Let me take issue with one aspect of the recent and inspired E. Michael Jones piece, “The Family Against the Globalists” (Views, November 2002).  Dr. Jones suggests that television is supplanting the virtues that are central to families with the values central to the global marketplace and includes a call to action, something frequently lacking in Chronicles.

Where I would differ is over the source of television’s adverse impact.  The effective force enabling television to destroy ethnos is its inherent nature as an advertising medium in an economy fueled by useless consumer goods.  The point is suggested by George Garrett in The Sorrows of Fat City, where he relates that, as a young CBS writer, he was made to understand that, for the masters of television, what mattered most were the commercials.  The medium, Garrett argues, was conceived and is managed primarily to advertise, not to entertain, and what fills the gaps between commercials scarcely matters, as long as it is produced cheaply and does not cause the ordinary viewer to change the channel.

Regardless of the programming content, the ultimate message of television as advertising medium is that we should seek fulfillment in the acquisition of consumer goods.  The image reflected back to everyone gazing at the tube is of a person who needs only the latest dross in fashions, gadgets, or junk food to be happy, complete, and accepted.  By telling us that we are what we buy, television seeks to supplant our relationship to family and locale with a relationship to the global market.  Through advertising, television insidiously and un-opposedly attacks our identities as members of a family, a neighborhood, a town, and a region—an attack that wears away at the ethnos Dr. Jones rightly wishes to protect.

Chronicles should explore whether mainstream media, and television in particular, can ever bear messages favoring values other than those of consumer-ism—whether they could, in any circumstances, be used or even co-opted in support of other values.

        —Kevin R. Davis
Nashville, TN

Dr. Jones Replies:

I completely agree with what Mr. Davis says about television.  It is an instrument of control that serves the interests of those who own the networks, not those who own the TV sets.  Ethnos is the first casualty of television, as the late Fritz Wilhelmson points out in his brilliant (if uneven) book Telepolitics.  His account of what happened to Spain and Quebec after the arrival of television is the best analysis yet of the effects this machine has on local cultures.  The second casualty of television is family life, as Mr. Davis rightly points out.

My only quarrel with Mr. Davis’s analysis is that it doesn’t go far enough.  As with pornography, which has already made its way onto European TV and will be here sooner or later, certain groups are allowed to profit from something because it serves a political purpose.  Economic benefits, while important, are not the whole story.  They are like military tactics, whereas political benefits are like strategy.  So certain people make money off the fact that television creates a passive and isolated populace, but other groups benefit from that fact politically.  They are the ones who enable it to be what it is.

The rich and powerful control television for their benefit.  However, as Wilhelmson points out when he critiques the classic Catholic misunderstanding of TV as a neutral tool, the medium itself creates passivity, regardless of its content.  Try to hold an intelligent conversation in a sports bar.  Try to hold any conversation.  Try not to be distracted by the TV screen.  Except for a three-year period in Germany when we lived in a furnished apartment, we have never had a TV in the 33 years we have been married, yet, while attending my wife in labor at the local hospital, I found it impossible not to watch the TV screen, even though I was fully aware that the birth of my children was more important than whatever soap opera was playing at the time.

I cite these examples to make a simple point: The medium is more powerful and more pernicious than any possible content it might convey.  Even if TV were programmed by saints, the net result over the long haul would be an increase of passivity and stupidity.  It should be obvious by now that television is manifestly not being run by saints, and so any “good” programming will invariably function as a Trojan horse.  It will act as a justification for bringing the TV into the house and have the same effect on oikos and ethnos as the eponymous Greek gift had on Troy.