Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Impact of Television

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The Impact of Television


In Don DeLillo’s novel, White Noise, television has a huge impact in the character’s lives and it shapes many of their observations of the world. They spend a majority of their time in front of the television and gain much of their knowledge from it during the novel. The television screen controls each character due to its importance in each individual’s life.

The characters in White Noise are controlled by what comes on the television and believe the amount of television coverage determines the importance of an event. For example, when a man during the toxic cloud event walks around with a miniature television and shouts, “There’s nothing on the network. Not a word, not a picture. […] No film footage, no live report” (161) he feels let down since their terrible incident was not shown on television. Also, Jack’s ex-wife, Tweedy, is shocked to find the passengers of a plane that almost crashed “went through all that for nothing” () when Jack explained, “there is no media in Iron City” (). To the characters in the novel, only media coverage brings an event into existence.

Secondly, the television shapes the character’s behavior in White Noise.

During the airborne toxic event, The Gladney family attempts to keep up with the currently reported symptoms caused by the event. The symptoms that Steffie and Denise suffer from during the toxic spill are forgotten immediately after they are told by the television they should be experiencing the effects of d�jà vu.

The submissive obeying of the citizens of Blacksmith illustrates the controlling power of television. The characters try to think as the television has told them they should. They feel betrayed when certain aspects of their lives do not fit into their beliefs based on the media. Jack complains to his wife, Babette, “These things happen to poor people who live in exposed areas. […] I’m a college professor. Did you ever see a college professor rowing a boat down his own street in one of those TV floods? […] These things don’t happen in places like Blacksmith” (114). Because Jack has only seen disasters on television, he cannot imagine the airborne toxic event happening to him in reality. The characters’ expectations are defined by the influence of the television in White Noise.

Television also impacts the characters’ powers of imagination, and makes them imitate what they view. An example of this is when a random woman on the street only appears as a “real” person to Jack after he “[…] pictured her in a soup commercial taking off her oilskin hat as she entered the cheerful kitchen where her husband stood over a pot of smoky lobster bisque […]” ().

Another important function of the television in the novel is to manipulate and control the character’s minds. The loss of reality is another negative effect television is responsible for. An example of this is when the Gladney family comes across Babette’s face on TV when the local station is televising her posture class. At the sight of her, Jack and the children are immediately speechless and confused. They feel that the short-lived image has been somehow transferred to Babette. At first Jack wonders whether he is watching “her spirit, her secret self, some two dimensional facsimile released by the power of technology” (104). To her family, Begetter appears “distanced, sealed off, [and] timeless,” (104) taking on the characteristics of the television. Jack states, “She was a shining light on us, she was coming into being, endlessly being formed and reformed as the muscles in her face worked at smiling and speaking, as the electronic dots swarmed” (104). The non-performance of her image on television also emphasizes Babette’s own mortality. It seems as if the real Babette is not as important as her image of “electrons and protons” (104) on the television.

Television is also in control of the Gladney family bonding time. On Friday nights, Babette has made it a rule for the whole family to watch TV together while eating take-out Chinese food. She believes that, “The effect would be to de-glamorize the medium in their eyes, make it a wholesome domestic sport. Its narcotic undertow and eerie diseased brain sucking power would be greatly reduced” (16).

In addition, Communication takes place through television rather than through human interaction. The only time the family comes together is when watching disasters on television (example) Jack’s colleague, Alfonse, explains the reasons for this bonding activity and states, “We’re suffering from brain fade. We need an occasional catastrophe to break up the incessant bombardment of information” (66). Murray, Jack’s co-worker, points out that “In the psychic data sense a forest fire on TV is on a lower plane than a ten-second spot for Automatic Dishwasher All” (67). He suggests that commercials have a greater impact on the viewers than a disaster.

Murray, a professor of popular culture, offers an altered outlook on television, unlike his students who refer to it as another form of junk mail. His belief is that television is only a problem of “you’ve forgotten how to look and listen” (50).

Television, he claims, provides “incredible amounts of data” (50) in our lives. Murray asserts that television has a positive effect on people only if the viewer feels as if he is experiencing reality unique to his own thoughts and feelings rather that what the TV tells him to believe.

In conclusion, our society is desensitized to tragedies, such as murders, and not fully impacted by them due to everyday media coverage. For many people, their real life and the one they view through television seem to blend together at times. Television represents a fictional life that attempts for become our ideal life. The white noise, or constant background, of the television constantly influences how people think, believe, and perceive the world around them.

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