Where Is Television Going?

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Many social critics now correlate, as does James T. Laney, “the … change of behavior so visible and audible across the land” with the coming to adulthood of the children of a mass-media age (see Laney, “The New Morality and the Religious Communities,” Annals of the American Academy of Political Science, Jan., 1970).

Television’s impact, they say, goes far to account for the widening revolt against traditional moral and religious views. With prime time projected mainly for commercial reward, network programs reflect no composite values. One recalls the remark of Yama, the god of death, in Robert Zelasny’s Lord of Light (Mercury, 1967): “Lying? Who asked you to lie about anything? Quote them the Sermon on the Mount if you want. Or something from Popul Voh, or the Iliad. I don’t care what you say. Just stir them up a bit, soothe them a little. That’s all I ask.”

It was the ancient Sophists for whom dramatic impact meant more than truth, and it is dramatic impact in which television specializes.

More than thirty years ago Pitirim A. Sorokin warned against the flowering of “commercial amusement” that is “more and more divorced from truly cultural values and turns into an empty art known euphemistically as ‘art for art’s sake,’ at once amoral, nonreligious, and nonsocial, and often antimoral, antireligious and antisocial” (The Crisis of Our Age, Dutton, 1942, p. 19).

We live near the climax of such a generation, one in which the mass media have abetted the saturation of modern society with sexual motifs. By depicting borderline decency and sin itself with great technical artistry, periodically exalting the prostitute-actress among the captivating personalities of our day, and routinely intruding sexually permissive and multi-divorced ...

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