For quite a while now, I’ve feared that the general population is relinquishing their ability to think for themselves while handing the privilege over to media corporations and advertisers who use television to decide the viewers thoughts, desires and even how they should look.
The nail in this cathode-ray coffin was hammered a year ago, when my hairstylist told me that soon after Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler’s debut as a judge on “American Idol,” she began to receive requests from teenage girls for the rooster feather hair extensions the sexagenarian wore on the show.
People who weren’t even out of diapers when Aerosmith did that awful song for “Armageddon” have begun taking style tips not from Liv Tyler, but from Liv Tyler’s dad. Do they even know who Liv Tyler is? Have they seen that creepy video for Aerosmith’s song “Crazy”?
Of course, as a celebrity rock star, Steven Tyler is likely to influence at least some people some of the time. But even factoring that in, it’s rare that young women see any 64-year-old man’s hair and say, “Hey, that old guy who looks like a howler monkey has really cool hair. I better head to the salon and copy his style.”
While a silly hair trend is innocuous enough, it’s an amusing indicator that television producers are getting better all the time at influencing viewers, who happily accept the thoughts, opinions and tastes that are being delivered to them.
This becomes problematic when adults who can vote and need real information to act as valuable citizens watch pseudo-scientific shows like “Ancient Aliens” on the History Channel and don’t question the credentials of the talking heads or the ideas they’re presenting. If Dr. Oz has a guest homeopath on his show and the viewer doesn’t consider that homeopathy isn’t evidence-based medicine, the next time they have a cold, they may spend their money on a sugar pill, assuming it will work just as well as real medicine.
After all, it’s much easier to just press a button, kick back and let polished images and sounds flow toward you and sink into your brain than it is to pay attention to the messages being delivered, the products and ideas being sold or to turn off the television altogether.
Comparatively, getting out into the world to explore, meet people and see things for yourself is such a hassle. Opening a book or a newspaper and reading words requires focus, thought and concentration. Who has time for that? Isn’t learning about the world through television just a more efficient way to gather information? It can be, but not on its own, and not when it’s viewed without true mental engagement, critical thought and a healthy dose of skepticism.
At the moment, there are still enough people out there willing to do some tough thinking and spending their short lifespans contributing amazing things to the world, otherwise we wouldn’t have things like the Curiosity rover on Mars, or Nutella.
But if the lazy surrender of mental faculties to the corporations who run television and the advertisers who pay for it continues, eventually the most we’ll be doing as a species is twirling our hair feathers and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”