progress, advertisement and television
progress is what we all desire and strive for. from the dwelling in the caves to the present day, the mankind has been making progress. but how will we define progress. for one thing it is called conquest of nature. in economic terms, the progress consists of turning the unproductive goods to productive goods. it started with the growing of crops. the wild grain found fit for eating was cultivated. so also with other crops which are used for various purposes – for example cotton for cloth; on the industrial side, the vast amount of iron ore is of no use unless it is converted into cast iron and steel. steel has further to be converted into goods to make it more valuable and desirable. the next step has been to invent gadgets which will reduce burden on man. there is no end to such inventions and thus the progress is often described as a one way unending street.
this process is described as if it happened by accident, without purpose. but look deeply and you will find that some people benefit more than others from a particular type of social formation. such persons naturally try to consolidate their position. over hundred of years, the development becomes more monolithic, more dominant, more difficult to reverse. let us take an example - harnessing of energy. burning of wood provided the energy universally. then came oil stoves, then electric utilities, nuclear energy. each technology was an advance on others but the oil stoves gave power to the oil companies who vociferously argued against the wood burning. electric utilities give power to the manufacturers of such gadgets who stress their advantages over the oil stoves. likewise the nuclear energy producers try to belittle the role of all other forms of energy citing its long life and quicker deliveries. we will return to this aspect a little later.
meanwhile we will pursue another line. these products, once they are available have to be used. some things are so basic that the demand will be heavy and can barely be met but then there are things which do not appear to be necessary for life. let us examine the scene at the end of the second world war. the scene is set in united states.
the end of the war brought the fear of depression with unemployment growing as the soldiers came back. though the military production is even now important, it saw reduction post war. the solution was two fold. colonialism was passé but a new way was found via aid programme for less developed countries by reaching agreements which ensured procurement of raw material. to this purpose, client governments were created, where necessary. but the production had to be sold also. not all of it could be exported and the available material had to be directed towards local markets.
this was where the idea of changing the psyche of people came in. consumerism was propagated like never before.. this was also the time to idealize the nuclear family. separate families meant separate home, separate cars, separate washing machines and so on. the normal household equipment went electrical operated on electricity or on batteries. filling the house with gadgets became the modern version of nirvana. buy now, pay later became the watchword
while united states led in this drive, the other countries followed or were made to follow. one simple design was that progress was expressed in terms of gross domestic product. more you produce, higher is the gdp and hence faster is the progress.
as the next logical step, consider the following. the steel is there and it is converted into cars, but then it will be necessary to convince people that the car is necessary for life. if we cannot do that, the car will be uneconomic product, just a waste of so much material and labour. that is where advertisement comes in. since there is no restriction on who can make a car when the need for it has been established, there is a need to convince the perspective customer which one would be better. that is where the advertisement comes in again.
it is, one may say, oldest profession. the priest had to advertise that life is temporary, which was a common enough experience, and he had to advertise that there is afterlife. having convinced man about that, he was free to provide solutions for the afterlife. it prospered into various rituals, sermons and the like. but the things were simple and most of it was done by word of mouth and through printed words when the printing was invented. the advertisement was limited. the wants of the people were limited, the availability of goods needed were available nearby. one could know about them locally.
this did not satisfy the producer. as his production expanded, he looked around for wider markets. when he did not find them nearer home, he ventured further afield. when the new areas discovered or covered did not appreciate the goods brought for sale, coercion had to be applied. this is the genesis of colonialism. take the raw material, convert it into a product and sell it off at a handsome profit. the profit motive needed cut in costs of production. this has led to large scale slavery, or exploitation as the marxists would call it.
television was invented in twenties of the nineteenth century but it was practically unknown till the end of the second world war. advertisers woke up to its potential only in the fifties. in 1946, the total bill of advertisers in the united states was $ 3 billion. it grew up to $30 billion by 1975. most of this increase went in the television. within ten years of its introduction to advertising sixty percent of advertising expenses went to television.
just what caused this spurt? advertisement is seen as the means to establish (1) the need for a product and (2) the need for a particular make of the product. the underlying argument is that this means industrial expansion, and rapid economic growth, the consumption economy benefits every one. it is a cycle. more consumption means more jobs, more jobs mean more money to spend and so on. more gadgets mean more happiness. it was argued that eventually the benefits will trickle down and every one will be rich and, of course, happy.
television has been hailed as the discovery of century when you can convey your message to lakhs of viewers simultaneously. the television became all pervasive. it saw rapid expansion. in a short time, television has made deep penetration throughout india. its coverage has jumped up from 54 % in 2013 to 64 % in 2017 while the viewership has gone up from 67.5 crores to 78 crores in the same period. there are 18.3 crores houses with television of which 9.9 crores are in rural area and 8,4 crores in urban areas. television advertisement income has gone up from rs. 8323 crores in 2005 to 27,378 crores in 2016 and showing a similar growth tendency in 2017. the only matching competitor is digital advertising which is up from rs. 2530 crores in 2013 to 7300 crores in 2016. the estimated revenue from all the advertisements in 2016 was rs 54,864 crores which is expected to grow up to 99,167 crores by year 2021. television advertisement counts for 44.7 % of total expenditure on advertisement with print media as a distant second. given these figures, television appear to be the ideal medium to propagate your message. advertisement has become a big business. it is estimated that 0.45 percent of gdp is spent on advertising. it should therefore be the ideal medium to push through the messages which the government or the private industry or the service providers want to,
the trickle down theory has been referred to above as justification of consumerism. does it really work out like that? have people been happier? have the benefits trickled down? united states has been at the apex of this consumerism. let us examine its position. it has 41.6 percent of total wealth in the world (2015 figures according to fortune). its gini coefficient is 88.56 (zero means perfect equality and 100 perfect inequality – one person owning entire wealth). in personal income, it is third highest – 40 (after brazil and mexico - but maxico has come down from 58 in 1976 to 41 in 2008). [india does not fare well in this comparison. in income disparity, it has gone up from 42 in 1980 to 58 in 2005. while in wealth the gini coefficient was 66.9 in year 2000).
this concentration of wealth is playing havoc with the social systems. in india top one percent have 22 % of wealth. top ten percent hold 56 % of wealth in 2014 while the share of next 40 % has come down from 47 % in 1980 to 28 % in 2014. remaining 50 % have obviously only 16 % of wealth. in united states the situation is worse. top one percent hold 36.7 % of total wealth and next 19 % hold 52.2 % meaning that top 20 % have 87 % of total wealth. (within the top one percent also, there are wide variations as you go to the top). most of the wealth and income of these top one percent comes from capital gains.
to get back to our concern about television, while advertisements hog the television time intensifying the consumerism and all programmes including news revolve around advertisements. the television has other negative points also. let us consider these.
why do people watch television, often on an average four hours a day? (barc survey in india in october 2016 revealed average time spent on television as 3 hours 46 minutes. should have gone up since then). some, a miniscule, do it for educational purposes, receiving instructions for a particular subject. they then work out the exercises based on the information received. others see it for relaxation after a hard day's work. they are tired from the effort put in earlier and seek to renew their minds for the next round of the task. some see it only for time pass. they are not followers of the programme and look upon it merely as a way to spend time.
what effects do these modes of viewing produce. the educational purpose appears to be a stimulus for thinking over the problems posed and is akin to attending a class. apart from the light conditions, the experience is similar. so far as time pass is concerned, it is only self delusion because the programme is interrupted by advertisements which unconsciously pass into mind and makes impressions there. the mind is active and the effects are indirect. in so far as relaxation is concerned, the same process applies. mind is not at rest and recuperation therefore does not take place. it is merely substitution of one sequence of thought with another sequence of thoughts. in yoga and other meditation methods, the emphasis is on emptying the mind because without that new ideas cannot enter the mind. the emptying of mind produces relaxation and the process of rejuvenation starts. in meditation, the ideas may be substituted but otherwise, also, the mind is able to receive new ideas or work on the old ideas with new vigour. it is the same process as with body. the body, when tired, needs relaxation, which may even come by having another type of task like playing. even if there is physical exhaustion in some games, the net effect is to prepare the body for more serious effort elsewhere. watching television does not allow you to empty your mind because new images are flooding it. some of them may skip away and some may slip in but it does not mean rejuvenation.
why is that? television believes in visuals and, on top of that, out of way visuals. discourses are anathema. groups try to break a police cordon, it is shown. the same people with the same demand may sit on dharna for a week and not a single media reporter will visit them. more often than not, the discomfort felt by some due to procession will receive more attention than the procession itself much less the issue for the procession. some argue that the message is communicated indirectly through these avenues. but does it produce sympathy or disgust or, even worse, apathy to the cause. the media action merges with the fictional program that followsand which negates any feelings which may have been generated.
spectator sports are excellent especially if they provide plenty of time for advertisements (for example cricket). so are circuses, elections, or any spectacles in which the focus is outward and interpersonal exchange is subordinated to mass experience. even though it is a crowd, in reality they separate people from each other. in fact the entire life style becomes such that it emphasizes separateness. mental experience is encouraged while sensory pleasure is driven into narrow areas (such as sex). it is endeavoured that all knowledge is impersonal. the net effect is that entire effort is that the minds should be occupied with pre arranged experience and thoughts. the knowledge and information should be centralized. the ultimate aim to have philosophies which are arbitrary and avoid too much of contact with nature.
in the past, the man was intimately connected with nature. he was surrounded by it and had to experience it at every turn. this manifested itself in many ways. nature based religions were concrete involving direct observation, totally functional and integrated perceptual systems that see things as they are and experience life directly - person to person, person to planet, person to self. when they speak of responsibility, they do not distinguish responsibility to self and responsibility towards the group. one cannot be separated from the other. the progress of civilization has meant distance from nature and from each other. the western way of thinking lays undue importance on individual. the natural environment is transferred into secondary, artificial and abstracted forms.
does the photograph of a painting produce the same effect on you as the painting itself. even if the photo is of the same size as the original painting, the effect is not the same. something is missing. walter benjamin, a critic calls it 'the aura'. the painting somehow carries with it the artist in a subtle way. the same thing happens when goods are advertised on the television. they have no aura. it is why the advertiser has to create drama around it. when one meets a person, he is impressed by him because of his aura. in photo this is missing.
same thing happens with images of experienced things and figures. osho said, in one of his parvachans, that a man bows his head when passing in front of a temple. he does not go in, nor does even see the idol but still the bow is there, the same feeling does not come when he passes in front of a mosque though that is also a religious place. this is due to the image of god which he carries in his mind. he sees the god in his mind through the image conveyed at an earlier period which is not visible at the present time.
according to malafouris and other writers, mind is embodied, extended, and distributed rather than being brain bound or "all in the head". even if the brain rejects the image presented before us, the mind still registers it. we know very well that if aamir is advocating that coca cola is a great thing, he is doing it because he is paid to do so. even so when the question of buying a cold drink comes up, his projected preference influences us to buy it because the image of its approval is with us. the television visuals, then. can force us to make irrational decisions. this can be more evident in the case of choosing our representative in the elections.
it is well known that many children and the adults use the solutions presented on screen as worthy of being put in practice in real life. a report prepared by national institute of health in united states states that ".... practical knowledge and methods of problem solving lead the list of knowledge acquired through television programmes .... and literally more than the social thinkers and behaviourial scientists have recognized".
suppose as an example, the news carry the tale of a bank robbed with visual details on the bank. you, an employee in the same branch, know that it is a fake news but how many of viewers will think so. there was a photo of smooth roads in a state on the television and everyone was impressed till some one pointed out, the signboard said "new york 50". the story about the photographs of mass destruction weapons in iraq shown in no less important venue than united nations proved to be non existent. all these misleading issues point to the irrationality of photos assumed to be correct depiction of facts.
it is a common experience that unusual scenes attract more attention than the daily images which you see. hate, fear, jealousy, whining and violence is seen more than loving, caring, sharing and warmth in the television soaps. no programme can be built on the positive side of life. in the cricket matches, the camera often focuses on the persons who have come in fancy dress and design. it only encourages others to do the same. ordinary viewer enjoying the game is hardly ever shown. the bias is towards the coarse, the bold and the obvious. one can recall the soliloquy in actors on a drama which his fellow actors do not hear or are not expected to hear. similar is the experience on the television.
another common experience is the confusion and divorce of sensory organs. when a phone rings, you are not sure if it is in the television set or in the house, if the visual is fuzzy, you depend on the commentator to know what is what. there is divorce between aural and visual image.
there is a novel 'being there' by jerzy korinski (believed to be a plagarised version of polish novel 'the career of nikodem dyzmy' by tadeusz dolega-mostowicz) in which the hero (or rather the non hero) chance the gardener has no experience of life except what is on the television. he is accidentally exposed to life and he is, mistakenly, taken as chauncey gardiner by a well connected family. his replies to the questions are typically television style. he is a typical humanoid. his cryptic remarks make him advisor to the president of united states and a mystery man who is investigated by russian and american secret services. the novel is an satirical version of what television can do to a person - produce a person without feeling and with mechanical responses - but it does score a point.
you will be able to find viewers who are bored with television and yet keep watching it. this is a hypnotic-addictive quality of television. most of these techniques are developed by the advertising men. outside the television, you can learn by observation. even if you are seeing a garden for the fiftieth time, the observation still leads to something new. television merely provides repetitive experience. ordinary life contains peaks and valleys of experience, high and lows, long period of dormancy, many periods of quietness, indecision, ambiguity. all these fit into a wide pattern that is the way life is actually lived. television only focuses on peaks. the producer uses them to keep the audience with him.
these hyperactive scenes create hyperactivity in the children who are watching these scenes. the hyperactivity, in its turn, cause the span of attention to shorten and also reduce the ability to absorb the information which is coming at such a rapid base. the advertisements, having no real content and no inherent interest, have to build drama around the product. it is estimated that the cost of production of one minute of advertisement is ten times that of a regular programme. advertisers are the high artists of television. sometimes it is even said that programmes should not be so interesting as to take the attention away from the advertisements or else the sponsors will fall off. non commercial television is known to fare badly on the viewership. rates for advertisements are low accordingly. on such public television programmes, the advertisements normally appear at the beginning and end of the programme, not in-between, and never too many.
the news broadcasting channels are in a quandary. if they present the news as they are, there is no chance of meeting even the expenses. for this reason, they have to concentrate on bizarre news or to make the presentation of the ordinary news bizarre. the fact that this deprives the viewers of valid news is of no importance since the aim is not to inform the public but to make money. there may be exceptions but the general rule is that.
a tribal dance is a slow event. rhythm and movement takes time to settle in. madhai dance in bastar lasts the whole night and so does the thabal chongba dance of manipur. their presentation in television will not have the same effect because television is fit for fast movements only. they can be exhibited only if their movements are faster and match the frenzy of such dances as ramba and disco. in other words they must give up their culture to make a mark on the television viewers. the other way is to drop the folk dances in favour of solo performances. someone defined folk dance as a dance by the community in which the participants join when they feel like it and leave off when they would. this will not suit the viewers so we can forget about the folk dances being a popular or a sponsored event.
can television be eliminated. the answer to that from even the sympathizers of the idea is likely to be "i could not agree with you more, but you do not really believe you will succeed".
in brief the arguments against television are
· televisions are addictive.
· television is a form of sense deprivation causing disorientation in time, place, history.
· television suppresses and replaces creative human imagery, and encourages mass passitivity.
· television limits and confines human knowledge.
· by centralising experience, television replaces environment.
· the cost of television broadcast dampens the idea of competition and hence of democracy.
it is argued quite frequently that it is for the man to see that the technology is used for the benefit of mankind and that, in itself, technology is neutral. this is subject to examination. are the technologies neutral? can they be used in a benign fashion or badly as per human decision? the real fact is that many of the technologies choose their own environment. a casual consideration will show it. can we imagine life without electricity now? can we imagine life without power driven vehicles?
the dangerous aspect of technology is mainly that it comes to be controlled by a few at the cost of many. the ordinary person has no say in choosing of technology. the nuclear power is an example everyone talks of its harmful effect not only for the exiting life but for thousands of years to come. yet it prospers. other examples can be genetic engineering, cloning and neutron bombs. in fact any technology which is beyond democratic control is dangerous. even centralised banking system, removing person to person contact and letting machines take over is dangerous.
how does television compare with print media in communicating information. print media expresses much greater depth, complexity, change of mood, subtlety and detail than the television. books, written in much slower rhythms can convey these even better though the trend now a days is to have fast changing situations in books also following the dictates of the television. of course, the books cannot compete with direct exposure but then everyone is not in a position to be exposed to, say, tribal life. the only viable alternative can be the internet which still lets the individual decide what and when to watch. but then it shuts out the local events. a medium which allows us to be in touch with neighbourhood would be more desirable. stricter control over advertisements would lead to better life. with restricted exposure to television, learning would replace brainwashing to which we are subjected to by the channels.
(the provocation for the write up came from the book "four arguments for elimination of television" by jerry mander (published 2017 banyan tree, indore– originally published in usa 1977. the idea is supplemented, replaced, modified by information from many other sources)