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Television as a Vast Wasteland

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In 1961, Newton Minow coined the term vast wasteland for what he saw as television's empty content and anti-intellectualism. There is no point arguing against this notion as it is perfectly true that that television remains a vast wasteland. It should be noted that the television is a potent tool that has created an impact on science, environment, economics and culture, as it has become a very popular means of entertainment. In the United States, 98.5% of the households own at least 1 TV and the same typical households watch television for more than 51 hours a week (The Social Impact of TV-Part). The wideness of its use and coverage cannot be debated so that this paper seeks a more thorough look at the implications of television technology and its empty content and anti-intellectualism.

Advertisement industry

The impact of television in the economy is far and wide. In countries such as the United States, 50% of the television program is made up of commercial space.  Some advertising is not even done in between the show’s segment but during the show itself.  Advertisers pay millions for a few minutes of product visibility and television stations are netting billions worth of advertising revenues each year. One good example for this is the millions of dollars worth of advertising spending during the Superbowl.  In 2007, CBS reportedly charged $2.6M for a 30-second advertising spot alone. This is even excluding the cost of production or shooting for the commercial, which could run up to another million dollar or so.

However, with the expected 90 million television viewers globally, advertisers know that economically it is cost efficient to become a major advertiser, assuming that the commercial that they were able to produce could make an impact (Edelhauser). Over the years, big name companies have capitalized on this opportunity to make an impact through television advertising.  For instance Apple Computer, spent $500,000 for a 1- minute Superbowl slot to air its hip and breakthrough commercial that has catapulted its product to global fame and has distinguished the Macintosh from the “traditional and business-like” IBM brand (Edelhauser). Advertisers have studied the impact of spending for air time in relation to the increase in revenues for the company or to the quality of exposure they will get that will impact on their brand (The Social Impact of TV-Part), but at what price?

It would be very relevant to state that in our all utilitarian materialistic market economy driven needs of urban life the advertisements play a vital role. In this whole world of ‘earn to burn’ philosophy it is all but evident that we should be living in a virtual make believe world of utopia more like Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’. Down the ages of history all the human clans ever came to existence created utopia in accordance to their own culture and taste. This is our culture and our taste is creating today’s utopia- better call it “Adtopia”. But it should be mentioned that had these advertisement would have been fine if they had stayed in their ‘all feel good’ place. But they are not confining themselves to that part only.

They are asking the viewers to become a ‘go getter’ and they are asking the viewers to become aggressive. No wonder the children are becoming influenced by this and getting aggressive all the time as they feel it is the best thing to be. Some authorities conclude that the violent actions performed in playing video games are even more favorable to aggressive behavior. According to this view, the more often children practice fantasy acts of violence, the more likely they are to carry out real-world acts of violence. (Peterson, 24) Another troubling aspect of video games is that the violence they contain is often presented in a glamorized light. Typical games cast players in the role of a shooter, with points scored for each “kill.” Advertisements for such games often hype the violence as a selling point – the more graphic and extreme, the better.

Along with practicing this empty content and anti-intellectualism, the consumers are in fact paying for these advertisements cost as it is added to the cost of goods and services sold (The Social Impact of TV-Part). Thus, all these actual examples of the high-stakes financial impacts of television are not just felt visually by the viewer but it also indirectly felt by their pockets.

Social impact

The popularity of the TV set, induced by the empty content and anti-intellectualism, has also made an impact on our culture especially with regards to social relationships. As more time is spent watching television, there is less time engaged for family bonding activities or even just for conversations with family members.  Even 54% of 4-6 year olds surveyed answered that they would prefer watching television over spending time with their dads. Television has created a more “introverted culture” were spending time being entertained by a machine is given more importance to social interaction with friends and relatives (The Social Impact of TV-Part).  This has led to a “couch potato” culture that have made people less

Mindless Violence

Another critical social impact of television is the exposure to violence from this media.  The average American child has already watched 200,000 violent acts on TV by the time the child turns 18 years old and would have seen 20,000 murders on television also by that age.  It should be noted that 73% of the time the violence instigators in TV dramas are left unpunished in the scenes, so that these may have psychological implications to the impressionable mind of a child.  Early exposure to such scenes may have taken away that feeling of responsibility and accountability for one’s actions.  Thus, inducing as well, violent or socially irresponsible behavior later on in life as guilt and punishment is disregarded in the picture (The Social Impact of TV-Part).

It has been found that far too many of our children are killing and hurting others and there are number of such incidents occurring within schools too. At times, it almost seems to be an epidemic. Many believe that one of the major causes of youth violence is media violence or hidden violence in media that influences children. Law enforcement agencies arrested approximately 2.8 million juveniles in 1997 in the United States. Of that number, 2,500 were arrested for murder and 121,000 for other violent crimes. Juveniles accounted for 19% of all arrests, 14% of murder arrests, and 17% of all violent crimes. Thus, the research aim is to take account of Existing studies that shows that media violence is a major cause of youth violence and evaluate whether if violence in the media influence children to commit violent acts in school (Surrette).

Young children can also be harmed by violence on television. Researchers have performed long-term studies of the impact of television violence on young children as they mature into adults. One such study begun in 1960, examined 600 people at age 8, age 18, and age 30. The researchers concluded that boys at age 8 who had been watching more television violence than other boys grew up to be more aggressive than other boys, and they also grew up to be more aggressive and violent than one would have expected them to be on the basis of how aggressive they were as 8 year-olds. Another study, which included girls, came to the same conclusion.

More than 1,000 studies on the effects of media violence have been done over the past 40 years. Most of these studies have reached the same conclusion: television and film violence leads to real-world violence. There is no doubt that existing research shows that media violence is linked to youth violence and experts agree that to argue against it is meaningless.  though many Americans have enjoyed unparalleled material prosperity and personal freedom during the past several years, they have also felt a growing and nagging uneasiness. Yes, we live longer, healthier lives. For all these achievements, most Americans sense that we are suffering from a sinister decay in our moral structure. Few Americans would be shocked to learn that we lead the industrialized world in rates of murder, violent crime, juvenile crime, imprisonment, and number of teen suicide and the empty content and anti-intellectualism of television is a major part of it (Crowdery).

Environmental impact

Along with the empty content and anti-intellectualism, the trend and increasing demand towards flat-screen TVs has been found out to have an even larger impact on global warming than the largest coal-fired plant.  The manufacturers of these televisions consume 4,000 tonnes of nitrogen trifluoride annually. This is a greenhouse gas which is 17,000 times stronger than CO2 (carbon dioxide) but according to Michael Prather, director of the University of California environmental institute, it has yet to be quantified how much of this is damaging the atmosphere.  However the implications could be great because as written in a scientific journal by Prather and his colleague Juno Hsu, this gas produced is equivalent to 67m tones of CO2 such that its potential environmental damage is even greater than already environmentally dangerous gas emissions of PFCs or SF6 (Sample).

Another environmental impact of producing television sets is that like most electronic products it is made of substances that can be considered as toxic wastes.  For instance, it has lead, mercury and cadmium such that disposal of a television set once a new model comes along would be adding to the already large “e-waste” problem (Paster). Moreover, television usage means electricity usage.  The greenhouse gases that are expected to be emitted form this electricity use is expected to be greater than 250,000 metric tones. Cumulatively, this is a big amount that has its way of affecting the environment as people unknowingly just sit on for hours with their television sets running. Thus, it is obvious that along with creating an audience of empty content and anti-intellectualism, television is responsible for creating a completely environmentally illiterate mass of population.


The ethical dilemmas brought about by the environmental and cultural impact of television should make people rethink on the responsibility that is tied up with the use of television. We cannot discount the fact that it contributes to e-waste and greenhouse gas emission and that lax television show censorship could have negative psychological effects on the viewer. When we know the negative implications, we can then be more vigilant with our choices and action. We could for instance opt for more environmentally-friendly television sets when we purchase a new set and strive to seek a balance between television viewing and our social lives. We could also be more critical of the advertisements shown if the product is just a want or is really a need so that we do not get caught up by consumerism. We could also be vigilant on what shows we could allow some young family members to view knowing its psychological implications and give away less to the usual television of empty content and anti-intellectualism. 

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