In the early 1970s, I, your servant, had a little black-and-white Panasonic TV when I lived in a Spartan “preceptor’s suite” at what was then College V of the University of California at Santa Cruz. For the first time in my life, I watched a good deal of prime-time TV.
At that time, there were three networks and only crime shows and comedies. I cannot recall all the shows I watched, but "Hawaii Five-0," "Mannix," and "The Rockford Files" come to mind, plus the comedies of the day like "Mary Tyler Moore" and "All in the Family."
|Jack Lord starred in CBS' original long-running series "Hawaii Five-0."
I noticed that there were patterns in how subjects were presented. In cop show, for example, the businessman was almost always the villain. The military came in for severe hits. Religious people were usually hypocrites and charlatans. Small towns were dangerous, smoldering pits of evil, especially racist evil.
On comedies, fun was made of conservatives and anyone with money was a fool.
I observed this for a few years at UCSC and afterwards on my faithful, flickering Panasonic. Then I wrote a book about it, called "The View from Sunset Boulevard."
The book had not just the observations I had made of TV shows’ political and sociological points of view, but also the view of many TV writers and producers on the same subjects: business, capitalism, faith, small towns, the military.
Through interviews, I found that the views of the people who make the TV shows were almost identical; in fact, they were identical to the views shown on the TV shows. What we saw when we watched TV was not an approximation of reality or a consensus view of American life. No, it was the projection of what the top producers and writers in Hollywood believed to be the way life was.
The book got a fantastic amount of notice. It was damned by liberals and people in Hollywood — with some notable exceptions — and loved by conservatives. It was used as a text in universities for years.
Now, many years have passed and hardly anyone remembers the book. But I have started watching TV again as I rest up here in Sandpoint, Idaho. And I have noticed a vast, astonishing change in TV.
For one thing, much of TV is what might laughingly be called “reality” shows, i.e., unscripted shows. In these shows, an amazing amount of content is about sex, and a lot is about “cheating” or betrayal in sexual matters.
A truly amazing amount beyond that is about weight and eating. And beyond that, there is a big hunk about buying and selling things — pawnshops, excavations in storage lockers, searching for bargains everywhere. Some is about dangerous or unpleasant work. Why? Where does that come from?
On the scripted shows, there is now far more than the three network shows. There is a breathtaking amount of news, especially financial news. This is, well, new, and has gripped the nation by the throat, pouring “news” (largely fake) down people’s throats whether they have any idea of its truth or not. Dancing and talent shows are huge, although possibly dwindling.
But the real change is that there are now many cable channels that require payment to the cable systems each month. On these channels, movies are shown. The amount of sex and violence in these movies is beyond belief.
TV has become pornography for many channels at many times of the day — pornography of sex and far, far worse, pornography of violence. The amount of callous killing and maiming and cruelty on cable TV goes far beyond the amount of nudity and sex.
We are in a whole new world where any child can see things on his TV (not to mention the Internet) that would have made a sailor blush.
This pornografication (to invent a word) of TV has happened largely without comment, but its effects must be serious. How did it happen?
What’s next? Celebrity sex? It is a scary world on the tube now, and I will get into it more occasionally in the future.
Ben Stein is a writer, actor, and lawyer, who served as a speechwriter in the Nixon administration as the Watergate scandal unfolded. He began his unlikely road to stardom when director John Hughes cast him as the numbingly dull economics teacher in the urban comedy, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." Read more reports from Ben Stein — Click Here Now.
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