I touched on the lack of substance found in Hollywood movies these days in a previous post, but the meme above started me thinking about how other media, television in particular, contributes to “the dumbing down of America”.
American television is a very powerful medium. For proof of this fact, look no further than the 1960 presidential election between then-Vice-President Richard Nixon and then-Senator John F. Kennedy. The 1960 campaign featured the first televised presidential debate leading up to the general election, simulcast on the radio.
The radio audience thought Nixon, the more polished politician of the two, won the debate. However, television audiences thought Kennedy was the clear winner. While radio audiences could only focus on what the candidates were saying, television audiences witnessed a pale, sweaty Nixon (suffering from a leg infection) in contrast to a tanned, tall, and handsome Kennedy.
It appeared to television audiences that Nixon wasn’t honest and that Kennedy was strong and unflustered, despite Nixon better articulating his plans for the nation if elected president. Kennedy obviously won the 1960 election (barely) and many historians point to this first television debate as a key influence on the electorate. Just prior to the 1960 election, the percentage of Americans who owned at least one television surpassed the percentage of Americans who didn’t own a television.
My point in bringing up the 1960 election is to show that television is a far greater influence on the masses than books or even radio could ever be.
One of my favorite movies is Network (1976) starring the late Peter Finch as a network news anchor who has a mental breakdown during a live broadcast and goes on a rant that spikes the network’s ratings, which leads to the network giving him his own show to go on ranting.
Side note: Peter Finch posthumously won the Oscar for best actor for his role as network news anchor Howard Beale.
One of Beale’s rants perfectly encapsulates how television dumbs down society:
(Source: Wikiquote. org https://en.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/Network_%28film%29)
I find it both fascinating and disconcerting that this quote is so prophetic that it is as relevant today as it was in 1976, if not more relevant.
The meme at the top of this post refers to the television show A Different World, a spin-off of The Cosby Show that initially followed the Denise Huxtable character (played by Lisa Bonet) as she went off to college at her father Cliff Huxtable’s (played by Bill Cosby) alma mater, the fictional Hillman College.
The show evolved into focusing on life at the historically black college (HBCU) vs focusing on the Denise Huxtable character, which not only saved the show from early cancellation, but made it a ratings hit in its weekly time slot.
A Different World in this incarnation caused a real world spike in HBCU enrollment and graduation rates. Clearly, this is an instance where television made a positive impact.
The other half of the meme refers to the Real Housewives of Atlanta.
I don’t think I have to elaborate on how mind-numbingly stupefying the Housewives of… series is. Let’s just say that shows like this are not inspiring a generation of kids and young adults to go to college. Shows like this do influence people to consume, and that’s exactly the point.
Go back and read the Howard Beale rant quoted above and tell me he’s wrong.
-The Rational Ram