Radio and TV

What you see and what you dwell on becomes part of you. There is a thin line between simply observing your surroundings and taking what you observe as ideal, as fact, as normal behavior, as reality. Much has been said about the effect of the media on children, as if adults are somehow immune. This is simply not so.

On Halloween, 1938, Orson Welles' Mercury Theater of the Air presented H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds, a tale of a Martian invasion of Earth. Many listeners reported being frightened on hearing the apparent "special news announcements" — then switching to other stations and realizing what they were actually hearing a drama1. All should have been clear within a few minutes; the first half ends with the world overcome by Martian craft and their poisonous gas. Second half: tales of the survivors which could only be dramatic material. Nevertheless, there was mass panic and even suicide.

In the aftermath, the program and its effect on listeners was cited as an example of the power of radio over human minds and emotions. Its effect was due to excellent scripting and acting . Today, faced with even better special effects and visual media, we like to believe that no such power exists. Merchandisers, who know better, spend billions on advertising. In Aikido, we see the War of the Worlds effect every day— with only a slightly longer time frame.

Many come to Aikido classes to train for safety "on the street." As noted, "on the street" usually means "as seen on TV or in the movies" and it is mostly bunk. With every terrifying new martial arts movie, we see a surge of terrified new students. They want arm-breaking techniques, killing blows to the spine. They are terribly disappointed when, instead, we teach them how to roll, how to turn. We have even had to bar some students from classes because of their insistence and persistence in trying dirtied-up versions of techniques on their classmates.

1 The real essence of the Scientific Method My old geology prof boiled down ail the pages devoted to that topic in every beginning science book to just this "How do you know'" i e., "Aieee' We're being invaded by Martians'" "How do you know?" "Because Orson Welles on the regular weekly science fiction Mercury Theatre of the Air says so." "Hmmm What do other information sources have to say?"

2. It was not due to the novelty of radio as radio was no longer a novelty. The first radio news aired in 1916, the first paid radio commercials in 1922 NBC was founded in 1926, CBS in 1928,10 years before the 'invasion" by Martians. {ABC was a later spinoff formed in 1943 by Life Savers millionaire Edward Noble.)

They are afraid because they believe what they have heard or seen on the screen,almost daily: that psychopathic killers lurk behind every bush and the monster never dies. (See Ebert, 1994.)

It is extremely useful to remember that the programming itself is not the point. It is there only to get you to buy the ticket or to watch the commercials1. The best way to hook a customer is to give him something he wants or needs or thinks he needs. The best way to do that, as many dealers know, is to create an addiction.

It is advertising wisdom that "sex sells." So does an enjoyable surge of adrenaline. A program that can use these to hook the viewer on his own brain chemicals is assured of an audience. Notice the current emphasis on revenge: [X] did [Y] to [Z] "and now he's out for revenge!"

An even better formula is justified contempt and vengeance. Presenting a bad guy who murders priests and nuns or helpless young girls distances the viewer from our standards of justice and frees him to believe in a cruel monster who deserves anything he gets.

Problem is that the bad guy is fictional. The emotions are real and serve as future templates for thought, example, and behavior.

Watch for the hooks in programming and advertising.

  1. Which emotions does the presentation attempt to manipulate or stimulate and how is this done?
  2. For commercials, what are the implied benefits if you buy?
  3. What is the underlying spirit? and where does it lie on the Spiritual Spectrum?

The essential is to excite the spectators. If that means playing Hamlet on a flying trapeze or in an aquarium, you do it.

1. In 1928, William Paley, 27-year-old advertising manager of his father's cigar company, signed a $50-per-week advertising contract — while Dad was safeiy away on vacation, young Paiey was roundly cnticized for his extravagance on his father's return, but when cigar sales soared he cut out the middleman and founded the Coiumbia Broadcasting System (CBS).

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