'The Impact of Television on Human Relationships' - Live Dialogue

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Yusuf Progler

Ramadan 28, 1424 2003-11-23

by Yusuf Progler

Dialog Description

Is TV bad for your health?
How does TV impact human relationships?
What role does TV play as a member of Muslim families?


The Impact of Television on Human Relationships



Guest Name:

Yusuf Progler



Start Date/Time:

Sunday, November 23, 2003 12:00 ET

End Date/Time:

Sunday, November 23, 2003 1:00 ET

Posted Questions and Responses




Television is a modern invention, like many other inventions such as the automobile, telephone, refridgerator and computer, but are there any specific effects of television on human relationships in addition to any general effects as a modern invention. In other words, what is special about television?


Salam and thank you for the great question. You are right, television is in many ways just another modern invention. In fact, it is interesting to compare how many times people talk about the impact of TV compared to the impact of other modern inventions. I think that comparison would should that far more people are concerned, for some reason, with the impact of TV on society than they are for other things like cars and phones. This mighty say something about the ambivalence of TV in our lives, compared to the unquestioned acceptance of other inventions, maybe it is that TV seems optional, whereas we "need" cars and phones. But that avoids the question of, whether or not we need or desire something, what impact it is having. Since we are talking about TV here, I won't dwell too much on the inventions, but I think your question raises an important point, that we ought not to just look at TV when we want to evaluate the impact of a modern invention on our lives, and that we ought to take a broader perspective. But as for TV, there are some relatively unique aspect, only some of which are more recently getting coopted into computers. And TV shared some effects of its earlier cousin, the radio. But it seems that TV straddles that fence between the monochromatic blind world of radio and the hyperactive multimedia world of the internet. Imagery is the key to understanding TV, and there are several angles we could select in order to evaluate the impact of this imagery on our lives. We could look at biological or physiological impacts, or we could look at cultural or social impacts, even political and economic. Physiologically, we would have to look at what it means to stare for hours on end at a fixed point in space, at a point which is emanating a complex array of colorful and ever-changing beams of light. And we could also ponder the impact on our eyesight of staring at a light, any light, for hours on end. Remaining in the realm of physiology for a moment, we could link up TV to things like obesity, which has been done in a number of studies that you can find surfing the net. It makes common sense, anyway, since TV requires that you sit still for a while, and many of the commercial message on TV are for junk food, so add the two up - junk food and sitting around a lot - and you can get obese. TV also has a flat, two dimensional image, which is something strange to look at in the broad scope of human history. Sure, people looked at cave etchings and oil paintings, but probably not for the many hours a day that statistics tell us people today (especially Americans) stare at the images of TV. So there are many useful areas to begin a study of the physiological effects of TV, and that does not even get us into the realm of culture and society, which is where we conscious consume those images, and try to process them or make sense of them, to get at the symbolic dimension of this imagery. Since TV is image laden, and favors the eye, we can link it to self image, that the people we see on TV are some how suggesting ways of living and looking that we may feel attracted to, consciously or unconsciously. Just look at the fads in language, dress, gesticulation that come out of American sit-coms like Friends, and you will see what I am getting at. TV images model or suggest ways of life for us, but at the same time those ways of life or phoney or unattainable for most human beings, they are part of a fantasy or dreamworld. This is not to say that fantasies and dreams do not impact reality - they do - but it is important to remember that much of TV is a fantastic dream. We could turn this over and look at another angle, the impact of TV as a medium of storytelling. Human beings love stories, we love to tell stories and we love to listen to stories, that is perfectly natural and part of our makeup. But the innovation of TV is that those stories are being told by an inreasingly smaller minority of people how actually have access to the medium a




Salaam Alaikum. Is the impact of television universal for all societies, or is there a different impact for each society? Thank you.


Salam, if you refer to my previous answer you will find some clues to answering this question. Some of what might term the impact of TV does seem to be universal, perhaps the physiological consumption of imagery, while other parts might be more culture specific, such as the way we make meaning out of those images. In the early days, TV programmers were not that sophisticated and what went on TV reflected the whims and wherefores of the producers and corporate sponsors. People acccepted it because it was a new fad, watching TV. But as the gleem of the new machine wore off, advertisers and producers became more sophisticated and began to targer their wares to specifically defined - and very carefully researched - audiences. This can be within a culture, to which the rigid age segregation of American attests, or it can be across cultures, as in customized advertisments to suit local tastes, or selectively cloning American TV programs with a local twist (the Kuwaiti version of South Park leaps to mind here). So, to give you a short answer, yes and no, TV has some potentially universal impact and some potentially culture-specific impact. Let's look a little more at the culture specific impact of TV. As we know, there are different norms of behavior in different societies, and in the past these were more or less negotiated by the people living in that society, who worked out responses to innovations - which were slow and few - in ways that made sense in their own cultural context. In the media age, we see an entirely different factor emerging, the compression of both space and time. Now, it is effortless to consume images from vastly different cultures and societies in an instant, and to continuous update and rotate that consumption. I think people have always been susceptible to fads and trends, but the new thing here is the utter speed and frequency of these fads and trends, and the ability to import completely different sorts of images and behaviors into new cultural settings in the blink of an eye. On this count, the advertisers and producers are way ahead of the consumers, they are already thinking up ways to sell us next year's products and programs before we have even had time to make sense of last year's. It sounds sort of schizophrenic when framed in this way, and, well, it is sort of schizophrenic. Asking the question, "Who am I?" used to be a meaningful and gradual life question, but it seems in the TV age that question is getting asked and answered again and again on almost a daily basis, depending on the quantity and quality of images we consume. That, too, deserves deep thought, and rather than spell things out point by point for you, I suggest that you meditate on this at length, and you may come to your own answers. From another angle, TV has become essential for social control. Think of the how pervasive "the news" has become, and how different news agencies - along with their corporate and government sponsors (the two of which are increasingly difficult to keep separate) - are competing for our hearts and minds. Take al-Jazeera Satellite TV as a case in point, the Americans attacked it openly during their invasion of Iraq, uncomfortable with the availability of competing images and the threat to total mind control that this new player in the media game posed. But at the same time, and along side its competition with things like CNN as far as interpretation of the news, al-Jazeera is virtually uniform in style and format to CNN and other American news agencies. It's advertising and programming, whatever the opinions voiced might be, are operating within a well-established and very narrow set of norms that were laid down by full time news pioneers like CNN. The advertisements, despite the occasional man in dishdash or woman in hijab, are virtually identical in style and message to their American counterparts, and the overall message is to consume, both information and lifestyles. In that they are basically the same.

Courtesy: www.msanet.org

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