TV, the Tyrant
Three ways in which the TV affects you even if you switch if off
“They tell me that they have an ideal in their mind about what the normal person is,” psychiatrist Paul McHugh says in The Trap. “I don’t fit that model,” they tell him. “I want you to polish me down to fit.”
That model – Adam Curtis argues – is an ideal human that behaves in a completely rational and selfish way. A fuck-you-buddy champion. In an institutionalized enforcement of that ideal, according to the documentary, citizens are provided with a ready-made market-driven checklist of how they should behave. Individual situations do not matter. We must fit the model.
If the media are channels through which a society talks to itself, their role in the enforcement of this model is vital. The documentary provides a perspective in which the following question can be asked: Does a free market really supply media content that the consumers really want? Does it supply the content that is good for the society? Is it a matter of free choice at all?
Not really. There is no way you can talk back to your television. But even if you choose to switch it off, it will continue to shape your life:
1- It will shape your interaction with other people. This is not limited to simplistic concerns about whether violence in the media will make the consumers exhibit violent behavior, or whether kind of pornography you watch will determine what kind of a sexual partner you are. More importantly, it will provide the perspective in which you will see the others and others will see you – based on gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, body type, your fashion choices, and so on.
2- It will continue to inform or misinform other consumers about political matters. Their opinion will shape the warfare or welfare decisions that your government makes. That in turn will directly affect you.
3- It will continue to claim to represent public opinion but in doing so it will in fact itself be determining the public opinion. People consume the media for education and advice. It implies that their own information is admittedly not adequate enough. When they are told what ‘the public’ wants (often influenced by what the advertisers want), they want it too. The claims self-fulfill.
The TV, as a conventional media tool, thus tells you what we should ideally look like, and what you should ideally feel like. It also provides you with the categories in which to box you individuality and therefore becomes the primary source of your identity. It does so even if you have switched it off. “What happened,” then, “to our dream of freedom?” Where exactly is our “right to choose”?