Television, Movies, and More
By the mid-1970s about half of the American households had two or more television sets. The sets had become, in historian Cecelia Tichi's words, the home's "electronic hearth," the focal point in a room. Viewers absorbed their radiating warmth and flickering images. They were also a home's window to the world, as the programs and commercials shaped viewers' needs, interests, habits, and values. Television's manipulated portrayals of reality became indistinguishable from reality itself.1 "As seen on TV..." validated claims and opinions.
Given television's dominant role in American life, it is not surprising that its images altered viewers' ways of apprehending the world. In contrast to the way one reads--from left to right across a line, top of the page to the bottom, page after page--television follows no predictable or essential lines. Viewers move quickly, not necessarily randomly but seemingly so, from one scene to another with subtle transitions or no transitions at all. Reading is another matter: One learns to read books, magazines, and newspapers, typically going through "readingreadiness" exercises and then moving from elementary to more complex material.
No one learns to watch television. Many programs, and particularly commercials, are designed to simultaneously hold the attention of 6-year- olds, 16-year-olds, and 60-year-olds. As television holds viewers' attention hour after hour it becomes what Marie Winn has labeled "the plug-in drug." Viewers may not be in a perpetual state of stupor--perhaps they cheer about what they see or talk back to those they hear--