on July 31, 2005
Written by a former "big six" ad executive, "Four Arguments" is a book that CONSIDERS the long term effects of television and other post industrial revolution technologies on:
1. The critical thinking skills of human beings
2. Our relationship to natural environments.
3. The physical and mental health of human beings.
4. The knowledge/power balance in a democratic society.
(not in that order)
1. Not a simple read. This book is probably organized too well. Mander coherently and methodically plumbs through each argument and sub argument with no regard for the lazy or quick fix reader. His adherence to his own structure is relentless. The payoff is cumulative as the book gathers momentum. Clear but tedious.
2. This book is pretty depressing. For me the resulting sobriety was worth the cold shower, but perhaps not for everyone. Only the most determined of readers will be able to reject all of ideas presented in this book, and unfortunately this book offers a bleak but well painted picture of our predicament. Blue pill enthusiasts beware.
1. This book asks important and obvious questions(You'll say "yeah that is a good question!, why didn't I think of that?) about how man made technologies and environments are affecting us. They are questions that most of us would agree need to be answered, yet amazingly, few if any of which have been adequately answered to this day. (The book was written in the 70's)
2. This book is both spell binding and spell breaking. Mander reaches into the silent, unsure parts of our minds that we have become experts at ignoring. After making it about a third of the way into the read, I experienced a tremendous feeling of relief at being able to fully identify and articulate concerns that had previously eluded the full grasp of my conscious mind. For better or worse, my fears now had a voice that I could engage in the light of reason.
3. Mander presents a well supported and balanced argument. He is very clear about the fact that he is merely raising questions and considering issues. He admits his shortcomings in not being a scientist, and repeatedly apologizes for not being able to make hard scientific conclusions. He is consistent about differentiating fact from opinion Although the book at times feels somewhat conspiracy theory- ish, this is probably more due to the nature of the topic, than to lack of rigor or objectivity on the part of the author.
Perhaps one of the most convincing reasons to check this book out is the reactions of its critics. They consisently use words like "insane, ridiculous, and nonsense" ...in violent wholesale rejections of the ideas in this book. Its always fascinating to me when people idignantly deny their dependence/addiction to a particular habit/technology while simultaneously baring their teeth at anything or anyone suggesting that they curb their use of it.
"4 Arguments" is both disturbing, and compelling. In all fairness, I should probably mention that since I read it three years ago, I've fallen into the habit of calling it my favorite book.
on September 5, 2001
Mander presents four main arguments, and dozens of corollary arguments, against having television as any part of our lives. Any one of them alone might seem plausible but perhaps overblown, but the overall effect of their combined presentation is overwhelming. I closed the book absolutely revulsed by the nature of this technology and how it has manipulated us. I can anecdotally attest to its ill effects in my case, certainly -- I can recognize thousands of brands but only a few plants. My direct knowledge of the world has been reduced by about 20,000 hours' worth of actual experience interacting with real people, time that I spent instead glued to the boob tube, absorbing hundreds of thousands of commercials. I don't have a TV anymore, but whenever I am around one that's turned on, I find myself hypnotically drawn to stare at the screen, irrespective of content. This occurs even if I am in the middle of an interesting conversation -- to my embarrassment and dismay, my eyes dart as of their own accord toward the flickering images. I have to stand facing away from the TV to prevent this. What I consider to be my natural aesthetic sense has been perverted such that I can hardly look at a man or woman -- or myself in a mirror -- without automatically, subtly judging the person's appearance against an internal metric, a deep and narrow palette of beautiful faces and lithe body parts, implanted by hundreds of thousands of advertising images. This phenomenon subtly cheapens and distorts many interactions I have with people.
Just scan the table of contents to Mander's book, ..., and you will begin to see the array of influences these forces have in our culture and in our individual minds.
Please buy the book, give it to everyone as gifts this year, ***especially to parents of small children***. I see parents use the TV as a pacifier, but as you will read, it is an incredibly high price to pay just to keep the kids temporarily quiet.
on December 10, 2000
Written in the late 1970's by a former advertising executive, Four Arguments is a coherent diatribe against television. He explores four areas: (1) Television as a poor mediator of experience; (2) television as a way to influence audiences' perceptions en masse; (3) the "dumbing-down" effects of TV on the human being; and (4) the inherent biases of television and how they limit real information flow. The first couple of arguments are more attacks on capitalism and the development of television as a capitalist tool, but overall, they are solid statements that stand on their own.
However, TV has become a central part of the American lifestyle, and it would be hard, if not impossible, to get rid of. But I definitely feel the truth of his arguments. When I was in India, much of the time at my host family's place, they would sit around watching television while doing chores. It felt empty somehow. Where was the richness of the culture? Here I am in India, and I'm sitting here watching a stupid Hindi movie instad of interacting in a meaningful way. And when I came back home, I felt the shock of the media doubly. Everything on TV looked slick, fake, contrived, absolutely ridiculous. We have been so inoculated to all of this by now that it's hard to see unless you go away and come back again.
It's tough to break any sort of addiction, and I think television is an addiction. It is part of the problem of a society that always looks for the next best thing, that promotes the loudest, noisiest, most violent thing, that can't sit still for half an hour to soak in the beauty of quiet stillness.
In some ways, this book is hard to read. It's easy to grasp but it's difficult to take this kind of attack on such a commonly accepted lifestyle even though you know it's wrong. Plus it's a lot of information coming at you at once; I had to digest it in little bits and pieces to give it time to sink in.
on August 28, 2004
Tune in again and again... This book has all the classic elements of a conspiracy theory: mass hypnosis, broad alteration of neurochemicals, a reordering of perception, social structure and thought to the benefit of a select few, an addictive nature, the list goes on. The scary part is, we all know that what Jerry Mander points out is true. He pushes our awareness of the evils of television to new heights, but he doesn't weave a fantastic yarn...he puts concrete evidence behind things people have been thinking for a long time. TV is addictive. TV watching is indistinguishable from hypnosis, affects sensory deprivation, is disorrienting and leads to hyperactivity and insanity.
TV encourages mass passivity, burns images permanently into our brain that are chosen by an elite few and trains people to accept authority. Television limits and confines human knowledge. It accelerates our alienation from nature and leads to its destruction. Television homogenizes those who watch it, making the population more efficient cogs in the economic system, making the population easier to control. Television is inherently antidemocratic--furthermore it aids the creation of societal conditions which produce autocracy, and it dulls our awareness that this is happening. Television, as a technology, is inherently biased towards these effects--they cannot be eliminated by better management or better programing. Oh, and it causes cancer too.
This would all sound like a crazy conspiracy theory yarn to me, too, if I hadn't read the book. Mander makes logical and cogent arguments, but most of all, he points out things that we can all see for ourselves. Don't belive that TV burns images into your mind that you can't ever get rid of? That an elite few select what is to be emblazoned into the memory of entire populations? Try this: The Energizer Bunny. Can you picture it in your head? OK, now erase it. As with everyone else, you can't--it has been placed involuntarily, and permanently into your being. Try another experiment...think of one of your favorite sports stars or entertainer (i.e. Merle Haggard) that you have seen in person. Visualize an image in your head... Was that image one that you saw in 'real life' or one that you saw on TV? Having a difficult time recalling reality from TV reality? Most people do--and that's the scary part. The elite few who control TV content involuntarily place permanent images in your head that you are unable (without careful attention) to distinguish from reality. Suppose, hypothetically, that there was someone out there who would stand to gain from altering your image of the 'perfect family' to one that owns a nice suburban home, drives two cars, goes to church, works hard until retirement in a 'good' job, supports the government in times of crisis, etc. Fortunately for us, that kind of thing only happens in George Orwell books...
We all already know that TV, or at least too much TV is bad, but what are we really supposed to do about it? Is this guy actually suggesting that we eliminate TV entirely? Yes, he is, and his message goes far deeper than just Television. In an economy and society committed to newer, faster, more and never-ending growth, Jerry Mander makes the argument that we must at some point develop the ability to achieve balance, to pick and choose which technologies we want, or can afford, to use. The elimination of television would be difficult...we may even have to occaisionally talk to people, but to pass on an "advance" is a step that we must realize is more than necessary--it is possible.
on March 15, 1998
Jerry Mander shows how TV is an integral part of late capitalism.Although it was invented in the 1920's,TV was not put to use until after 1945, to promote the consumer society with advertising and a materialistic lifestyle.Most critics of TV are concerned about program content, but Mander shows that TV by its very nature is detrimental to human well-being.Like modern society as a whole, TV creates artificial experience, causing people to lose touch with their own nature, their true needs, other people and the natural world.TV puts the viewer into a passive hypnotic state.Mander shows how TV implants images in our brain, even against our will.Although nothing on TV is really "real", it tricks our mind into thinking that the pictures portray reality.Negative behaviors such as fighting, killing,rage and hate are very suitable for TV, but gentleness, affection,caring and the like is boring on TV.Mander says you cannot make TV "better", it must be eliminated.This book deserves a wide audience, because Mander gets to the root of what is wrong with television.
on March 7, 2005
This book has made my year. I cannot believe the reviews (and I have read them all) that blast Mander for badly constructed arguments.
Call it what you will; Mander has created a master review of the relationship between our banishment from the Garden to a life of servitude to work and to the attainment of knowledge. Television, in its perverse way, has kept most of us from that knowledge, because of its inherent flaws.
It is inherently boring, but in the gross cooption and misadaption of artistry and faith among the best of us, television has reduced us to our lowest common denominator: boring people without self understanding.
We are ALL suspect; I am just as guilty of being a stupid TV couch potato as anyone. In all my years of watching it, I cannot say that I have learned any real lesson in life from it.
Like Mander says, television robs the brain of its ability to think. When one sees a movie after reading a novel - Lord of the Rings is yet another example - our imagination is replaced by the "reality", and we forget what we have imagined before.
If critics of this book believe otherwise, I hope they can tell us how the substitution is better than our individual imaginations.
I only hope that Mander is fast at work on his second set of arguments!
on August 9, 2006
This book is a revolutionary manifesto, a call to arms against the modern-day Moloch, that pernicious idol television. Read it at your own peril- if you're content facing life in a somnambulistic stupor, this book is a bucket of cold water in the face. TV=living death.
Mander makes it clear that he's not calling for people to reduce their TV watching or for the networks to "reform" themselves by adding more "educational" programming. The technology itself is irredeemable and must be eliminated. Nothing less it at stake, he asserts, than human autonomy and the democratic system. The book is full of seemingly overblown statements like that, but Mander's arguments, coupled with a lifetime of personal observation of television's effects, lend credence to even the most ostensibly hyperbolized polemics.
Employing both logical argument and frequent reference to scientific studies, Mander lays out his case for the condemnation of TV. He points out how sitting in a darkened room staring at an object is the ultimate in sensory deprivation, a state which makes the mind malleable and suggestible, and in which the subconscious will accord extraordinary authority and importance to the loudest and most forceful voice ("Buy Now!" "Tune in tomorrow!"), which is the very definition of hypnosis. TV is hypnotizing us. It separates us from humanity's natural means of understanding the world- direct experience. It is a pale and pathetic substitute for life itself. Our real-life knowledge of the world is being replaced by the knowledge and values that advertising executives want us to have- namely, brand identification and consumerism. The couch potato justifies his addiction by saying that TV-watching enables him to empty his mind and not think after a long hard day's work. Indeed, his mind is being emptied, but it is also being re-filled with images and desires of someone else's choosing. It is designed to plant ideas into the subconsciousness, so that people buy things they don't need and never knew they wanted, in order to perpetuate a never-ending cycle of consumerism. TV is an instrument designed to dominate other people's minds, a dangerous enough tool in the hands of advertising executives, but when used by authoritarian-minded political manipulators-which it is- it is a deadly weapon. In short, TV has created a nation of barely sentient, obedient zombies- the perfect market for the advertising industry and the perfect citizenry for the political class.
Ok, the book has faults, which some reviewers noted, more or less fairly- to be sure, some parts of the book are somewhat dated. The milieu in which it was written was the 1970s. References to the ERA, Vietnam, and anti-nuke rallies will jolt the modern reader. Also, Mander wrote in the era before cable TV, so obviously the book doesn't deal with the additional dynamic that creates. And surely there have been additional studies and books in the subsequent years that would be of value to the subject. Additionally, though Mander is correct that the human brain was created (or evolved, if you prefer) to function in a natural environment by gaining knowledge through hands-on experience, and the implications of that are certainly worth thinking about, his "noble savage" encomium may go too far; unless we're willing to go back to a pre-literate society in which we'd live in caves, we're going to have to deal with some level of artificiality and mediation of experience (e.g. books). And yes, the 4 Arguments aren't exactly organized as coherently as expected and would probably better be termed "1500 Arguments". Nevertheless, these are relatively minor objections- this is a brilliant book that will, above all, make_you_think_.
Unfortunately, the book is only likely to be read by those who have already thrown off the shackles of the toxic hypno-box, or who are close to doing so. In any case, it's an important manifesto whose message must be promulgated by one enlightened individual to another until the day when television's poisonous influence is finally eradicated from the world.
on June 4, 2007
Well, I seem to be one of that rare species of person who didn't feel passionately one way or another about this book.
On the "pro" side, I agree (mostly) with his main premise: the impact of television on society and individuals is mostly negative -- and in particular, I don't see any benefit to television commercials at all. It's great to have a book out there that raises awareness of this. Fact is, our psychology is built in such a way that we are not "good" at television in the same way we are "good" at the natural world. For instance, it is TRUE that we have a natural bias that seeing is believing, and intellectual knowledge of what is true and false can get you only so far in overcoming that (as decades of work in cognitive science, much of it done since this book was published, will attest). Mander does a good job of highlighting many of the affects of television on the psyche and society (and why). I also really appreciated his perspective as former public relations and advertising executive. Plus, he raised a few interesting points that I had never thought of: for instance, the way that editing many rapid cuts can forcibly engage our attention, even if we don't "want" to be watching.
So I'm not sorry I read it. But I was disappointed by several other things, some attributable no doubt to the fact that it was written in 1977, some not so much. First of all, I found some of the science to be flimsy at best (I study cognitive science for a living). For instance, the entire section about natural light and television was frankly bizarre. It was most frustrating because I worried that these areas of quackery would turn off a reader who recognized them as such but wasn't familiar enough with psychology and cognitive science to recognize that the other 80% of it WAS pretty well supported (especially after decades of further research that Mander couldn't have known about). I can see from some people's comments here that it has done so, and I'm sorry for that.
Secondly, many of his points just aren't relevant now that television technology has changed so much. For instance, he talks a lot about how television is biased to show certain things (inanimate objects) and not show other things (faces) due to limitations caused by resolution and television set size. Some of this is still true -- I think war and soundbites will always be inherently favored over peace and long thoughtful monologues -- but some of it is not: e.g., with the advent of plasma TVs, resolution isn't an issue. And with people's increasing ability to be actively involved in television content (via TiVo, capturing the media and mixing it up themselves, etc), much of the nature of our interaction has changed.
Mander can't be faulted for not knowing about these things thirty years ago, but it does make me wish for a more current version of this book. As it is, the book is definitely worth reading: but you should keep in mind that it's dated and that not all of his scientific claims are very well supported.
on January 25, 2004
I had to write this review to rebut those disatisfied with Mr. Mander's book. The medium is the message, and Mander makes a very convincing case for its darker side. As for those critical of the science he quotes, I must contradict them. The psychological studies referenced may not have gotten a lot of airplay, but they are sound and have withstood the test of time (50+ years in some instances) without being put aside. Any reading, thinking person who watches television these days would see that the corporate agenda Mander posits is being consistently realized in front of us, chillingly so. TV does an excellent job of selling, so much so that billions of dollars are spent every year to put a certain kind of TV show on the air; television programming is so dreadful because that's what plays best on TV, and sponsors know it. I'd get rid of your television if I were you.
on April 9, 2000
i bought this book due to a reference to chapter 9 about "ingestion of artificial light" (from an astronomer friend). however, as i read through the rest of the book, i got hooked.
i agree with one poster, some arguements against TV are in reality an arguement against capitalism. however, i grew up with 3-4 hours of TV per day, and as i think back through my childhood, and performance in school (high school and college) i can apply much of what mander says to my problems back then (lack of attention, lack of motivation, poor grades), and can even see remnants of the effects today (at 33 years).
the logic is not bullet proof here but test some of mander's theories with your childer and i think you'll see some truth. TV truly is a wasteland, and i think "quality television" is really an oxymoron.