television and commercialism

Television and CommercialismTelevision is populated with images which are superficial and lack depth.

Programs look more like ads and ads look more like programs. All this leads toa close circle of consumerism. The three excerpts relate to these unifyingideas thus the validity of their argument.

“Surface is all; what you see is what you get. These images are proudof their standing as images. They suggest that the highest destiny of our timeis to become cleansed of depth and specificity altogether.” (1). We live in aworld populated by images. Children’s television has concocted small, presetgroups of images such as rainbows for happiness, red hearts for warmth, unicornsfor magical regeneration, and blondness to indicate superiority ( 2). Imagesare just thatimages which keep the viewer on a superficial level. For instance,in the program Sailor Moon, little girls are kept on a level of clothes andbeing cute for boys. This is a very unrealistic outlook and short circuits anythoughts of importance in their lives. Barbie, the Mattel doll, also portrays afalse image. With her petite, fragile figure, large bust, tiny waist, long legs,big eyes, and vast career ranging from a lifeguard to a doctor, Barbie wins thehearts of many innocent little girls who become subjected to her unrealisticimage.

Most often in television there is no depth beyond the surface, what yousee is what you get. This is very prominent in children’ s television, wherewithout the special effects in action- adventure shows, all that is left areshows that lack enthusiasm. For example, many children’s programs are alike.

They often involve very innocent, sweet, high-voiced creatures that live inhappy land. They are threatened by bad people who capture one of the happycreatures. However they are rescued on the end and everyone lives happily everafter. In response the viewer experiences the emotion of feeling “happy.”These programs allow for a quick emotional response but no deep response thatpermits you to go past the surface.

However, television allow us to see further at times such as a programabout black Americans discovering their roots. Yet shows like this are far andfew between. Most of the time, we only see what’s on the surface which focuseson what society already knows or what they (writers) think we need or want toknow (3).

“Television, with all its highly touted diversity, seems to becomingmore of a piece, more a set of permutations of a single cultural constant:television, our debased currency.” (4). TV looks like TV and when you look atit deeper it takes you back to itself, this is referred to as homogeneity. “Buteven as television becomes televisionplus, it remains the national dreamfactory, bulletin board, fun house mirror for distorted images of our nationaldesires and fears…And yet non of the metaphors seems quite right, becausefinally television is not quite anything else. It is justtelevision.” (5).

Ads are becoming to look more like programs with the use of narrativestrategies called “mini- narratives.” This strategy is used in a particularPepsi commercial which models the TV show Miami Vice. It features Don Johnsonand the music of Glenn Fry. It is almost as if the commercial is a three minuteepisode of the show. Similarly programs are beginning to look like ads. WhenPrice Adam pulls out his sword in the show He-Man, he is encircled with lively,lightning flashes as he shouts in a deep, echoing, voice, “By the power ofGrayskull… I have the power!” He then transforms into He-Man . This appearsto be a commercial for the He-Man action figure and sword of power. There is ahistory behind programlength commercial. A cartoon Hot Wheels , which is alsothe name of a line of cars made by Mattel, was aired on ABC in 1969. One ofMattel’s competitors, Topper, filed a complaint with the Federal CommunicationsCommission (FCC) stating that the show was a thirty- minute commercial. The FCCagreed stating that during the program, Mattel was receiving a commercialpromotion for its product beyond the allowed time for commercial advertising.


Both ads and children’s television generally have minimal plots whichcontribute to the lack of depth . In kids TV there is more focus on visual andsound effects, pyrotechnics and a recognizable theme song. “Plots repeat eachother from one show to another, no matter who produces them. Whether aimed atlittle girls and syrupy sweet, or at little boys and filled with “action”sequences in which the forces of Good triumph, however provisionally, over theforces of Evil, they involve an obsession with theft, capture, and kidnapping(emphasis on “kid” ), with escape, chase, and recapture, with deception andmechanical transformation from one shape or state of being to another allstung together to make each show a series of predictable permutations.” (7).

“… TV now exalts TV. Spectatorship by perserving a hermetic visionthat is uniformly televisual. Like advertising, which no longer tends to evokerealities at variance with the market, TV today shows almost nothing that mightclash with its own busy, monolithic style. This new stylistic near integrity isthe product of a long process whereby TV has eliminated or subverted whicheverof its older styles have threatened to impede the sale of goods; that is,styles that might once have encouraged some nontelevisual type ofspectatorship.” (8). “Authorship” as a business concept has moved fromtelevision studios to the toy industry, greeting card companies, advertisingagencies, and cereal companies. In only a short time, a small scale businessof licensing popular kids characters to appear on products has been turned intoa multibillion dollar industry. Through the “licensed character” and theprogram length commercial. Originally the idea of character licensing cameabout in 1904 when the Brown Shoe Company purchased the rights to use the nameof a popular comic strip character, Buster Brown, to promote its children’sshoes. (9). At first, licensers thought it was a good idea to simply get freeadvertising value of having their “image” on a product with no payment required.


Character licensing was made for children’s television and started toget out of hand. The 1950’s were a golden age of kids TV. Announcers likeBuffalo Bob of Howdy Doody who did ads themselves would pressure the viewers bysaying things such as “have your Mom or Daddy take you to the store where youget Poll Parrot shoes, and ask for your Howdy Doody cut out!” (11). Thuspopular characters in kids TV lead to huge lines of products to which theirimages are attached.

The process of TV merchandising began with a successful show. Thenalong came a toy company who had paid for the right to make a doll of the show’smain character. Then a clothes company paid to make clothing featuring thecharacter and on the story goes. (12). More importantly, this created a newframework for not only marketing a toy, but an image. Thus leading to childrensurrounded by advertising images which were mirrored off every object thatcaught their eye. (13)Cartoons are often about multiply groups so that there are morecharacters to sell. The more they sell the more money they make. “What betterthan urging kids to get into sharing and togetherness and cooperation by buyingwhole integrated, cooperative, loving sets of huggable, snugglable, nurturingdolls? ( “Ten Care Bears are better than one, ” as one Care Bear Special putit.)” (14).

Kids have enormous imaginative capacities which leads to highlystructured play which requires highly structured toys. For instance, in thecartoon Sailor Moon, the characters wear rings to give them power. What bettermarketing strategy than to create gadgets which will increase sales. After all,Sailor Moon is not Sailor Moon without her ring, and Price Adam is only He-Manwith his sword.

Children’s television is “intimately linked to the seasonal launchingand selling of new lines of dolls and other licensed products not singly, butin bonded groups: ten or more Care Bears; scads of My Little Ponies; eightHugga Bunch plush dolls with their baby Hugglets in their arms.” (15). Theseshows focus on the need for teamwork. Most often in children’s television oneof the worst crimes you can commit is to be alone.

Consumerism becomes a naturalized act since all you see is superficialand fake. You begin to believe what you see is real because that is all you see,so it seems natural. The ideas of superficiality and lack of depth, as well ashomogeneity combine to promote consumerism. Ads portray utopias which conveythat we are supposed to think it is the magic of things. Such that if we buythese things they will transform our lives. For instance, if a child has a He-Man sword he too will have the ” Power of Grayskull.” These images try to placethe product’s image onto the image of this transformation and eventually lead toa purchase. (16).

” If we want a different set of images on the screen, we’ll have toproduce not just better plots, but a different production system with differentgoals in a different world.” (17).


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