Ever since the activity of watching TV became an integral part of people’s lives, it started to become increasingly clear to sociologists and psychologists that individuals’ exposure to TV programs has a strong effect on their cognitive predispositions and on their behavioral patterns.
In its turn, this prompted some researchers to suggest that this particular activity is not only being well capable of affecting the individuals’ sense of self-identity, but also endowing them with the qualitatively new ‘televised’ sense of self-identity. In the light of the recent discoveries in the fields of biology and genetics, however, this suggestion appears conceptually fallacious.
This is because, as of today, there can be few doubts as to the fact that the manner, in which people go about constructing their behaviorally observable self-identities, is being rather genetically than environmentally predetermined. Apparently, television can be best discussed in terms of an informational medium, which in turn implies that by watching TV, people are able to gain a better understanding of the surrounding reality.
What it means is that the actual content of TV programs is being reflective of viewers’ genetically predetermined mental predispositions to a much greater extent than their existential stances are being reflective of what they get to watch on TV screens.
In my paper, I will aim to explore the validity of this thesis at length, while exposing the erroneousness of many classical assumptions about the negative influence of television on people’s minds.
Nowadays, it became a commonplace practice among social scientists to discuss the effects of television on people in primarily negative terms. For example, it is being often suggested that by watching TV, individuals become stereotypical-minded, which usually gets to be manifested in their tendency to think of men and women’s societal roles, as being fundamentally different.
After all, it does not represent much of a secret that the majority of broadcasted movies and commercial ads do convey a subtle message that, psychologically speaking, men and women are not the same. According to Hess and Grant, “(On TV) males are generally characterized as engaging in instrumental behavior, while females are generally characterized as engaging in social-emotional behavior” (1983, p. 375).
This, of course, is not being welcomed by the hawks of political correctness, which go as far as suggesting that one’s affiliation with a particular gender has no societal effects, whatsoever.
Nevertheless, there are a number of good reasons to think that, by being prompted to stereotype gender-related behavior, people are able to gain a better understanding of themselves and others. This is because, one’s ability to stereotype implies his or her ability to define common patterns in a particular phenomena’s spatial development, which in turn increases the extent of the concerned individual’s existential fitness.
For example, those that are stereotyping crocodiles, as particularly vicious creatures, will not consider swimming in the river, filled with reptiles. Had they been unable to stereotype crocodiles, however, they would have done it.
Therefore, people’s tendency to stereotype should not be necessarily discussed in terms of a socially unproductive psychological trait. Quite on the contrary – the fact that television does encourage viewers to think of the representatives of an opposite gender, as such that are being endowed with qualitatively different social functions, does help them to adopt a discursively proper stance, while facing life-challenges.
This is because people’s ability to define objective differences between men and women’s psychological traits does help them to act in a socially appropriate manner – specifically, when the creation of families is being concerned.
After all, there is a plenty of empirical evidence as to the fact that it is specifically the factor of a low gender differentiation between men and women, which contributes to the rising rate of divorce among married couples in Western countries (Abela, 2001).
Therefore, it will only be logical to conclude that, contrary to what it is being commonly assumed, people’s exposure to the ‘gender-biased’ TV content does in fact increases their chances to attain social prominence, because it helps them to realize that the specifics of their gender affiliation do affect their sense of self-identity.
What is more, the activity of watching TV does not only help people to construct their self-identities, but it also enables them to preserve these identities, as well – in the literal sense of this word. The validity of this suggestion can be explored in regards to the effects of the COPS TV show on American viewers.
This is because, despite the fact that the advocates of political correctness encourage citizens to believe that the specifics of one’s racial affiliation are not being reflective of his or her tendency to commit crimes, the watching of the COPS show prompts viewers to consider the opposite (Rose, 2002).
After all, even though that the practice of racial profiling is being commonly denominated socially inappropriate, in the earlier mentioned TV show police officers do utilize the methodology of racial profiling, while catching criminals. Moreover, the practical deployment of this methodology appears thoroughly effective.
Consequently, no soberly minded Caucasian, who had watched COPS even once, will consider venturing into ethnic ‘ghettoes’, especially after it gets dark – just as no soberly minded person will consider jumping in the earlier mentioned hypothetical river, filled with crocodiles. This is exactly the reason why the COPS show continues being criticized by the advocates of political correctness.
Apparently, these individuals do not like the fact that this particular TV show actually helps people to save their lives (and consequently their sense of self-identity), instead of serving as a mere tool of ideological brainwashing, “TV programs such as Cops and America’s Most Wanted reduce crime to lessons in how to avoid becoming a crime victim or criminal rather than exposing crime as a product of political and economic forces which generate and designate criminal behavior” (Williams, 2006, p. 551).
As lawyers say – we rest our case.
Another common criticism of television is being concerned with the assumption that, due to the violent content of many broadcasted shows (such as COPS, for example), the concerned viewers are being naturally inclined to indulge in an aggressive behavior. For example, according to Jipguep and Sanders-Phillips, “Media diets high in violence increase aggression, fear, desentization, and appetites for more media violence” (2003, p. 385).
Nevertheless, the idea that it is specifically television that projects violence upon the society simply does not stand any ground. After all, violence never ceased being an integral part of people’s lives ever since the dawn of ages. The reason for this is simple – biologically speaking, the representatives of Homo Sapiens species are nothing but primates.
And, it is in the primates’ very nature to act violently, while striving to impose dominance upon each other – especially when they experience the shortage of food (natural resources). As it was noted by Dixson, “’Dominance’ in various primate species has been used to indicate priority of access to food, water, sexual or grooming partners, as well as to indicate superiority in aggressive and social-sexual encounters” (1980, p. 39).
Therefore, by being exposed to the televised violence, viewers simply gain a better understanding of what they really are. However, there are no scientifically substantiated reasons to believe that this is being potentially capable of increasing the acuteness of primeval anxieties in viewers – hence, making them more comfortable with the notion of violence.
On the contrary – the foremost precondition of people deciding in favor of acting in a socially-productive manner is their realization of the fact that there is an irrational ‘monkey’ inside of them, which needs to be confronted rationally.
Moreover, the activity of watching violent TV shows does not only benefit viewers, in a respect of how it helps them to gain a better understanding of their true selves, but it also makes it easier for them to comprehend the true discursive significance of the surrounding social-cultural reality’s emanations.
After all, it is a well-known fact that, for the duration of the last few decades, people in Western countries never ceased being indoctrinated to believe in the validity of a number of sophistically sounding but utterly meaningless politically correct euphemisms, the very utterance of which is supposed to ‘fix’ the implicational subtleties of semiotics in question (Giroux, 2006).
However, the application of politically correct euphemisms does not change the factual essence of the concerned ‘negative’ semiotics, “A bully who formerly used the word retarded as a term of scorn can just as easily use the euphemism differently-abled as a term of scorn by using a malicious tone of voice” (O’Neill, 2011, p. 282).
Therefore, people’s exposure to the politically incorrect violence on TV can be considered rather therapeutic, because it is being potentially capable of helping them to ‘digest’ politically correct notions, without sustaining any cognitive of perceptional damage, as a result.
What else can be considered a positive effect of television on the process of people coming to terms with their self-identities is that, by watching TV viewers strengthen their awareness of themselves, as social beings.
In other words, television facilitates the process of viewers becoming ever more attuned to the realities of a post-industrial living, which cannot be discussed outside of how the ever increased amounts of technology-driven socialization between individuals endows them with the sense of a ‘shared’ identity, as humans – hence, increasing the extent of their existential adequateness.
By being exposed to the televised events, people grow to recognize the sheer irrelevancy of a number of different moral and religious dogmas.
This naturally prompts them to expand their intellectual horizons, which increases the measure of their psychological adjustment to the process of Globalization, as such that is being partially concerned with freeing individuals of many illusions, as to what may be considered the actual purpose of their existence, in the first place.
The validity of this statement can be well illustrated in regards to the phenomenon of a so-called ‘reality TV’ becoming ever more popular with viewers. According to Deery, “Reality TV represents, among other things the triumph of the market, the notion that everyone as well as everything has its price and that people will do pretty much anything for money” (2004, p. 2).
Even though there are clearly defined negative undertones to the earlier quotation, the fact remains – people will indeed do anything for money.
Those who will not, due some moralistic considerations, on their part, will simply ‘extinct’ (allegorically speaking) – in full accordance with the ‘survival of the fittest’ principle, which applies to humans as much as it applies to plants and animals. The sooner citizens realize this – the more they will be likely to adopt a proper approach, while striving to ensure their material and emotional well-being.
Thus, we can say that in many respects, television acts as a ‘surrogate teacher’ that helps people to become emotionally comfortable with a number of self-evident truths, which due to their controversial sounding are not being taught in schools and colleges.
Yet, as it was shown earlier, the realization of these truths is vital not only within the context of how people go about forming their views of themselves, but also within the context of how they allow these views to affect their position in life.
What has been said earlier, however, does imply that the way in which television contributes to the process of people becoming ever more self-aware should only be discussed in positive terms. After all, it is a well-known fact that individuals who are being overly preoccupied with watching TV, tend to lead socially withdrawn lifestyles (Mittell, 2000).
Nevertheless, it is important to understand that, as time goes on, more and more people will resort to television, as a tool of forming their worldviews. Such an eventual development is being predetermined by the very laws of history, which actually define the qualitative essence of the process of the realities of a post-industrial living becoming ever more technologically intense.
The earlier provided arguments, as to what can be considered the effects of television on how people go about constructing and maintaining their sense of self-awareness, can be summarized as follows:
- Television helps individuals realize the societal implications of their gender affiliation. In its turn, this makes them more capable of adopting a proper stance, while socializing with the representatives of an opposite gender.
- Television helps people to adequately address life-challenges. By watching TV, they learn how to distinguish scientifically valid assumptions about life from those based upon wishful thinking.
- Television increases the extent of people’s existential competitiveness. By being exposed to the televised violence, individuals become more comfortable with the idea that the notion of life is being synonymous with the notion of a perpetual struggle.
- Television educates individuals on what should be considered the fundamental nature of their identity-related anxieties and aspirations. By watching TV, people are able to enhance their understanding of Darwinian Theory of Evolution; as such, that fully applies to the representatives of Homo Sapiens species.
- Television makes people more comfortable with the realities of a post-industrial living. By watching TV, individuals grow more capable of identifying the practical implications of currently predominant socio-political discourses.
I believe that the deployed line of argumentation, in regards to the discussed subject matter, is being thoroughly consistent with the paper’s initial thesis.
Abela, A 2001, ‘Who wants divorce?: Marriage values and divorce in Malta and Western Europe’, International Review of Sociology, vol. 11 no. 1, pp. 75-87.
Deery, J 2004, ‘Reality TV as advertainment’, Popular Communication, vol. 2 no. 1, pp. 1-20.
Dixson, A 1980, ‘Androgens and aggressive behavior in primates: A review’, Aggressive Behavior, vol. 6 no. 1, pp. 37-67.
Giroux, H 2006, ‘Academic freedom under fire: The case for critical pedagogy’, College Literature, vol. 33 no. 4, pp. 1-42.
Hess, D & Grant, G 1983, ‘Prime-time television and gender-role behavior’, Teaching Sociology, vol. 10 no. 3, pp. 371-388.
Jipguep, C & Sanders-Phillips, K 2003, ‘The context of violence for children of color: Violence in the community and in the media’, The Journal of Negro Education, vol. 72 no. 4, pp. 379-395.
Mittell, J 2000, ‘The cultural power of an anti-television metaphor: Questioning the “plug-in drug” and a TV-free America’, Television & New Media, vol. 1 no. 2, pp. 215-238.
O’Neill, B 2011, ‘A critique of politically correct language’, Independent Review, vol. 16 no. 2, pp. 279-291.
Rose, W 2002, ‘Crimes of color: Risk, profiling, and the contemporary racialization of social control’, International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, vol. 16 no. 2, pp. 179-205.
Williams, J 2006, ‘Sustaining power through reality TV discourse’, Critical Sociology, vol. 32 no. 2-3, pp. 541-555.