Wikert: Politics on the ‘boob tube’

“Boob tube?” Did that title get your attention? People from my generation remember this phrase used during the 1960s and 1970s.

In school hallways or around the water cooler you would hear people say when asked what they were going to do after school or work, “Oh, I’m just going home tonight and watch the “boob tube!”

“Boob” was defined at that time as a lazy, stupid person and the “tube” referred to the picture tube that allowed the TV to function and ultimately define the way we mindlessly have received information in our homes and lives ever since.

This notion that watching TV had little substance was echoed by Newton N. Minnow, chair of the FCC, who called television “a vast wasteland” in 1961.

When my brother and I were in elementary school, my mother got rid of our TV for several years and introduced us to the world of libraries and books. This was when there were only three network channels and PBS, if you could even get all the channels to work with the archaic antenna systems available.

I wonder what Minnow, who is 88 years old now, feels about the evolution of TV and all networks of communication that it has brought. Our handheld televisions have now been combined with the additional features of a radio, camera, typewriter, library, telephone and a computer. These visual media screens can be minute or enormous and everything in between. They can be very portable with self-contained power devices. They can connect to places all over the globe in an instant. They can have amazing clarity and high definition, but are these latest visual media screens still “boob tubes”?

At one time it was felt that the advent of the television brought us even more accurate and up-to-date information. Television brought the world and communities closer together, improved our ability of communication, and once made us more tolerant and understanding of other cultures and nations.

So what happened? Just like a pendulum of a clock so seem our abilities to communicate in this world. At the one end of the pendulum in our distant past, was a nation and world that was isolated and relatively innocent. At the other end of the pendulum we have a nation and world so connected that it is overloaded with information and stimulus.

Needless to say our advances in technology have added greatly to the world, but our current forms of communication have made us hopelessly dependent upon constant audio and visual bites on a screen. It has made us so dependent that it has warped our sense of reality.

When using public forms of transportation you formerly observed people conversing with each other, but now you will most likely see people with their heads down, peering into small screens searching for ways to feel more connected. The pendulum moves back and forth searching for a better way to connect one human being to another, but unfortunately people in this world feel more disconnected than ever.

So how has this affected politics? The constant bombardment of conflicting information and propaganda on our screens has made us a very mistrustful and fickle society.

These screens have produced a desire for people to always need instant gratification and change. It is no wonder political polls go back and forth and nobody really knows who may win an election until the final count of the votes is made.

Our current president or political figures are beloved one week and then scorned the next. Of course the public needs to have an updated blow-by-blow account and tally of it.

REGISTER REPORT: Senate race TV spending doubles in Iowa

This is amplified by people and organizations trying to get us to bend to their way of thinking.

Now if their way of thinking is for the benefit of the majority of people, this might not be all bad. This is called good propaganda. But when the propaganda issued is to benefit only just the few and presented unscrupulously, then the general public is the loser.

The atmosphere of total confusion about whose political party is truthful has separated our nation into either “red” and “blue,” or “liberal” and “conservative” camps. The opposing political party make these labels sound like dirty words.

In terms of our politics, we have created a “civil war.” This is a war fought mainly through our visual media screens. Unfortunately in a war people have to take sides.

INTERACTIVE: Compare the candidates’ stances on key issues

Because of the mistrust we now feel, we cling to a side hoping we have made the right decision. The line between the sides is clearly marked this election year. The Iowa Republican and Democratic candidates have clear differences.

Your participation is very important, because there are senatorial candidates up for election, and the choices we make will last up to six years.

Will you be relying mindlessly on 30 second sound bites through a “boob tube” to make your decision or be a more responsible citizen who searches for the truth before voting? Put technology to work for you!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Wikert is a native Iowan, Vietnam veteran and retired educator in Cedar Falls. Click here to read more of his work.