JUNK OR JEWEL
Different scholars have had different opinions on the significance and scope of television in defining the public discourse and catapulting it to newer heights. So, often a clash of opinions is encountered. While Neil Portman in 1984 had very poignantly described in Amusing Ourselves to Death (Portman, 1984) that how the electronic media was doing everything for the sake of entertainment, Matt Quayle showed in The Method Of Medium Is In Motion how the same medium has changed and gotten enhanced stupendously to support public discourse over last twenty five years (Quayle, 2010). This essay analyzes the two works along with an online article to arrive at a suitable conclusion regarding the effect of television and other forms of multimedia technology on the delivery of news based on the study of three sources.
Let us begin the analysis with the instance of how massive a medium Internet is. On one hand, it is providing immense knowledge and even employment to millions. On the other, it is being misused efficiently by people who waste time on social networking sites, excessive gaming or being part of unethical practices like cyber crime. So, is the internet to be blamed here? Well, not at all. Similarly, television is one of the greatest inventions ever. It is a very strong medium of communication. But it has been used and misused both, shortly after its invention and coming of channels which telecasted TV shows, news and programs. Neil Portman considers it to be presenting “junk-entertainment and serve us most ill when it co-opts serious modes of discourse—news, politics, science, education, commerce, religion—and turns them into entertainment packages (Portman, page 159)”. But Quayle considers it to be a source which can “help everybody who watches TV for information, or produces TV as a career; which keeps us grounded and yet enables us to raise our game, and when we raise our game, we raise the level of the message contained within it (Quayle, 2010).” But the matter of fact is that the medium is a revolutionary one provided it is used wisely. This essay along with analyzing the point of views of the two writers, would aim at proving that it is a matter of viewer discretion as well as the strategies of directors, producers and writers of TV shows which makes or breaks the significance of the medium. A great change in the usage of television can be made with joint efforts of people and filmmakers. It can be a phenomenal medium is viewers and show makers choose to be relevant and wise rather than hungry of popularity.
AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH, AREN’T WE?
In the popular book by Neil Portman, there is no dearth of instances which prove that we have
indeed been amusing ourselves to death with television. It is an undeniable point from the writer that we are losing the significance of information in a sea of irrelevance (Portman, 1984). There are news channels which telecast useless cover stories and reports on happenings which rarely deserve the time and effort of viewers. There is a dramatic use of music and presentation techniques to make it look beautiful and sound perfect no matter if the quality of content is good or bad. He has written in the following Chapter 6 of Amusing ourselves to Death:
“Entertainment is the supra-ideology of all discourse on television. No matter what is depicted or from what point of view, the overarching presumption is that it is there for our amusement and pleasure. That is why even on news shows which provide us daily with fragments of tragedy and barbarism, we are urged by the newscasters to "join them tomorrow."
He has posed a question on why they take pleasure in presenting heart-breaking news and expect us to join them the nest day. Also, he is against the use of music embedded in almost all television programs are embedded in music (Portman, Chapter 6). To create emotions while one watches a sad piece of news- is that what televised news report should present? Dramatic shows? This aspect of news reports still bugs many who do not like news channels for being melodramatic. He has very strongly condemned the case of Christine Craft who was hired when she looked beautiful to audience and fired when she did not look promising (Portman, 1984). Is not that true today as well- news presenters are required to be very smart and well-groomed no matter they have a grasp of the subject they are dealing with or not. There are just brilliant speakers but not experts of subjects who discuss politics, education, business or entertainment.
One cannot deny that Portman’s views were right but that blame should go on people who made
such programs and those who watched such programs. The medium was misused and not optimized at all.
IS THE METHOS OF MEDIUM IS MOTION
In another point of view, Matt Quayle has argued that in twenty five years, the scenario has changed and television is now a brilliant medium of public discourse. He has specified that his work aimed at not to tear down what Postman built, but rather to build and expand on his conclusions in an attempt to prove that in 2010, and beyond, there is hope for a higher form of public discourse in the age of electronics (Quayle, Page 301). He has supported that now the television makes much better use of the medium to spread information. There are specific channels like "business news" like CNBC, Bloomberg, and the Fox Business Network to expand the information (Quayle, Page 301).
He has very strongly supported the idea that television can be used to broaden the spectrum of knowledge with the used of integrated technologies like live TV, calls, conferences, Internet etc to ask questions and doubts regarding a particular matter from experts (Quayle, Page 303). Giving the example of Warren Buffett in several aspects, he has tried to prove that Neil Portman’s analysis might have been applicable in 1984 but is not very correct in this age. He has also emphasized on the use of television for better discourse through examples of how television is used to cover lead stories and articles by eminent writers. Without any disrespect towards Portman, Quayle has asserted that there are alternatives to gain knowledge rather than amusing oneself to death through TV as it is moving and getting influential and is growing. He has also said that Portman’s work should be taken as a lesson on how to make television a better medium by avoiding the mistakes he outlined (Quayle, Page 310).
TELEVISION 6 THE REALITY OF TELEVISON
Television and delivery of news in dramatic and confined scope has lead to many negative repercussions. The way the American news reports portray Middle East and Muslims is not the complete truth (Teachmideast.com). This is not fair. The reality is that television shows including News channels work for gaining good TRP only. They aim at being popular rather than wise and hence show ‘filth’. The irrelevance they display is big enough to drown information as Portman has doubted. But, is not it the viewer who is to be blamed first? People don’t watch a show or news report unless it is spicy. Firstly, the people have to learn how to never watch useless shows with drama and choose only worthy ones, be it news or any other shows. This will gradually force the news makers to deliver news in simple and non-dramatic fashion. People should start demanding experts for delivery of news rather than good looking presenters. Viewer discretion can bring serious change in the kind of shows made for television. Also, the show makers must choose to be wise enough to show information, not junk on television. Else, real news would get lost and skipped like junk by viewers.
In conclusion, it is both the News show makers and viewers who are to be blamed why medium of television has reached a low point in significance. Both Portman and Quayle are right in their arguments but the analysis aims at moving towards a solution. When people would stop watching drama and go for real news (or shows), TV crew would become bound to present only worthy news reports without the filmy touch of musical background and a horde of good looking ‘amateur’ presenters. So, instead of blaming the medium, it’s time that people judge before they choose to watch anything and create ripples that reach those who make TV shows.
- Postman, Neil (1985). Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. USA
- TeachMidEast. ‘The Media and the Middle East’. Retrieved on April 15, 2013 From Web http://www.teachmideast.org/essays/26-stereotypes/49-the-media-and-the-middle-east
- Quayle, Matt (2010). ETC- The Method Of The Medium Is In Motion (Page 300- 310). Institute of General Semantics