Drowning in an Ocean of Lowbrow
“As humans have moved into totally artificial environments, our direct contact with and knowledge of the planet has been snapped. Disconnected, like astronauts floating in space, we cannot know up from down or truth from fiction. Conditions are appropriate for the implantation of artificial realities. Television is one recent example of this, a serious one, since it greatly accelerates the problem.”
– Jerry Mander, in Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television.
Jerry Mander holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Economics and spent 15 years in the advertising business, including five as president and partner of Freeman, Mander & Gossage, San Francisco, one of the most celebrated agencies in the country, and at the time of Mander's presidency, the largest.
“The megacities, like cancer, have appeared with their great extremes of poverty and wealth, their isolation from what was called the natural world with its rivers, forests, silent dawns and nights. The new populations will live in hives of concrete on a diet of film, television and the Internet. We are what we eat. We are also what we see and hear. And we are in the midst of our one and only life.”
– James Salter, from his essay, Once Upon a Time, Literature. Now What?
“From Professor Neil Postman comes Amusing Ourselves to Death, a sustained, withering and thought-provoking attack on television and what it is doing to us.”
“Postman's theme is the decline of the printed word and the ascendancy of the 'tube' with its tendency to present everything – murder, mayhem, politics, weather – as entertainment. The ultimate effect, as Postman sees it, is the shrivelling of public discourse as TV degrades our conception of what constitutes news, political debate, art, even religious thought.”
“Early chapters trace America's one-time love affair with the printed word, from colonial pamphlets to the publication of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. There's a biting analysis of TV commercials as a form of 'instant therapy' based on the assumption that human problems are easily solvable. Postman goes further than other critics in demonstrating that television represents a hostile attack on literate culture.” – From Publishers Weekly, October 30, 1985
“Hollywood money isn’t money. It’s congealed snow, melts in your hand and there you are. I can’t talk about Hollywood. It was a horror to me when I was there and it’s a horror to look back on. I can’t imagine how I did it. When I got away from it I couldn’t even refer to the place by name. ‘Out there,’ I called it. You want to know what ‘out there’ means to me? Once I was coming down a street in Beverly Hills and I saw a Cadillac about a block long, and out of the side window was a wonderfully slinky mink, and an arm, and at the end of the arm a hand in a white suede glove wrinkled around the wrist, and in the hand was a bagel with a bite out of it.”
– Dorothy Parker, from an interview published in the Paris Review, 1956
“An extraterrestrial being, newly arrived on Earth – scrutinizing what we mainly present to our children in TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, the comics and many books – might easily conclude that we are intent on teaching them murder, rape, cruelty, superstition and consumerism. We keep at it, and through constant repetition many of them finally get it. What kind of society would it be if, instead, we drummed into them science and a sense of hope?”
– Carl Sagan, Describing the World as It Is, Not as It Would Be, written for The Washington Post, January 9, 1994
“A novelist's life is a solitary one. You work in a universe that, for lack of a better metaphor, makes you God; and there are no sidekicks, no archangels or seraphim to send out on duties to help with the creation. If a novel was analagous to a play, I was the director, the actors, the set designers and even the wardrobe mistress. I provided the music and lights, if need be. You learn that in creating a new world from raw space it's all on your shoulders, and in the beginning you play to an audience of one.”
– Gloria Naylor, from The Washington Post, October 29, 2000
Paul Simon once said that “…the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls/and tenement halls…” I have myself recently seen the future writ large upon my own sidewalk.
Due to the recent construction of four megaboxes bracketing my own home in Point Grey, the sidewalk became so damaged as to require repair. The freshly poured cement naturally attracted graffitisti with popsicle sticks, determined to immortalize themselves. How few real opportunities there are these days for a writer to have his or her work literally graven in stone! Inevitably, one of these was an ardent young swain who wished to proclaim his undying love to the ages. His chilling masterpiece of…er…concrete poetry is located right at the foot of my walkway, where I must look at it every time I leave my home. It consists of a large heart, within which are inscribed the words:
TOOD + JANEY
Now, I don’t know about you, but I decline to believe that even in this day and age, any set of parents elected to name their son “Tood.” I am therefore forced to conclude that young Todd is unable to spell his own goddam name… despite having reached an age sufficiently advanced for him to find young Janey intriguing. As I make my living from literacy, I find this sign of the times demoralizing. We are all, I hope, terrified at the growing prospect of a nation of illiterate voters attempting to make responsible decisions about complex and urgent issues of science and technology, issues whose cardinal points simply cannot be condensed into a ten-second sound bite. He who cannot read, cannot reason. And we know that the trend is in that direction.
Literacy is a very hard skill to acquire, and once acquired it brings endless heartache – for the more you read, the more you learn of life’s intimidating complexity of confusion.
But anyone who can learn to grunt is bright enough to watch TV… which teaches that life is simple, and happy endings come to those whose hearts are in the right place.
– Spider Robinson, excerpted from remarks delivered at the Trade and Convention Centre, Vancouver, on International Literacy Day, September 8, 1990.