All books originate somewhere and at a specific time. This one had its genesis during an afternoon's conversation with my friend Marty Seligman at his home just west of Philadelphia several summers ago. It was then that I decided to write a basic, readable book about television to clarify the nature of the medium and its relationship to society and culture.
The deeper sources that brought me to write this book were convoluted. For two-and-a-half decades, I have been exploring how the media arts of film and television both resemble and are different from the traditional arts. At the heart of this matter is the nature of art itself and its development during the course of the twentieth century. In recent years, I have also become increasingly interested in claims about media "effects" upon society and culture. I have been astonished to discover that so much that is believed about these so-called effects is so poorly reasoned.
Since that summer day when Marty and I had our long conversation, bipartisan congressional support passed the 1996 Telecommunications Act that was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. It mandates that V chips be installed in all new television sets sold in the United States so that certain programming can be blocked, and also requires a mandatory rating system for television programs. Underlying the Telecommunications Act are widespread myths about television, society, and culture that have been promoted for decades. While I see occasional glimpses of public and professional skepticism about these myths, they are nonethe-