Dear little sister Erin,
I worry about you and your children when it comes to the dangers of television. You see when I was young I watched Sesame Street on PBS. Then several years later you came along and watched Barney, the big purple dinosaur who sang the incessant “You love me” song. I never owned a Big Bird nor Ernie doll. But Barney’s marketing and merchandising was seen in your life as you towed around the plush toy and wore clothes with his branding.
As bad as I once thought Barney was, and how awful it was to see you wander around branded by the annoying big purple dinosaur, we must realize that things have become much worse. From day one the television has been ruled as a commercial empire used to for the advancement of business interests and furthering the ‘bottom dollar’. Our interests, the average audience viewer is not at heart in these transactions. We are merely eyes, windows into the soul, and conduit into the pocketbook. Though advertising directly to children is now governed in ways that it was not when I first sat before the ‘boob tube’, we should not be lulled into believing we have an increased immunity to the wily ways of the television sponsor.
You see the television sponsor rules content based on what captures his target audience. When a television show draws the wrong crowd, then it will be cancelled. For example, Bonanza, though it was a popular show it attracted an older crowd in middle America, and as that was not as attractive an audience when it came to spending the show was dropped.
Oil companies used public television as personal PR engines to spread goodwill and happy thoughts for the American public and their image. Remember the Exxon Mobile oil spill? You were a little too young I’m sure, but what I do remember is how they promoted ‘quality programming’ on PBS, sponsoring many shows. The words “made possible by a grant byâ€¦” ring in my echo of my ears memory. Each grant being the purchase of a viewing audience’s peace of mind and agreeableness to their brand.
Why does this concern you so? Because knowing of these tactics makes each of us more aware of the ‘game’ and better equipped to make informed choices. I am also concerned for your children. They are another generation who is destined to sit for countless hours before a television. America’s schoolchildren often spend more than 2 times the amount of time before a television set than they do in a class room. Up to 64 hours a week! The numbers are staggering and you must realize how vulnerable your children will be to the media messaging, marketing, branding or selling that will take place in your very living room!
Guidance is required for our young ones. They are not equipped to view television with a wary eye, evaluating messages to make clear choices about what products they may or may not need. Just like Kleenex is now the name many use when referring to a tissue, or a Zip-Lock bag is required to bring liquids through the airportâ€¦ branding is powerful and most persuasive to those unaware of it. Political and social agenda’s are no less. The content on television is only to please us in as much as that is what is required to captivate our attention and to harness our buying power. Content is chosen for its neutral appeal and decidedly uncontroversial flavor. Even in the grant sponsored world of ‘public TV.’ We see popular themes and broad range interest television that incenses few.
So what can you do, you may ask? When you view a television show, stop to think what message are they trying to send me? What thought do they want me to walk away with? You should be quite concerned with any media you refer to as entertainment, as this is where our defenses are down and we are most vulnerable. Shows that may seem to be propaganda are less harmless in that we recognize them as much. It is the entertainment that shapes our world views while we are ‘sleeping’. A prime example is the television show mom used to watch “M.A.S.H.”. While mom was a hippie teen during the Vietnam War she was drawn by the comedy of this show. To some extent she was won over and her viewpoint was shifted through the devices of the show. She was able to relate to characters, and it made her view the war differently in supporting the troops who she now felt like she knew. How quickly we can be fooled by smoke and mirrors, and TV.
So be aware and look deeper for hidden messages and meaning. And beware what it is you allow your children to watch. Because as Barnouw says “While we make our media, our media make us.”
No offense Barney!