Kingsolver on TV

I sometimes need someone else’s well chosen words to explain to me, and to explain to others, exactly how I feel.  Or, as Barbara Kingsolver says in here recently published book of essays entitled Small Wonders, someone else’s words can tell me something I suspected but never framed quite that way.

I have always felt that there is something wrong with the fact that most of us get our news from television.  In her essay “The One Eyed Monster, and why I don’t let him in” Barbara Kingsolver says “Television news is driven by compelling visuals, not by the intrinsic importance of the story being cast.  Complicated, non-photogenic issues requiring any considerable background information (global warming for example) get left out of the running every time.”

Television news shows compete with other television news shows -- and with everything else that is on television at the same time.  They therefore go for the jugular -- or, basically, they look for compelling visuals -- things that blow up, people who are dying, or who are being threatened with imminent death.  A long complicated piece about how certain parts of our world are warmer now than they were fifty years ago, or ten years ago, and the possible effects of such warming trends in the future -- such complicated issues don’t make for good television.

Barbara Kingsolver goes on to say “The overwhelming drive toward visuals in newscasting acts as powerful influence on which bits of information will reach us.  It also influences what we retain.  We are a predominantly visual species....our brains are carefully wired to put most stock in what they see, rather than what they hear.”

This must be true because although we hear, although we are told, over & over that the actual threat of a terrorist act affecting us is miniscule, we are still afraid to fly, still afraid to go the city we saw on television that was just bombed.  Seeing is believing, being told does not penetrate near as much as a picture penetrates.

Finally, as she explains: “It makes me wonder...why certain things are televised at all.  If our aim is to elect candidates on the basis of their stature, clothing, and facial expressiveness, then fine, we should look at them.  But if our intention is to evaluate their ideas, we should probably just listen & not look.  Give us one good gander and we’ll end up electing cheerleaders instead of careful thinkers.”

That says it all: give us one good gander & we’ll end up electing cheerleaders instead of careful thinkers.


Copyright 2004   Henry Morgenstein

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