Home > Culture, Mallinak > What Television Says about Values

What Television Says about Values

May 16, 2008

Graduation is tonight, then I’m off for a couple of weeks that will include some R & R, some family reunion-ish activity, and some guest preaching. But I don’t want to quit on our discussion, so I’m leaving a short and sweet post for you all — enjoy!

I invited our church members to participate in a little experiment… watch one hour of television, leave it on the same channel for the entire hour, and count how many commercials there are in that one hour. I think you would be surprised at the answer. Any television-saturated person will also be a commercial-saturated person. To watch television is to watch commercials.

Of course, some of our faithful readers (thanks, Mom!) have already thought to themselves, “I don’t watch the commercials… I mute them.” Perhaps you do what my dad did when I was growing up. Of all the things on television that bothered my dad, the commercials made his skin crawl the most. So, he invented a Commercial Curtain. He had my mom cut and hem a piece of dark material that we couldn’t see through, he gray-taped it over the screen, and then put a message on it. It said, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes.” Whenever the commercials started, he would flip the Commercial Curtain over the screen.  Then, he would turn down the volume, and every once in a while peak to see if the commercials were finished.  When the regular program (which, apparantly, was not the ‘wicked thing’) returned, the Commercial Curtain came back up.

Assuming that most television watchers are not so tedious about watching commercials, however, I would say that aside from such notable exceptions, TV-watching is commercial-watching. We are inundated with commercials. And these commercials are very revealing. They reveal, not only what our values are, but also what we value.

Commercials butter television’s bread. Without commercials, we would be forced to pay for television, either directly or through taxes. Commercials are the reason why at least a portion of the offerings available to us on the TV can still be obtained for free. But commercials are not free either. A business can only afford to advertise on the television if the advertising results in increased profits.

We find a cycle here… I watch television. I see commercials. Those commercials advertise a product. I buy that product. My money enables the company to advertise on television. The advertisement enables the Television Company to broadcast on the air. The Television Company enables me to watch television (for free). And we see how the food chain works.

That being said, my point in this particular post is to draw out the fact that the proliferation of television, and its accompanying influence on our culture, is a result of the very high prices that advertisers are willing to pay in order to get on TV. And they are willing to pay this high price because, well… their advertising works. We buy the products – As Seen on TVTM.

I could speak here of the lusts of the flesh and of the eyes, or of the pride of life. That would, of course, be relevant. Television advertising appeals exclusively to these parts of our nature. Television advertising appeals to the eyes, offering some pretty tasty morsels of eye candy to the beholder. Television advertising appeals to the flesh, offering up that which is desirable. And we buy for those reasons.

But there is one thing that television never appeals to… and that is to our reason. Television advertisements avoid any sort of logical or rational reasoning the way Hillary avoids a camera before her smile has been bolted to her face. Television advertisements are about image, about eye candy, about emotional appeals – in short, about what is cool, and what makes you cool. And no, I don’t mean that in a temperature-specific way.

To shorten the post and get to the point, television advertising says that we value coolness. We like to be cool. We wouldn’t be caught buying the Kroger brand. Not when they have Capri Sun. Image is everything. From the underpants we wear to the kool aid we drink. We’ve gotta have it, if we saw it on TV. We value ourselves, our image, our impression. Television appeals to the lust of the eyes and of the flesh, but not nearly so much as it appeals to the pride of life.

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  1. May 17, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    I somewhat agree. I think that your idea that every commercial out there simply does not appeal to logic is a broad generalization that is probably 75% true. Sometimes there is a commercial for a valid product that is logical. When I say that, let me make it know that I do not have any TV signal in my home, no cable, no satellite, not even bunny-ears…nothing. Also, even if it is only 75% of wicked commercials, why dig through three pieces of trash to find one good commercial? In other words, I support and agree with your overall idea here.

    You are right on the money, in regard to the wickedness of most commercials. You can be watching a perfectly safe television show and all of a sudden the commercials come on and there are inappropriately dressed women, there are people doing things that the Bible is clearly against, etc. Commercials really are one of the scourges of the television.

    Great post! Keep up the great work!

  2. theman
    May 17, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    TIVO anyone?

  3. May 18, 2008 at 6:11 am

    Thanks, Nicholas. By the way, I am not arguing that we should not ever watch commercials. They are, among other things, one of my favorite parts of the Super Bowl. They are TV shows in miniature. They are (in some cases) hilariously funny.

    What I am arguing is that the huge success that is television tells us that we as a society value personal coolness and reputation… image. The pride of life. And the proof of this is in the fact that television is funded by commercials, and commercials rely on people buying the advertised product. Considering that model, when we look at how commercials work, what they appeal to, and see that these appeals are working, then we must conclude that we value those things that commercials appeal to (image, reputation, coolness).

    Hope that clears things up. If not, wait until the mud settles back down to the bottom, then take a look again!

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