March 21, 2003

Mother of all TV spectaculars…

Walter Shapiro thinks we’re at beginning of the Mother of All TV Spectaculars; reality TV ain’t got nuthin’ on war. But such a spectacle does not aggrandize, it trivializes. As Shapiro says:

Television, by its very nature, diminishes vivid real-life events into something comforting and commonplace. We are automatically lulled by the familiar rituals of TV covering a major crisis–the split screens showing a Donald Rumsfeld briefing and the streets of Baghdad; the quick cuts first to a breathless correspondent on the White House lawn then to a famous reporter in fatigues near the Iraqi border.

Not to mention running news tickers, logos, theme music.

As I said earlier, what TV does best is point cameras at events as they happen. But Shapiro points out that even this can be corrupted by the hype, fluff, and the trivializing nature–the structural bias–of the medium itself. Of this, Shapiro says:

The true ideology of television is not conservative or liberal, pro-war or anti-war. Rather than being political at all, it is self-obsessed. TV’s unstated belief system is Marshall McLuhan’s old-time doctrine that the medium is the message. Despite the best intentions of most correspondents and producers, television overwhelms everything it covers, even war.

Like all of you, I ran to my TV as the 48-hour clock ticked down. I sat there waiting for a war to happen. President Bush and TV did not disappoint. But I did notice last night that news began to drag. How many times can one look at a helicopter graphic and listen to stumbling words about its make, age, and lifting capacity, before becoming bored and forgetting that 19 allied soldiers lost their lives yesterday?

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