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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Social aspects of television

Social aspects of television

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The social aspects of television are the influences media has had on society since its inception. The belief that this impact has been dramatic has been largely unchallenged in media theory since its inception. However, there is much dispute as to what those effects are, how serious the ramifications are and if these effects are more or less evolutionary with human communication.

Negative effects

As television became an increasingly dominant form of mass communication, critics complained of how poorly the medium lived up to its promise of serving the public interest. Newton N. Minow spoke of the "vast wasteland" that was the television programming of the day in his 1961 speech. Television was characterized as the "boob tube", a mindless occupation and time filler.[1]

In his 1977 book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, Jerry Mander argued that the medium of television, apart from any good or bad motives of television broadcasters, is by its very nature predisposed to certain harmful effects on society.

Complaints about the social influence of television can also be heard from the justice system as investigators and prosecutors alike decry what they refer to as “the CSI Syndrome.” They complain that, because of the popularity and considerable viewership of CSI and its spinoffs, juries today expect to be “dazzled,” and will acquit criminals of charges unless presented with impressive physical evidence, even when motive, testimony, and lack of alibi are presented by the prosecution.[2]

Television has also been creditted with changing the norms of social propriety, although the direction and value of this change are disputed. Milton Shulman, writing about television in the 1960s, wrote that “TV cartoons showed cows without udders and not even a pause was pregnant,” and noted that on-air vulgarity was highly frowned upon. Shulman suggested that, even by the 1970s, television was shaping the ideas of propriety and appropriateness in the countries the medium blanketed. He asserted that, as a particularly “pervasive and ubiquitous” medium, television could create a comfortable familiarity with and acceptance of language and behavior once deemed socially unacceptable. Television, as well as influencing its viewers, evoked an imitative response from other competing media as they struggle to keep pace and retain viewer- or readership. [3]

Psychological effects

Some studies suggest that, when a person plays video games or watches TV, the basal ganglia portion of the brain becomes very active and dopamine is released. Some scientists believe that release of high amounts of dopamine reduces the amount of the neurotransmitter available for other purposes, although this remains a controversial conclusion.[4]

Physical effects

Studies in both children and adults have found a association between the number of hours of television watched and obesity.[5] A study found that watching television decreases the metabolic rate in children to below that found in children at rest. [6]

Alleged dangers

See also: Media violence research

Legislators, scientists and parents are debating the effects of television violence on viewers, particularly youth. Fifty years of research on the impact of television on children's emotional and social development have not ended this debate (see Bushman & Anderson 2001; Savage, 2008).

Bushman & Anderson (2001) among others have claimed that the evidence clearly supports a causal relationship between media violence and societal violence. However other authors (Olson, 2004; Savage, 2008) note significant methodological problems with the literature and mismatch between increasing media violence and decreasing crime rates in the United States.

A 2002 article in Scientific American suggested that compulsive television watching, television addiction, was no different from any other addiction, a finding backed up by reports of withdrawal symptoms among families forced by circumstance to cease watching.[7] However this view has not yet received widespread acceptance among all scholars, and "television addiction" is not a diagnoseable condition according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual -IV -TR.

As an example of one study, a longitudinal study in New Zealand involving 1000 people (from childhood to 26 years of age) demonstrated that "television viewing in childhood and adolescence is associated with poor educational achievement by 12 years of age". [8] A study published in the Journal of Sexuality Research and Social Policy concluded that parental television involvement was associated with greater body satisfaction among adolescent girls, less sexual experience amongst both male and female adolescents, and that parental television involvement may influence self-esteem and body image, in part by increasing parent-child closeness.[9] Numerous studies have been done on the relationship between TV viewing and school grades.[10] However numerous other studies have found little or no effect for television viewing on viewers (see Freedman, 2002).


Studies indicate that television is the second most effective method of psychological manipulation in the field of commercial media. Use of public service announcements (including those paid for by governing bodies or presidential candidates), news and current affairs, commercial advertising, advertorials and talk shows) can affect viewers on conscious and/or subconscious levels. An individual may inadvertently answer a question based on an opinion or fact stated on a television show without consciously realising where they obtained the information. This makes the format an excellent platform for propagation.[11]

Positive effects

Although much of the discussion around television's impact on society has been negative, media theorist Joshua Meyrowitz argues that the medium has less of a stranglehold pushing its viewers and more of a handhold, guiding its views to areas and subjects to which they were previously denied access.

Before the occurring of the television, printing was considered as the main channel to access the information and knowledge. The way of people in those days in reaching the information is limited in many ways.

Educational advantages

Despite this research, many media scholars today dismiss such studies as flawed. See David Gauntlett's article "Ten Things Wrong With the Media 'Effects' Model." Dimitri Christakis cites studies in which those who watched "Sesame Street" and other educational programs as preschoolers had higher grades, were reading more books, placed more value on achievement and were more creative. Similar, while those exposed to negative role models suffered, those exposed to positive models behaved better.[12]

Technology trends

In its infancy, television was a time-dependent, fleeting medium; it acted on the schedule of the institutions that broadcast the television signal or operated the cable. Fans of regular shows planned their schedules so that they could be available to watch their shows at their time of broadcast. The term appointment television was coined by marketers to describe this kind of attachment.

The viewership's dependence on schedule lessened with the invention of programmable video recorders, such as the Videocassette recorder and the Digital video recorder. Consumers could watch programs on their own schedule once they were broadcast and recorded. Television service providers also offer video on demand, a set of programs which could be watched at any time.

Both mobile phone networks and the Internet are capable of carrying video streams. There is already a fair amount of Internet TV available, either live or as downloadable programs, and video sharing websites have become greatly popular.

The Japanese manufacturer Scalar has developed a very small TV-system attached to the eyeglasses, called "Teleglass T3-F".[13]

Gender and television

While women, who were “traditionally more isolated than men” were given equal opportunity to consume shows about more “manly” endeavors, men’s feminine sides are tapped by the emotionally invocative nature of many television programs.[14]

Television played a significant role in the feminist movement. Although most of the women portrayed on television conformed to stereotypes, television also showed the lives of men as well as news and current affairs. These "other lives" portrayed on television left many women unsatisfied with their current socialisation. This opened up a lot of discussions and arguments about the roles of women in a society that they now knew about in greater depth.[citation needed]

The representation of males and females on the television screen has been a subject of much discussion since the television became commercially available in the late 1930s. In 1964 Betty Friedan claimed that “television has represented the American Woman as a “stupid, unattractive, insecure little household drudge who spends her martyred mindless, boring days dreaming of love—and plotting nasty revenge against her husband.” As women started to revolt and protest to become equals in society in the 1960s and 1970s, their portrayal on the television was an issue that they addressed. Journalist Susan Faludi suggested, “The practices and programming of network television in the 1980s were an attempt to get back to those earlier stereotypes of women.” Through television, even the most homebound women can experience parts of our culture once considered primarily male- sports, war, business, medicine, law and politics.

The inherent intimacy of television makes it one of the few public arenas in our society where men routinely wear makeup and are judged as much on their personal appearance and their "style" as on their "accomplishments."

From 1930 to 2007 daytime television hasn’t changed much. Soap operas and talk shows still dominate the daytime time slot. Prime time television since the 1950s has been aimed at and catered towards males. In 1952, 68% of characters in primetime dramas were male; in 1973, 74% of characters in these shows were male. In 1970 the National Organization for Women (NOW) took action. They formed a task force to study and change the “derogatory stereotypes of women on television.” In 1972 they challenged the licences of two network-owned stations on the basis of their sexist programming. In the 1960s the shows I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched insinuated that the only way that a women could escape her duties was to use magic. Industry analysis Shari Anne Brill of Carat USA states, “For years, when men were behind the camera, women were really ditsy. Now you have female leads playing superheroes, or super business women” Current network broadcasting features a range of female portrayals.

Socialising children

Children were once controlled by adults through means of literacy. The literacy level of books would often correspond with the "appropriate" topics for children. Topics unsuitable for children would be written for a higher level of literacy and when most children would try to read these books they would be beyond their literary capabilities. [15]

With television, the literacy level required to understand is substantially lower as well as it being difficult to monitor a child's use of the device and anticipate the content that will be delivered through it. However, much research and development is being dedicated to regain control, monitor and restrict children's consumption of television.[16]

Often, television can show children what adults may not want them to know. A key example of this is in the television show Father Knows Best where children are let in on perhaps the biggest secret: that adults keep secrets from them.[17]

Suitability for audience

Almost since the medium's inception there have been charges that some programming is, in one way or another, inappropriate, offensive or indecent. Critics such as Jean Kilborne have claimed that television, as well as other mass media images, harm the self image of young girls. Other commentators such as Sut Jhally make the case that television advertisers in the U.S. deliberately try to equate happiness with the purchasing of products, despite studies which show that happiness for most people comes from non-material realms, such as warm friendships and feelings of connection to one's community.[18] George Gerbner has presented evidence that the frequent portrayals of crime, especially minority crime, has led to the Mean World Syndrome, the view among frequent viewers of television that crime rates are much higher than the actual data would indicate. In addition, a lot of television has been charged with presenting propaganda, political or otherwise, and being pitched at a low intellectual level.

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