Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television


Book: Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television

Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander, written in 1978, is a fairly simple book which poses a series of critical questions on the most commonly used device in the world.

Mander, an American activist, argues that the technology of television is not a neutral or benign instrument and that by its very nature it is a threat to our own well being. However this is not some doomsday diatribe intended to scare you away from your TV set, it is rather the start of an important conversation that every person should have with themselves if they haven’t already. Mander’s arguments make little comment on the actual content on television itself aside from the limitations the medium places on it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Fox News or Nickelodeon, the basic effects of TV are essentially the same from a neurological and psychological standpoint.

While a bit out dated (as most televisions today are plasma screens rather then vacuum tube-based screens), the science in the book should strike a chord for anyone who remembers watching the old giant clunkers as a kid. Jerry’s discussion of television’s effects on human brain waves are startling.


Electron Gun: Until the evolution of LDC and plasma screens, cathode ray tube (or vacuum tube) televisions used what were literally called “electron guns” to fire electrons onto the screen

What the viewer sees on an old TV screen is basically a string of electron explosions lined up so quick that it creates a moving image. The human brain is not capable of fully processing each little dot on the screen at these speeds. So we’re literally tricked into seeing moving color images instead, much like a flip-book.

This type of information reception causes the brain to go into an alpha state which means your mind is passively and indiscriminately digesting whatever information it is presented to it.

You become a passive consumer on a one-way street—a literal zombie.

Ever notice that you tuned out virtually everything going on around you when you’re really involved in watching television? That’s the effect of an alpha state, you are literally absorbed (or even hypnotized) into the tv.

It’s not hard to imagine how an advertisement in the equation can become a powerful tool. With the average American watching +4 hours a day of television,[1]  you essentially have a force-fed population ripe for consumerism.

Moreover, “television is a medium of summary or reductionism – it reduces everything to slogans. It requires everything to be packaged and reduced and announced in a slogan-type form.”[2] (This year’s election coverage is a prime illustration of sloganeering.)

The reason for this, Mander argues, is because the technology itself and its physiological effects on the viewer demand that information be presented as such.

In closing, it’s no secret that I hope to offer perspectives that are counter to the grain of the mass media, which is to say I want to further a discussion on how we can empower ourselves to make the best life we can for us and those around us. Television is NOT empowering, quite to the contrary.

Now to be fair, there are plenty of television programs I enjoy. I get a big kick out of The Daily Show and The Office and I could spend hours swimming in Discovery’s Shark Week but moderation is the key to life and understanding the consequences of a medium that has such a great influence on Western culture is crucial to making good life decisions. This book has had a lasting impact on my life. I got rid of my TV eight years ago and words can not describe how much more vibrant my life has been become: I read more, I write more, I converse more, and most importantly I think more. But please choose for yourself. I’m not saying we should all burn our TVs Fahrenheit 451-style. But maybe we can start with some simple reflection.

Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television is available on Amazon for $5 or can be read online for free at Mother Earth News.


BONUS: Here is a 9-minute video from the author himself:



1 (Back to post)  

2 W. David Kubiak. “Nancho Consults Jerry Mander” (Back to post)

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