Monday, October 18, 2010

Fear Culture and the Media

One thing I had a LOT of time to contemplate while staying with my father was American TV. I haven’t watched TV in years, but my father watches it every day. On Sundays, he watches pro bull riding (the one thing I watched with him). On weekday evenings, it’s old Western TV series on Encore Westerns. (Imagine me studying at the kitchen table with cowboy rifles blasting in the background.) These are all shows my dad watched when he was a kid. His favorite one is "Have Gun, Will Travel", which has an awesome theme song. In fact, that song is now my phone’s ringtone, and every time I hear it, I miss my dad.

The shows he watches on Saturdays are the ones I think say the most about American culture. Topics include: Cajuns hunting alligators in Louisiana. Border patrol arresting illegal immigrants from Mexico. True crime stories. How to make guns. Drug lords of Mexico. And then there are the shows on terrorism. One show advertised for at least a week before it was aired. On the advertisements, a SCARY SENSATIONALIZED MEDIA VOICE kept saying “WHY IS BIN LADEN STILL ALIVE?” in between preview clips, over and over and over again. I felt like the words were drilling deep into the cochlea of my inner ear. I asked my dad, “Hey, Pa, don’t you think all these shows just fill people with excessive fear?” His response: “This stuff is real, Kid. People have to know.”

Me, standing in front of my dad’s TV screen.

A video from my dad’s collection:

Conclusion: Guns, ‘gators, the Wild West, and fear. That is the spirit of America. It can be seen in my own family:

(My father’s great-great grandfather.)


  1. I cut cable out of my household almost a year ago and I couldn't even begin to estimate how much I've benefited from that one action. I don't watch the news, ever. I'm not exposed to commercials, and I don't waste time watching sitcoms.

    I've read close to 50 books this year, written a book, gone to 15 plays, and visited at least two of the museums in my area.

    There are so many better things for anyone to do than watch TV. Let's start a revolution!

  2. I have to pipe up in the name of The Daily Show.

    I agree that reading books and going outside and participating in your community is worthy and beneficial. There is a lot of stupid bullshit on the news, like whether or not it was 'appropriate' for an anchorperson to get choked up on air because of the destruction he witnessed in Haiti (as opposed to, you know, the fact that Haiti got destroyed, which was news.)

    I like how The Daily Show puts news-casting in perspective; not just between contemporary programs, but also in the span of history.

    Of course, it's also available online, so you can still cut TV out of your house and see it.

    If TV's off-limits, would newspapers and online articles still be acceptable?

  3. Ah, I must amend my comment. I do still watch TV shows, I just don't have cable. I definitely download programs though and partake in the viewing of them. And I f***ing love John Stewart.

    When I say "cut out TV" what I really mean is cutting out the unfiltered commercials, reality channels, constant CNN, and syndicated reruns that come with the unconscious consumption of cable television.

    I do agree with you, Shark, that there's real news out there. I think I'm talking more along the lines of averting my eyes from the splashy tabloids in grocery checkout lines screaming that Brad and Angelina are having their 43rd baby. That's the sort of stuff that makes me mentally woozy.

  4. I can't remember the last time I watched TV; we mostly use the Big Glass Box in the corner for playing the Wii... :)

    And yet, I am fascinated by articles *about* TV. My favourite parts of the newspaper are the TV Guide reviews; I'll read the critic's review, and think, "Hey, that sounds like a great show, I'll have to watch that some time..."

    It's quite noticeable when I go over to my friends' houses; they usually have theirs on, and we spend half of our social time watching whatever happens to be on. It's like the TV is an extra occupant of the house; always on, and always talking...