer who is a favorite in our bookish household, E.B. White, from his 1960 essay, “The Shape of Television”:

The effects of television on our culture and on our tone are probably even greater than we suspect from the events of the last few years…TV has kept the farmer up late at night, has lured the unwary candidate to offshore islands, and has drawn quiz show contestants first into chicanery, then into perjury.  It has given liver bile and perspiration a permanent place in the living room – the world’s most honored secretions.

Viewers…are less concerned about the falsity and fraud of commercials than about the annoyance of them.  This is true, and it is unsettling.  But you have to go beyond the mere characteristics of commercials to get at the real source of annoyance.  The physical form of TV is so familiar to all of us by this time that we seldom examine it with a fresh gaze.  I believe that the basic shape of the audiovisual world is inferior to the shape of the world of journalism and the world of the stage and music hall.

The TV industry should realize that being in possession of a customer’s ear is a responsibility unlike that of being in possession of his eye.  The eye can reject an image, but the ear cannot escape from sound.  TV from the start has seized this advantage and exploited it to the hilt, and from the start the audience has resented it.  The exploitation mounts, the resentment mounts, and I think the resentment will continue to grow until something gives way and busts.

Public television is an exception, at least in the US.   While it must remain beholden to corporate sponsorship, public television offers a respite from the usual intensely commercial noise.

As we prepare to film a live concert for broadcast on public television, we are slightly amused by the fact that we don’t watch TV – when you play the lute, who has time for TV?  But we recognize the value of broadcasting an intimate concert of 16th century music for solo voice and lute into an unknown but presumably large number of living rooms.  While we hope people will watch and listen, we’d like to suggest they turn off the TV and play music for themselves.  Or invite us over for a private concert.  It’s better live.

  1. Mathias permalink

    “… when you play the lute, who has time for TV?” — YES. I haven’t had a Tele since 1992, and I assume I didn’t miss much. Outside the matrix, I even was able to observe the impact of TV on fashion, language, behaviour.

  2. Dan Winheld permalink

    “Television: A medium. So called because it’s neither rare nor well done.”–Ernie Kovacs

    So true, despite good old Ernie putting the lie to his own insight with his brilliant humor….and yet I still watch too much. Lot of potential practice time wasted. But today, we did have another lute player and another soprano over to the house; played lute duets, songs to lute & bass viol and/or archlute. By the time we finished, all the worthwhile notes were used up; and we had earned our mindless entertainment.

    E.B. White’s concern in his third paragraph was answered by the invention of the remote with mute button. A far greater invention than even a 60″ high def. flat screen monster.

    Y’all come over, and we promise that the teevee stays off.

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