A Cross-Cultural Catalyst


The following was written, 20 April 2005.

In 21st century American society, there seems to be a growing infatuation with technology and mass media in the midst of natural disaster and terrorist attacks. Specifically, Americans seem to be inundated by so much television that they no longer have the capacity to think outside the box, and would rather be immersed in the ‘idiot box’ than in a good book or a news paper. Mr. Murray, “Washington bureau chief for CNBC and the Wall Street Journal columnist” (Hess 275), remarked on his frustration with television and its effect on the public during a heated debate among several of today’s experts, in the book The Media and the War on Terrorism.

I am constantly amazed at how little depth you can achieve even with a full hour of television to play with every night and with a pretty sophisticated and intelligent audience relative to the average TV audience. I am amazed and frustrated and shocked at how much more I can do with an 835-word column. (Hess 289)

Is it the medium of television which lacks the capacity to transmit knowledge, or is it the viewer’s inability to constructively comprehend what is being interjected into their intellect? In his article, “To Analyze a Video Text,” Robert Scholes invites and challenges his readers to critically analyze video text and to look beyond the pleasure and surrender created by these cultural narratives. Scholes warns that it is “very hard to resist the pleasure of this text, and we cannot accept the pleasure without, for the bewildering minute at least, also accepting the ideology that is so richly and closely entangled the story that we construct from the video” (622). The ideology presented in television is entrenched by the cultural values of American society (Scholes 620). These “video texts confirm viewers in their ideological positions and reassure them as to their membership in a collective cultural body. This function, which operates in the ethical-political realm, is an extremely important element of video textuality and, indeed, an extremely important dimension of all the mass media” (Scholes 620). He further explains that “we are dealing with and archetypal narrative that has been adjusted for maximum effect within a particular political and social context” (Scholes 622) and that “by ‘getting’ the story, we prove our competence and demonstrate our membership in a cultural community” (Scholes 621). All the meaning that viewers are able to construct from the video text highly depends on cultural framework (Scholes 620) in which the perceiver is engrossed.

Not by analyzing one twenty-eight second video advertisement, but by determining the effects television has on American society, it can be concluded that the cultural context television is depicting is very unhealthy. It has been published that 56% of Americans who are “heavily in debt” also “watch too much tv” (Schor 45). In her article, “What’s Wrong With Consumer Society?” Schor analyzes such trends. One research paper that she sites claims that television shows are “a ‘really great idea source’ for [finding things] to get or buy” (Schor 44). This concept is further reinforced when she brings up her prior research, which revealed that “one hour of television watched per week, on average, contributes to a $208 per week spending increase” (Schor 45). It can be sent that exposure to television really exacerbates this cultures’ preoccupation with consumption. Richard Harwood, Pollster, explains in the PBS documentary, Affluenza, that “60% of all Americans say that our children are not just materialistic, but very materialistic from advertising” (Affluenza). This is no accident, this is just what corporations are paying their advertising executives for. Also featured on Affluenza is a spokes person for the ‘Kid Power Conference’ at Disney World, he explains “In boys’ advertising it is an aggressive play pattern… anti-social behavior in pursuit of a product is a good thing.” He even goes on, to objectify children further, by encouraging eager note taking conference goers to participate in the process of “branding children and owning them in that way” (Affluenza).

The portmanteau word, affluenza, as sited by DeGraff in wikipedia, is defined as “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more” (“Affluenza”). The epicenter of this cultural disease lies within