Wellsprings of Our Discontent with Television
Criticism of television have been woven together into a tight package of received ideas about the "dangers" of this medium since the 1960s. The sources of these suspicions about television are many, and the ideas upon which they are based have been repeatedly refined. In this chapter, I have selected four figures whose thinking has been seminal in forming the societal and cultural fears that are widely expressed toward television.
In 1964, a Canadian professor named Marshall McLuhan published a bestseller entitled Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. The volume consisted of a series of essays in which McLuhan declared television to be a "cool medium," differentiating it from both print and film. "The film image," he wrote, "offers many more millions of data per second, and the viewer does not have to make the same drastic reduction of items to form his impression. He tends instead to accept the full image as a package deal. In contrast, the viewer of the TV mosaic with technical control of the image, unconsciously reconfigures the dots into an abstract work of art on the pattern of a Seurat or Rouault."1
Just over a decade before McLuhan Understanding Media was published, on a summer afternoon in 1953, my grandmother took me to a movie matinee at the Palace Theater in Albany, New York. It was a memorable occasion. The movie was a western and it was in 3-D! I recall neither the movie's title nor the actual process of putting on the plastic glasses that I had to wear to watch it. I do remember that the plastic glasses had to be returned in the lobby after the movie was over. What I still have clear in my memory was the scene of a barroom brawl