Television has not yet actualized its potential nor realized its responsibilty to humankind. To paraphrase MacLuhan, it's not just that the medium is the message. The medium and its messages are also powerful imprinters on the human psyche. In this context, the medium of television not only transmits programming; it is also, by its very nature, in the business of programming minds. It is, therefore, a decisive activator and determinant in the condition of human consciousness and human behavior.
To be sure, thanks to PBS and programs like Bill Moyers, Nova, or Dr. Wayne Dyer, and talks shows like Oprah (soon to become a cable network) and Charlie Rose, or newscasts like CBS Sunday Morning, not everything on tv today is vapid. But the suppositions of network television programmers leave much to be desired.
Many have already looked at the relationship of violent programming and violence in our society. How many have looked at the tendency of too many programs to anesthetize its viewers with vapid material that merely fills time slots and tranquilizes people into deadened passivity instead of engaging, enlivening and opening their minds and hearts?
It's much clearer that these programs depress our spirits and undermine and violate our deep yearning to rise above separatism, greed, selfishness, vulgarity and self-hatred. There is the argument that these are the shows that people want; these are the programs that pull in the ratings [and whatever pulls in the ratings pulls in the bucks].
Television executives are adept at noticing what works. What works is what is entertaining and what gets attention. What gets attention is what seems enlivening. They've made the choice to create a kind of enlivenment packaged as entertainment that presents the baser side of human experience, knowing that humans, out of their boredom, self-doubts, or lack of fulfillment, can be attracted to the negative if they don't have the option of turning to the positive that's packaged in an equally entertaining fashion. Humans are attracted to negative or positive creation, because humans are creative beings.
These tv executives have chosen to ignore the possibilities for entertaining, enlivening programs that not only captures what's real (for surely many of the suffering souls on shows like Jerry Springer and Maury who expose themselves to national TV audiences are having "real" experiences) - but they've also chosen to ignore that which points to truth.
The feeling of anxiety is real, but actions based on anxiety are about the future, which is illusory since it is a moment in time which has not yet occurred. The feelings of guilt are real enough, but actions based on guilt come out of a memory of something done in the past. The past is gone forever and, like the future, is an illusion in the context of the here and now. Therefore, actions that emanate out of anxiety or guilt are not true; nor are most actions that emerge out of fear, since fear is almost always a distortion that stems from some conditioning.
While we must always acknowledge as real what people are feeling, we must set our sights on looking for the truth. The truth is always illuminating, and when the truth is spoken, it clarifies that which is distorted, no matter how "real" the distortion feels. The truth is that we as humans are struggling through the negativity of this world, the negativity that is a condition of duality, to find what's really true. What's really true has to do much more with what lies in the deepest recesses of our hearts: love, understanding, insight, inspiration, and all that is connected to a fuller, richer dimension of human consciousness.
The struggle to reach and access higher truth, the struggle through negativity, is a noble story worthy of telling, but we must always be mindful of its contextual underpinning, of the truth that lies waiting to be revealed in the deeper recesses and on the higher planes.
People who feel fundamentally powerless, depressed and/or frustrated will turn to programs that represent pure escapism or depict scenarios that portray a reality uglier than the one we live in, especially when there are few other options; and when programmers have turned away from the creation of material dedicated to what is true. Egos need reassurance, but this is a reassurance that negates the nobler possibilities and potentialities of human nature.
Television as a business is money-driven, pure and simple, some would argue. The pattern shows that what makes money is what represents the lower aspects of the human condition. This is distorted, unclear and irresponsible thinking.
The human mind can be manipulated to exercise curiosity, attraction and addiction for lower forms of energies out of an external environment that intentionally or unintentionally supports these conditions. Humans seem to be attracted to the energy of negative drama, or negative creation; but I would argue that at the deepest level they are attracted to what enlivens and brings meaning to their lives. Sadly, television executives seem adept at not noticing this truth.
Television must do more than mirror the state of consciousness in our society. If people feel isolated, powerless, frustrated, unexpressed and suppressed, is it socially conscious and conscionable to present programs that sustain and reinforce the status quo? To my way of thinking, it's just as ugly to present sleazy gossip as it is to present violence for violence's sake. Both kill the human spirit and the human imagination.
At the core of the problem is a severe underestimation and/or underwillingness to recognize the capacity and need of human beings to be seen and to reach for their higher potential and promise. Humans need to grow, to love self and others, to create, to express, to build, to connect, to cooperate, to imagine and to be challenged. Every human being who comes into this world, at the deepest level wants to make a difference in this world.
New and more programming with a human potential/spiritual dimension must also focus on programs that inspire people to go out into the world to do something constructive. Programmers must find ways to engage people in their real lives, and to design viewing as a step towards that lively creative engagement, not merely to sustain the disempowering energy of passive "viewing."
Instead of descending into programming that reflects the lowest common denominator of attitudes, tastes and proclivities of our collective viewing population, television can pull and raise content to the highest values of human aspiration. In so doing, a whole new kind of energy and presence can be achieved on the screen, lifting and guiding and challenging individuals and society to new heights and new vistas.
Television can support the driving force of evolution and the ascension of consciousness in every man, woman and child. It can support what moves forward. The greatest lesson yet to be learned is that television as a for-profit enterprise need not preclude television as a vision-driven force for good in the world. What supports the best in people supports our highest values. What supports these highest values has value. We need to move towards a society that values this kind of value above all else
Mike Schwager is Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Enrichment.com. He is also president of Worldlink Media Consultants Inc. (www.mediamavens.com, and www.TVtraining.tv). E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org