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TV: Communication or Manipulation?

 

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First published in Emoticon: community notes, circa 1998

by Bart Everson ("Editor B" of ROX)

I've produced TV independently for a most of the '90s. My personal bankruptcy proceedings were finalized this July. It's a tough field to break into.

These days I'm back in school, in the Department of Telecommunications at a Big Ten university. It's kind of strange to get formal training in something I taught myself.

Since my enrollment began, I've had a few wrangles with one of my professors about the nature of electronic media. Specifically, she sees media as a means to "manipulate the audience." You might call my prof cynical, but for the bulk of commercial TV programming, she's right. Manipulation is the business of mainstream TV production.

Consider TV as we know it. A crew of talented people do their darnedest to make an interesting program, so that an audience will stay glued to the set. Commercials are interlarded between scenes encouraging people to buy things. It's an almost Pavlovian manipulation of behavior. For all the sophistication of the copywriters, the whole model is crude and insulting to the intelligence of many viewers. So people flip the channels when a commercial comes on. You know the routine.

There may be no passion, no rancor, no perverse impulse driving the production of a TV show. It's a business proposition, and a big business it is. The more people who are involved and the more money there is to be made, the less chance there is for communication from the heart. Manipulation is the order of the day, just as my prof says. Our increasingly cynical, skeptical, media-savvy citizenry probably agree with her.

This only makes sense. Consider the source: our culture, dominated as it is by big corporations. Logic dictates that a medium of such power serve the interests of the most powerful. But the manipulative nature of TV is inherent in our culture, not in the technology of TV itself! As a TV producer I've come to regard my work as communication as much as anything else. I make TV for entirely different reasons than those discussed above. I've got something to say. I've got some things I need to get off my chest somehow and TV is just one of many ways to accomplish that. I want to use this medium to communicate, not manipulate.

As I said, big media is and must be manipulative in nature. The ONLY way around this problem, if you choose to see it as a problem, is to stay small. On the Web we find the smalltime webcaster making TV available to the world. They are driven not by money (what money?) but by a need to communicate. Many are without talent. But those few who have the drive to communicate and the talent to do it well may find a larger audience through the Web.

My point: television can be a means of communication. Webcast content creators who communicate to their audience (rather than 'merely' entertain them) will surely be the ones who succeed.

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Reviews:

January 30th, 2012
Communication And Self Expression

TBlack: The only degree I actually have, though this conflicts with the information on my resume, is in TV and Radio Broadcasting. My interest in this field was in front of the camera. My thought was if I understood behind the camera activity, it would help me with my work as a talent, and empower me to create my own unique opportunities.
I ended up being in and out of the video biz over the years. The professional jobs I was getting behind the lens were not helping me get in front of the lens. ROX was my first real chance to combine the two disciplines. I moved to Chicago and then to Taiwan, post hiatus, to keep the “performance career” rolling. Though I achieved a working actor's success on the island there was as much dissatisfaction as there was financial stability. That's when it finally struck me that my interest in theater and video was to express myself, not to make a career. This... [More...]

March 17th, 2012
"Participate In Your Own Manipulation." -- Emergency Broadcast Network

W. Owen: Way way back in the days of yore, I used to hang out in my former hovel inputting not only ROX at some length but Video Show and all the other stuff on CATS, oftentimes well into the night.

Granted, I tended to be in a pretty heavily altered state during most of those screenings, but the most notable aspect that hit me upside the head from all that was from switching back to regular television on the other channels afterward, and seeing immediately how obviously phony and manufactured and manipulative nearly all of that was (and remains so to this day).

Media for TV: Communication or Manipulation?:
Pix for TV: Communication or Manipulation?:
Cam on TV
B shoots himself on the monitor in Studio Six.

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