Rolling Stone’s 50 Reasons to Watch TV

The cover story of the September 17 issue of Rolling Stone gives us the best reasons to watch television. It’s all about content, of course – not a word about form.

Marshall McLuhan, in Understanding Media, gives us the real best reasons for watching TV.

“With TV, the viewer is the screen,” McLuhan says (p. 272), and he foreshadows the same arguments that currently occupy Nicholas Carr and others. “The introspective life of long, long thoughts and distant goals…cannot coexist with the mosaic form of the TV image that commands immediate participation in depth and admits of no delays” (McLuhan, p. 283).

Carr recently blamed the end of book culture on internet habits. McLuhan was writing before the invention of the personal computer, but Carr’s focus still repeats McLuhan’s claim: “The phenomenon of the paperback, the book in ‘cool’ version, can head this list of TV mandates, because the transformation of book culture into something else is manifested at that point” (McLuhan, p. 283). But then Carr goes off track. Carr thinks print culture is about deep thinking, but it’s about living on the railroad, and has little to do with all of Carr’s deep sea metaphors, as McLuhan explains: “The American since TV has lost his inhibitions and his innocence about depth culture” (p. 283).

McLuhan illustrates that it’s impossible to be illiterate in a non-literate culture. It’s not yet clear what this might mean placed into the socially ubiquitous phenomenon of PC literacy. E. L. Mayo gives us a clue perhaps with his political (and perhaps the best yet) reason for watching TV in his short poem “The Coming of the Toads,” where TV, while perhaps the ugliest medium a book cultured person can fathom, flattens social stratification.

Reading declines, unobtrusively

Caleb Crain’s article in the December 24 issue of the New Yorker reports on a decline in reading, discusses the causes and effects of declining reading skills, and speculates on what a future readerless society might be like. Titled “Twilight of the Books,” the article asks, “What will life be like if people stop reading?”  

When asked in a Paris Review interview, in 1972, about the future of the written word, Jerzy Kosinski described reading novels as an unusual, masochistic act. Literature, in Kosinski’s view, lacked television’s ability to soothe. He believed television was the enemy of books. But then the lovely E. L. Mayo poem, “The Coming of the Toads,” also about TV, suggests a political outcome, a Marxist marvel:

 

“The very rich are not like you and me,”

Sad Fitzgerald said, who could not guess

The coming of the vast and gleaming toads

With precious heads which, at a button’s press,

The flick of a switch, hop only to convey

To you and me and even the very rich

The perfect jewel of equality.  

 

Mayo, E. L. (1981). Collected Poems. Kansas City: University of Missouri.

Kosinski’s code name for his short novel “Being There,” he tells us in the interview, was “Blank Page.” With the internet, Mayo’s equality includes read/write capabilities and potentials. Kosinski describes his own prose as unobtrusive. Today’s younger students are busily texting one another on their cell phones in a sub-text that is certainly unobtrusive.