I wonder why we still have a TV. (Actually, I did not have my own TV for many years. When I did have one, I used it to watch movies from a VCR or DVD player, or to play console games on it. I hardly ever watched standard TV broadcasts, and I recall that when I did, it was in times where I was feeling exceptionally lonely and bored and didn’t know what to do with myself.)
I have nothing against the TV medium per se. It is highly fascinating, even if just technically. For me, there is a wealth of worthwhile material to watch, including documentaries, anything with the intention to teach, and of course the occasional good (inspiring, thought-provoking, emotionally touching) movie, of which there are thankfully still lots that I haven’t seen – and the entertainment industry is not growing tired of making them.
But standard TV programming is a different beast. How can people endure this, day for day, hour after hour? We were watching »Toy Story 3«, which is a wonderful movie that made me cry at the end, the first time that I watched it at 30,000 feet on board a long-distance flight. But, as is the norm for private TV stations, the movie kept being interrupted by a commercial break about every twenty minutes, for at least five minutes (or so, I didn’t look at the time).
These five minutes of ads, to me, were pure agony. I am fortunate (or unlucky) enough that I can see through the psychological trickery that is put to use here, and it is painful. I’m aware that this is not a new discovery; anyone who has ever used this medium critically will have felt this same pain. I’ve trained myself many years ago to avoid the manipulation, to become immune against the emotional grasp that ads exert on their targets (us, the consumers-in-spe).
Yesterday, it again occurred to me that in this process of immunising myself against the manipulation of ads, I may have inadvertently built some walls or filters around me that eventually made it harder for me to enjoy emotional states that were not fake. Yes, I seriously felt that I should blame some of my anhedonia on trying to be immune to advertisements. Why did I give them this much power over my life? But I would have »lost«, either way. I had only two options: either, be fully open, and fall prey to the manipulation of ads, becoming the obedient consumerist that they wanted. Or, become resistant and immune, only to pay the price of no longer being fully capable of enjoying actual, true, real life.
Truly, yesterday was different. Possibly under the influence of watching Toy Story 3, which made me emotionally receptive*, I managed to open myself up and took in a few full servings of ads, no internal filters in place. What horror. How numb do you have to be to keep looking at this shit and not become a complete misanthropist? How dare they manipulate people in this way, how perfidious! Do they really think that we cannot see past the façade of the artificial, constructed, bland, superficial, subhuman world they are presenting to us, just so that we may go and purchase their products (that hardly anyone truly needs, in all honesty)? Yes, they do. And they are probably right. And this bothers me. It has always bothered me. It’s a kind of abuse that we seem to tolerate, although, somewhere deep within ourselves, we must know that it does not exactly make us better people. This kind of brainwashing is not beneficial to society. We know it, we feel it, but we have become indifferent. We have turned into zombies. It’s turned us into dull consumer machines.
*From the perspective of the marketers who are seeking to produce larger numbers of consumers for their products, it makes perfect sense to show emotionally-touching entertainment intermingled with ads. Whoever has been »soft-boiled« by the movie will be more accessible to the emotional manipulation that is instrumental to ads. I’m not sure if this is an actual strategy used by TV programmers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.
Sure, none of this insight is new, but seriously, why is it still going on? Why do we still have TVs? Why do we still turn them on?
We all know the answer. TV is a kind of drug, and as drugs go, it’s a pretty addictive one, too. Children get hooked on it practically right from the very first exposure (which is something that neither cocaine nor heroin are capable of doing, in contrast to the myths that are mindlessly repeated by anti-drug propagandists). What it does to us is that it fills emotional voids. It keeps us entertained when we are feeling lonely. It fills up our minds with stuff to process, with a kind of emotional or psychological analogy to dietary fibre, something that our consciousness needs to work through – although it really has no meaning. Contrary to the beneficial effects of fibre on digestion, this kind of media-fibre is just there to keep us occupied, to prevent us from having our own thoughts and our own ideas. I am reminded of a computer that is constantly running no-operation-instructions in a loop – it’s busy, but it’s not doing anything besides spend time. We are awake, but we aren’t present. We aren’t being ourselves. We are hardly being human.
I like to be human. I like to have my own thoughts, my own ideas, even if they are painful. Yes, sometimes the emptiness and loneliness of human existence is hard to bear. But there are other things to do to get out of depressive loops. I try to let the media have as little influence on me as possible. I don’t like to be brainwashed. Of course, TV is just an example. Newspapers and magazines are in the same boat, as is any mass-content produced for mass-consumption in whatever medium: TV, paper, online.
I’m not going to be a media target. Are you?