annonChannels of IdentificationWhen we see stories on the news of children murdering each other, whatmust we think in terms of responsibility and which influencescontributed to the decisions which left four children and a teacherdead? Who is responsible? How do we as individuals make decisions?What in our culture influences our behavior and impacts our valuesystems? More specifically, what exactly does it mean to beinfluenced? I have chosen television as my focus because I feel it isthe most successful media in terms of sculpting social values and,therefore, social relations.
The examination of the televisionindustry, with an emphasis on communication (through perception andsubsequent identification), yields answers to these questions that areso essential to understanding core sociological themes. I will firstdiscuss how the process of acculturation produces the human need tocreate a personal identity every second, and the inherent implicationsof the role of communication toward this goal of self-identification. Iwill examine why television fits this human need so perfectly, as itpresents an incredibly safe place to identify without being judged inreturn. Television is notorious for its ability to create and alter our conceptof reality, but how did it become such a powerful influence? Whichhuman cultural need produced such a demand for a medium that can bepassively consulted for clues to our personal identities? What is thenature of the interaction that people have with television? The act ofwatching television highlights a number of phenomena that explain theculture of television.
The key players are the programs on TV and theviewers, the latter creating a need for the former. After all,television would have no place in a world with no viewers. Televisionis a profound clue in to the inter-workings of the larger culture, aswell as to the nature of human behavior, in that it reflects ourweaknesses and goals, and the extremely exploitive nature of power. ^?Communication is a symbolic process whereby reality is produced,maintained, repaired, and transformed^?. This process is enabled by thefact that communication is necessary for human survival. The verynature of humans as a social animal accounts for such a need tocommunicate.
The media^?s ability to influence the individual and serveas a cultural resource is the result of the individual^?s incessantsearch for identity, which established a permanent niche for televisionin society. In other words, it was our need to be influenced, to have aresource of clues as to our identity, which made television an authorityin values and ideas about reality. TV is important because we as humansneed to identify ourselves everyday and it is an easy and safe way toreinforce what you want to see. It is a basis for interpreting anddefining our environment, about which we are constantly having to learnand adjust. I will argue that inherent to human social relations is theneed to identify oneself in the moment in order to know how to respond.
All living organisms have a fundamental need to interpret theirenvironment in order to survive, and to do so as efficiently aspossible. This raises the issue of why humans have such a need to findidentity in sources outside of the self. The answer lies in the factthat humans do not have instincts, meaning that we do not have theluxury of having access to predetermined responses to stimuli within theenvironment. As such, we have to scan and consult our environment(culture) to learn a system of responses that appeals to usindividually. Orchestrated by the ^?self^?, our perceptual data from ourfive senses is filtered and interpreted based on how we need to see theworld.
Every second we are efficiently interpreting only the necessarystimuli that must be responded to according to our self-createdinvestments. This is the reason you have not felt your feet in yourshoes until just now, there was no reason to. In a very real sense, weare controlled by our investments in that it is in our investments thatwe make or break our identities. Where we look then, what we listen tois almost chosen for us (and yet somehow by us) as we are driven tocreate an identity every moment based on the brain^?s incredible need toefficiently respond to its perceptions. We take clues from family,educators, role models, peers, and the media, among others. Televisionwas designed in such a way that it is easy for us to consult it forquick answers about who we want to be, what appropriate behavior is, howwe want our society to view us, how we want to spend our time.
This isa critical aspect to TV^?s ability to impact us. It takes very littleenergy for us to turn on the TV, it allows us to forget about the stressin our own life, it does not require that we speak with anyone or haveto defend our ideals, it is optimistic in that it convinces us that wecan always be prettier, richer, better, and always more accepted byothers, only with the help of their products of course. My intention in purposing this thesis of self-identification as thebasis of all communication is to show where the relationship betweenperceiver and perceived truly lies, as this will show whereresponsibility rests. I will demonstrate why TV is so appealing to ourimpressionable nature, and why it is so potentially dangerous.
I saypotentially because I will simultaneously argue that it is the perceiverthat ultimately must react to the message, and that although accountablefor her reaction, she is not necessarily in control. This idea thathumans are accountable for their perceptions while not being in controlof them may seem awkward or even conflicting, yet it is evidenced inthis theory of self. This theory is instrumental in illustrating theprocess of perceiving, and thus the formation of values, because itreflects how and why humans allow their mass media to affect them. Itis in the way in which we perceive an event, a commercial, or aconversation that determines what we think about it, and thereforewhether to invest energy in it. The real question is what determineshow we perceive, how much influence is taken, how much is forced?Television is an authority in social values because we invest so heavilyin its messages.
In other words, people have assigned to television therole of educator, informant, and mentor through our reliance upon it forclues. Commercials serve to tell us what products, attitudes, andbehaviors we need to be socially acceptable, and characters model thelives that we ought to lead. Through these means television sculpts ourideas of success, health, beauty, happiness, love, and morality, ofwhich these productions avow to be an authority. However, it must beacknowledged that viewers are those that truly make TV an authority insocial relations and ideals. The producers simply live up to suchresponsibility.
The initial step in television^?s ability to influence us is its capacityto hold our attention in the first place, long enough to impact us andleave a lasting impression. Television has long been a greater sourceof entertainment than books or lasting conversations about life. Weturn to it and dedicate more time to watching than we do to any otherleisure activities. It is from these large proportions of invested timethat television derives its power as a primary influence.
Furthermore,the viewing of television is a ^?safe^? activity because we are not judgedas we view, no one knows what reaction we have to what we see is in theprivacy of our own mind; whereas with speaking we have to risk havingour ideas refuted. The second step in television^?s success in influencing us is through itsarray of programs, messages, and realities, which ensures that everyonewill find something that speaks to them and provides some sort ofdesirable feedback. Television is a powerful invention in that it allowschannels to human identity. Satellite TV, (soon DHTV) and comprehensivecable programs present hundreds of channels with individual programmingthat have the power to captivate anyone, regardless of background orbelief. This makes it easy to identify.
Producers are able,furthermore, to determine in which ways we identify with the messagesthrough Nielson ratings and product sales, and continually reinforcewhatever values or messages that sells. This selling of attention makesbillionaires of certain CEOs and immediately raises questions ofresponsibility, morality, and where exactly free-will lies in a societyso structured in conformity. Producers of programs and advertising are well aware of the competitionthey have with other sources for clues as to identity. Being thequickest, easiest, and least expensive product through which values andanswers are communicated is an asset that makes it so influential. Thisis why millions of dollars are offered per episode to a comedian livingin New York City for playing the part of a comedian living in NYC.
Conglomerates of businesses, thousands of jobs, all rest on productsales. Americans have become so addicted to finding our personalidentity in consumerism that Jerry Seinfeld has become extremelyinfluential to our economy. Is it too late? Are we already so conditioned to need to be influencedby the same messages that we can^?t see it? Are corporations already soinvested in their own growth that to take their ^?customers^? well beingin to account would be bankruptcy? A perfect example is the TobaccoIndustry. They are so incredibly invested in their worldwidedistribution of nicotine that they knowingly target children, heightennicotine levels, and then lie about its addictive nature and ability tokill if used properly.
They were not born evil, I believe they havejust learned to identify themselves by not looking at the consequencesof their actions. This would be pretty easy with billions of dollars tospend and a true belief that one is simply offering a product for sale,as a public service almost. Smoking cigarettes is another perfect example of how the ^?self^? needs tofind identity. The act of inhaling cigarette smoke is incrediblydangerous to one^?s body and yet I feel that is exactly why kids do it. They know its not healthy, they smoke because it^?s not healthy. Smokingstarted out as a social activity but as it became a ^?dirty habit^?,suddenly it was attractive to anyone who wanted to rebel or make astatement, namely teenagers.
They smoke because it^?s cool and importantto claim your independence as a teenager. What better way than to showthat they can successfully ingest one of the most harmful substancesknown to man. The recent uproar and court cases over tobacco, Ibelieve, only gives kids more reason to smoke as they see how easy it isto find identity in what others believe is bad. That is why they snuckthat first cigarette in the first place. What are the implications ofall individuals needing to find their own identity and a society soattached to its products? Are we growing in our consumerist need tofind our^?selves^? or will this trend result in an intense rebellion whenthe cards are finally laid on the table and everyone sees the truerelationship of a commidified culture to it^?s need to identify?To what extent does conformity promote a stable society and at whatpoint does it limit its possibilities? What responsibility docorporations have in sending messages that could easily harm socialrelations, such as the beauty myth, or the problem of drinking anddriving? What freedoms are granted by our Amendments and furtherreinforced by our government^?s subsidizations? What is myresponsibility? I hope to attack these questions, based on the aboveassumptions, in my next paper.