Last week we examined How the First Media Moguls Shaped History. This week we examine the history of psychological research into mass media's effects on the public mind and explore the particular properties of the television set that render its audience susceptible to its lies.
You can tell a lot about an item by the nicknames we give it. So what do our nicknames for the television tell us about that device?
"The idiot box."
"The boob tube."
It doesn't take a super sleuth to puzzle this one out. From the very inception of commercial television in the 1950s—when the phrase "boob tube" was first coined to lament the dumbing-down effect that the device was presumed to be having on the populace—to the zenith of the TV's cultural hegemony in the late 20th century, fears about the television's ability to create zombified couch potatoes out of its passive audience have been ever-present.
It's no coincidence that the 2006 comedy (or should that be docudrama?), Idiocracy, introduces its viewers to the eponymous future idiocracy—in which the intelligence of the population has declined to shockingly low levels—by showing a junk food-ingesting "lawyer" in the midst of enjoying the hit television show of the year 2505, Ow! My Balls! It's also no coincidence that the same movie sees protagonist Private Joe Bauers formulating a plan for heading off the development of this idiocracy by encouraging people to read books rather than watch TV.