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The Influence of Television on American Government

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America has always been in love with its television. This invention, made by the hands of men, continuously satisfies almost every American household. Through its vast channels and selective networks, the television is always looking to please and inform the public eye. This high tech toy is something that has become engrained in our households, and is something families watch on stormy nights and warm festive thanksgiving afternoons. T.V provides its viewers with the ability to “check out”, from a hard days work or from an annoying family member. It is that ability in which television brings excitement and main street news right to our door step. That being said, T.V. does have some influences over people and their political minds.

In regard to national politics and current events, much of what we know comes from the media. Media and how its portrayed influences Americans, and politicians alike come to these realizations that presents many interesting discussions. This essay will dive further into the findings of relevant authors and describe their opinions on television and its influences over the political mind. One author named Neil Postman made many compelling arguments about T.V.

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Postman, an author who wrote the book, Amusing Ourselves To Death, touched on many varying ideas regarding television and its purpose. He argues that television brings a different perspective to the modernizing world. There are characters being projected right from the T.V, and into your living room. Characters that families get used to seeing and hearing become real and apart of their everyday lives. Postman makes this statement real, and also mentioned why he thinks television affects the political mind. While mentioning Ronald Reagan and his point that politics is show business, Postman argues why television commercials are the most invasive way of communicating. What I think he means by this is that politicians sell themselves based on their beliefs, they advertise what they feel true. If they perform well, and are consistent they will hopefully gain the political support they need to succeed. This is essentially what a television commercial is, a way to engage a viewer into buying something they want. People may watch commercials and like what they see, but not want to buy it. He dives into this point and then explains how the T.V. is capable of creating commerce through commercials.

By compacting many ideas into one script, dialogue, or show, capitalism is born, Postman goes on by saying “Of course, the practice of capitalism has its contradictions. Cartels and monopolies, for example, undermine the theory. But commercials make hash of it.”(Postman, 127) This is a very interesting quote. I believe the point Postman is trying to make is that cartels are like monopolies, they dominate the drug market and crush smaller business. If they have a new competitor they will either find a way to get rid of them or outcompete them, and that is what a Cartel is good at to begin with. Postman provides many arguments surrounding T.V and politics, but he is not the only author to provide solid evidence of how the T.V. or media can persuade the public. Vesla Weaver describes how commercials impacted the political campaign trail in the 1960’s.

When politics and crime come together problems arise. In Frontlash: Race and the Development of Punitive Crime, Weaver revisits the politics of the 1960’s, just around time of the civil rights campaign and the war on crime. Weaver explains how T.V. commercials made by politicians impacted the public. As explained in Weaver’s reading, Barry Goldwater, a governor of Arizona started making advertisements in effort to stop crime in its tracks. His campaign made numerous commercials, the first one called “Choice” which enraged the public, it was removed and traded for something very similiar, Weaver expressed. Goldwater was using advertisements to convey how he felt about crime in our country. He may have been a great politician, but ending violence is something this country still struggles with. He raised awareness on violence, but his commercials may have invaded the minds of the public who did not stand with him and the Republicans. It seems he enraged the public mind, therefore making the problem worse.

Either way, Goldwater was able to use television as a platform to show his bias on politics. Weaver included a quote from Goldwater, he exclaimed, “Crime grows faster than population, while those who break the law are accorded more consideration than those who try to enforce the law…” (Weaver, 243) Goldwater is saying that if crime and violence are happening at higher rates, than protection against them must double. What Goldwater is expressing is true, especially from a conservative approach. By addressing crime during the civil rights reform may have drawn unworthy connections together that were not existent before. Both Weaver and Postman developed thoughtful arguments regarding televisions and there influences on political behavior.

Political behavior is not always influenced by T.V. On the contrary, the media is very influential, and has an impact on its viewers. Whether it is the media trying to out compete their competitor, or a governor trying to end violence, both authors communicated that the T.V. clearly affects the average household, but does not necessarily affect the given individual. There are endless channels on a television set, more than one could flip through in 60 seconds. It seems that these authors would agree that it is what the television is showing that becomes important. If the information is relevant or is shaped to appear relevant it will attract Americans looking to learn more on the health of their nation.

The people care about America, but this does not always happen, information can be misaligned and used to persuade viewers, just as a commercial would invade your T.V. show. Imagine watching the news and hearing that gas prices are skyrocketing due to foreign policy, while pumping the gas. Would you just bat and eye get back in the car and leave or accept what they are telling you. The television will always work if you turn the power on, but is what and who your watching going to influence the individual. Postman and Weaver both offered decent explanations on the affects of T.V.

The television has become mainstream, and is an important attribute to each household. It is how people get their news and is also how people relax and enjoy quality family time. Regarding politics, the T.V. does not always portray the most accurate information. Everyone has a bias, whether its the politician himself, or the media station behind the news, it is human nature to want to persuade viewers into believing what they want. That is what a bias is. Not all news is relevant, but television providers will always put forth their best work to give the world what it wants, and that is entertainment and current events. Remember that T.V. can still be seen as a privilege, although most American households have them, not everyone has the luxury of turning it on every night. Take your news as it goes, current events are only current until the next.


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