Section 7... Living The Faith/ Entertainment and The Media

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We Are Television

by Todd Kappelman

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How can you pull down strongholds of Satan if you don’t even have the strength to turn off your TV?” Leonard Ravenhill 

Also See Media and Discernment [Below]*

In 1977 Jerry Mander wrote Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, a work that has since gained a cult following. It is a voice for all of those who know that something has gone terribly wrong, and that the television is a major part of the problem. It is not, as one might suppose, the ramblings of a Luddite or lunatic, but the careful considerations of an economics major who spent fifteen years as a partner at the prestigious advertising firm Freeman, Mander & Gossage in San Francisco. He has an insider's perspective on the advertising business and how it relates to television and the culture at large.{1}

Mander says that according to statistics in the 1970's ninety-nine percent of homes in the country already had at least one television set. On an average evening more than eighty million people would be watching television and thirty million of those would be viewing the same program. During special events approximately 100 million viewers would simultaneously be tuned in to the same broadcast.

These millions of individuals believe they have blissfully escaped into their own unique ideal world in the comforts of their living rooms, isolated from interaction with the rest of society. Mander claims that this notion is an illusion manufactured by the television industry. In reality, each individual has been manipulated into a group activity mechanically lured into the same identical viewing experience of their peers, yet isolated from all spheres of influence outside of the staged television performance. He believes that this phenomenon, which he calls the unification of experience, is a strategic tactic created and skillfully used by the advertising industry to maneuver people into a controlled environment where they can be indoctrinated with the gospel of consumerism. The individual experience dissolves into the melting pot of the media's manufactured virtual world where they visually ingest their false idea of reality and accept it as the really real. A strategy this powerful and potentially destructive certainly merits our attention as our future individuality will be altered by our participation in or resistance to the media's attempt to dominate our minds.

In this article we will examine Mander's four arguments for the elimination of television to determine the relevance for our current culture and some possible responses. The first section considers how the media impacts our perceptions and interpretations of life experiences. The second and third arguments focus on the role of advertising in television programming and how it affects society and culture. The fourth and final arguments looks at the advertising industry's method for usurping our attention in order to dominate collective consciousness. The conclusion will challenge Christians to consider a fast or hiatus from television as an act of moral responsibility.

The Mediated Environment
In his first argument Mander asks us to examine the implications of the television viewing experience as man's removal from his natural environment to an artificial one. He holds that television programming inherently deprives man of his natural sensory experiences of taste, smell and touch, replacing them with an artificial visual and auditory experience capable of capturing our attention and altering our desires and self perceptions.

The medium of television is psychologically programmed to isolate the viewer into a kind of sensory deprivation chamber where the experience of nature is recreated into the pixel-points on our screens. For example, we "see" the grass moving but do not experience the sensations of the wind on our skin, the gentle rustling, the dampness of the ground or the scent of the blades and decomposing material underneath. Television facilitates only a visual experience that is a highly reinterpreted experience from an artificial perspective. This simulation becomes our own new reality.

We abandon the natural world created by God in favor of the one recreated by man. Rather than turn off the virtual reality machine to return to the natural world and walk barefoot in the grass, we choose to return again and again to the artificially simulated sensory deprivation chamber. Outside influences are illuminated and our environment is strategically replaced by the new television world. It is not long before the only world we know is the television world. The television news becomes our source for information, the nature program our new environment, and the sit-com and serial dramas our entertainment. The knowledge we once gained through personal experience has been reformatted into outline form, psychologically modified, packaged and delivered with a smile by the most beautiful host the advertising dollar can buy. Mander's sarcastic list of the things we learn from television will serve as an illustration of how absurd and horrible things have become.

    "Mother's milk is unsanitary. Mice like cheese. Mars has life on it. Technology will cure cancer. The stars do not have influence on us. A little X-ray is okay. Mother's milk is healthy. Mars has no life on it. Technology will clean up pollution. Preservatives do not cause cancer. Swine flue vaccine is safe. Swine flu vaccine causes paralysis. Humans are the royalty of nature. We have the highest standard of living. Touching children is good for them. And so it goes."{2} After sustained quantities of television viewing it is very likely that we may find ourselves people who are blown about by every wind of doctrine and unable to distinguish fact from fiction.

Television and the Commodity Man
The television is extremely instrumental in our understanding of our natural environment. It frequently satisfies us with artificial experiences of our world and drives us to understand reality as it is spoon-fed to us through images. We know that mother's milk is good for infants not because we made our own comparisons, but because the lead story on the evening news has assured us of this fact based on the latest study from the most prominent universities and specialists.

If our understanding of the external world has been significantly altered we should also suspect that television is capable of altering our self-perspective. In Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television Jerry Mander argues that we have for some time treated the individual as a commodity, and now television allows this to be accomplished with an amazing efficiency.

Under a kind of spell, adults see people on television who are beautiful, driving fancy cars, live in magnificent homes, wear the best clothes, and live every imaginable life style in full autonomy and frequently without condemnation for any behavior. Adults and children both ingest media images that dictate what they should want, however it is the adults who have the power to go out and transform the world into a reality that will deliver the goods. Who it may be asked has the greater responsibility here? Television is used by the advertising agencies to create value by portraying human nature as something artificial and constructed rather than created by God. The natural state of man is characterized by those who would, or at least could, be reasonably satisfied with family, friends, and modest living accommodations. The unnatural man is a new standardized individual who wants the same cars, homes, and clothing that everyone else wants. We not only want to keep up with the Joneses who live next door, we now want to keep up with the Joneses who "live" in the television world.

The only problem with this scenario is that the real family must earn a living and pay the bills, while the television family is provided with a new Ford, clothes from The Gap, and a beautiful home that they did not purchase. We literally cannot win against, or catch up with these people. The TV generation finds itself in a never-ending quest to be remade into the image it sees on the television screen. Although it is cliche to say that "we are what we eat," it seems necessary to remind ourselves that we also are what we watch.

Man Made into a New Image
In the third argument Mander argues that the television media uses the power of the image to transform an individual into a copy of what he or she watches on television.

In a section titled Imitating Media Mander recounts an early experience on a first date when he kissed a girl. Having witnessed very little real life kissing, and using the television as his only guide he imitated what he had seen.{3} The media kiss became the primary model for the real. The result is that the imitation and mastery of television behavior becomes the standard by which we can judge success and failure. If a man can kiss a woman like Tom Cruise, or shoot a gun like John Wayne then he has passed the test for what a real man is according to television standards.

Like the child, the adult sees people on television who are beautiful, drive fancy cars, live in magnificent homes, wear the best clothes, and again the list continues. Adults and children ingest media images that dictate what they should want, however it is the adult that has the greatest moral responsibility and the power to initiate change.

The desire for all of these possessions is bought at a price far greater than the mere dollars used to purchase them. Parents frequently work long hard hours at jobs they dislike in order to provide such luxuries while they drown in massive consumer debt. This workaholic syndrome leads to strained family relationships and divorce. The failure to achieve the kind of computerized synthesized beauty found in the television world is viewed as a tragedy so profound that young and old alike resort to eating disorders, develop neurosis, and practice self-medication in order to cope.

As children watch television they become products of an image factory that tells them how to behave toward their parents and peers. They are also told what to want, what to ask for, what to expect, and even what to demand from others. It is no wonder that young people have such a profound sense of entitlement. They have come to believe the world should give them many luxuries as a birthright, that parents should pay for cars, clothes, and college, that only the latest fashion is really fashionable, that the beautiful people are inherently more valuable than the average, that a good Christian really can look and act like Brittney Spears, Tom Cruise, or "gangsta" rappers without any moral dilemma, that junk food is the primary food group for most people, or that a happy meal will make you happy.

Television Biases and the Culture of Death
Mander's thesis throughout the book is that television is basically an irredeemable medium, and the belief that this particular technology is neutral (an idea popularized by the late Marshall McLuhan) is erroneous.{4} We realize this is extreme, and would like to acknowledge that television can be used in a variety of ways that are believed to be good and profitable. However, Mander points out that in the thousands of books he consulted regarding television, he only found one that actually advocated abandoning the medium altogether. His thesis is a minority opinion but worthy of attention.

Mander's background is in advertising, and while working on a campaign to promote awareness of the redwoods that were being cut down in California he noticed something that we all seem to be aware of, but are not certain why. Death is the world's number one bestseller. This conclusion was drawn from the fact that when television pictures of redwood forests were shone in an effort to promote awareness of the problem and gain sympathy for the cause, few people responded. However, when pictures of acres and acres of stumps from a clear cutting were shown people wanted to know more. The same sympathy resulted with respect to the civil rights movement and Vietnam. Insiders in the media have characterized this phenomenon with the phrase: "if it bleeds, it leads."

Businessmen, television executives, and advertising people learned a valuable lesson; death sells. Negative emotions, violence, and carnage get the viewer's attention faster and hold it longer than the positive, the peaceful, or the beautiful. When we add to this the fact that the corporate structure behind television exists to make money through selling advertising space, we see that it is only a secondary concern, if it is a concern at all, that the viewers become enlightened about the humanities, the natural environment or religion. The purpose of the advertising is not to pay for the programming, as we are led to believe. The purpose of the programming is to isolate people in their living rooms in order to show them commercials in the hope that consumers will rush out to buy the products they have seen.

The conclusion of this examination should lead Christians, and all people, to seriously consider the cost benefit ratio of the medium. Mander may be correct in thinking that the elimination of television will have only beneficial effects.{5} We could do little harm by calling for something along the lines of a television fast, remembering that the purpose of fasting is to mortify the desires of the flesh.

1. Jerry Mander, Four Arguments for The Elimination Of Television, (New York, N.Y.: Quill Press, 1978), 13-28.

2. Ibid., 85.

3. Ibid., 236.

4. Ibid., 347-357.

5. Ibid., 356.

©2002 Probe Ministries. Copyright/Reproduction Limitations This document is the sole property of Probe Ministries. It may not be altered or edited in any way. Permission is granted to use in digital or printed form so long as it is circulated without charge, and in its entirety. This document may not be repackaged in any form for sale or resale. All reproductions of this document must contain the copyright notice (i.e., Copyright 2007 Probe Ministries) and this Copyright/Limitations notice.


Media and Discernment

Written by Kerby Anderson

We live in the midst of a media storm. Every day we are confronted by more media messages than a previous generation could even imagine.

For example, more homes have TV sets (98 percent) than have indoor plumbing. In the average home the television set is on for more than six hours a day. Children spend more time watching television than in any other activity except sleep.{1} Nearly half of elementary school children and 60 percent of adolescents have television sets in their bedrooms.{2}

But that is just the beginning of the media exposure we encounter. The Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that the average teenager listens to 10,500 hours of music during their teen years.{3} Families are watching more movies than every before since they can now watch them on cable and satellite and rent or buy movies in video and DVD format.

The amount of media exposure continues to increase every year. Recent studies of media usage reveal that people spend more than double the time with media than they think they do. This amounts to nearly twelve hours a day total. And because of media multitasking, summing all media use by medium results in a staggering fifteen hours per day.{4}

Student use of the Internet has been increasing to all-time levels. A study done at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst found the following:{5}

    · Nearly 90 percent of the students access the Internet every day.

    · Students spent over ten hours per week using IM (instant messaging).

    · Those same students spent over twenty-eight hours per week on the Internet.

    · Nearly three-fourths spent more time online than they intended.

In addition to concerns about the quantity of media input are even greater concerns about the quality of media input. For example, the average child will witness over 200,000 acts of violence on television, including 16,000 murders before he or she is 18 years old. And consider that the average child views 30,000 commercials each year.

A study of adolescents (ages 12-17) showed that watching sex on TV influences teens to have sex. Youths were more likely to initiate intercourse as well as other sexual activities.{6}

Over 1000 studies (including reports from the Surgeon General’s office and the National Institute of Mental Health) “point overwhelmingly to a causal connection between media violence and aggressive behavior in some children.”{7}

To put it simply, we are awash in media exposure, and there is a critical need for Christians to exercise discernment. Never has a generation been so tempted to conform to this world (Rom. 12:1-2) because of the growing influence of the proliferating forms of media.

Biblical Discernment
Although the Bible does not provide specific instructions about media (you can’t find a verse dealing with television, computers, or DVDs), it nevertheless provides broad principles concerning discernment.

For example, the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2:22 instructs us to “Flee from youthful lusts.” We should stay away from anything (including media) that inflames our lust. Paul also goes on to say that in addition to fleeing from these things, we should also “pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace.” We should replace negative influences in our life with those things which are positive.

Paul says in Colossians 3:8, “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Now, does that mean you could never read something that has anger or rage or slander in it? No. After all, the Bible has stories of people who manifest those traits in their lives.

What Paul is saying is that we need to rid ourselves of such things. If the input into our lives (such as through media) manifests these traits, then a wise and discerning Christian would re-evaluate what is an influence in his or her life.

Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.” We should focus on what is positive and helpful to our Christian walk.

We are also admonished in Romans 13:13 to “behave decently as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.”

As Christians, we should develop discernment in our lives. We can do this in three ways: stop, listen, and look. Stop what you are doing long enough to evaluate the media exposure in your life. Most of us just allow media to wash over us everyday without considering the impact it is having on us.

Second, we should listen. That is, we should give attention to what is being said. Is it true or false? And what is the message various media are bringing into our lives?

Finally, we should look. We need to look at the consequences of media in our lives. We should rid ourselves of influences which are negative and think on those things which are positive.

Worldview of the News Media
Of all the forms of media, the news media have become a primary shaper of our perspective on the world. Also, the rules of journalism have changed in the last few decades. It used to be assumed that reporters or broadcasters would attempt to look at events through the eyes of the average reader or viewer. It was also assumed that they would not use their positions in the media to influence the thinking of the nation but merely to report objectively the facts of an event. Things have changed dramatically in the news business.

The fact that people in the media are out of step with the American people should be a self-evident statement. But for anyone who does not believe it, there is abundant empirical evidence to support it.

Probably the best-known research on media bias was first published in the early 1980s by professors Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman. Their research, published in the journal Public Opinion{8} and later collected in the book The Media Elite,{9} demonstrated that reporters and broadcasters in the prestige media differ in significant ways from their audiences.

They surveyed 240 editors and reporters of the media elite - New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, ABC, NBC, and CBS. Their research confirmed what many suspected for a long time: the media elite are liberal, secular, and humanistic.

People have always complained about the liberal bias in the media. But what was so surprising is how liberal members of the media actually were. When asked to describe their own political persuasion, 54 percent of the media elite described themselves as left of center. Only 19 percent described themselves as conservative. When asked who they voted for in presidential elections, more than 80 percent of them always voted for the Democratic candidate.

Media personnel are also very secular in their outlook. The survey found that 86 percent of the media elite seldom or never attend religious services. In fact, 50 percent of them have no religious affiliation at all.

This bias is especially evident when the secular press tries to cover religious events or religious issues. Most of them do not attend church, nor do they even know people who do. Instead, they live in a secularized world and therefore tend to underestimate the significance of religious values in American lives and to paint anyone with Christian convictions as a “fundamentalist.”

Finally, they also found that the news media was humanistic in their outlook on social issues. Over 90 percent of the media elite support a woman’s so-called “right to abortion” while only 24 percent agreed or strongly agreed that “homosexuality is wrong.”

For a time, members of the media elite argued against these studies. They suggested that the statistical sample was too small. But when Robert Lichter began to enumerate the 240 members of the news media interviewed, that tactic was quickly set aside. Others tried to argue that, though the media might be liberal, secular, and humanistic, it did not affect the way the press covered the news. Later studies by a variety of media watchdogs began to erode the acceptance of that view.

A second significant study on media bias was a 1996 survey conducted by the Freedom Forum and the Roper Center.{10} Their survey of 139 Washington bureau chiefs and congressional correspondents showed a decided preference for liberal candidates and causes.

The journalists were asked for whom they voted in the 1992 election. The results were these: 89 percent said Bill Clinton, 7 percent George Bush, 2 percent Ross Perot. But in the election, 43 percent of Americans voted for Clinton and 37 percent voted for Bush.

Another question they were asked was, “What is your current political affiliation?” Fifty percent said they were Democrats, 4 percent Republicans. In answer to the question, “How do you characterize your political orientation?” 61 percent said they were liberal or moderately liberal, and 9 percent were conservative or moderately conservative. [Also See Conservative, Liberal or Christian?]

The reporters were also asked about their attitudes toward their jobs. They said they see their coverage of news events as a mission. No less than 92 percent agreed with the statement, “Our role is to educate the public.” And 62 percent agreed with the statement, “Our role is sometimes to suggest potential solutions to social problems.”

A more recent survey by the Pew Research Center further confirms the liberal bias in the media. They interviewed 547 media professionals (print, TV, and radio) and asked them to identify their political perspective. They found that 34 percent were liberal and only 7 percent were conservative. This compares to 20 percent of Americans who identify themselves as liberal and 33 percent who define themselves as conservative.{11}

It is also worth questioning whether a majority of media professionals who labeled themselves as moderate in the survey really deserve that label. John Leo, writing for U.S. News and World Report, says that it has been his experience “that liberal journalists tend to think of themselves as representing the mainstream, so in these self-identification polls, moderate usually translates to liberal. On the few social questions asked in the survey, most of the moderates sounded fairly liberal.”{12}

Once again we see the need for Christians to exercise discernment in their consumption of media.

Dealing with the Media
Christians must address the influence of the media in society. It can be a dangerous influence that can conform us to the world (Rom. 12:2). Therefore we should do all we can to protect against its influence and to use the media for good.

Christians should strive to apply the following two passages to their lives as they seek discernment concerning the media: Philippians 4:8, which we quoted above, and Colossians 3:2–5:

    Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

Here are some suggestions for action.

    First, control the quantity and quality of media input. Parents should set down guidelines and help select television programs at the start of the week and watch only those. Parents should also set down guidelines for movies, music, and other forms of media. Families should also evaluate the location of their television set so that it is not so easy to just sit and watch TV for long hours.

    Second, watch TV with children. One way to encourage discussion with children is to watch television with them. The plots and actions of the programs provides a natural context for discussion. The discussion could focus on how cartoon characters or TV characters could solve their problems without resorting to violence. What are the consequences of violence? TV often ignores the consequences. What are the consequences of promiscuous sex in real life?

    Third, set a good example. Parents should not be guilty to saying one thing and doing another. Neither adults nor children should spend long periods of time in front of a video display (television, video game, computer). Parents can teach their children by example that there are better ways to spend time.

    Fourth, work to establish broadcaster guidelines. No TV or movie producer wants to unilaterally disarm all the actors on their screens for fear that viewers will watch other programs and movies. Yet many of these TV and movie producers would like to tone down the violence, even though they do not want to be the first to do so. National standards would be able to achieve what individuals would not do by themselves in a competitive market.

    Fifth, make your opinions known. Writing letters to programs, networks, and advertisers can make a difference over time. A single letter may not make a difference, but large numbers of letters can even change editorial policy. Consider joining with other like-minded people in seeking to make a difference in the media.

While the media has a tremendous potential for good, it can also have some very negative effects. Christians need wisdom and discernment to utilize the positive aspects of media and to guard against its negative effects.


  • Huston and Wright, University of Kansas, "Television and Socialization of Young Children."
  • E.H. Woodard and N. Gridina, Media in the Home: The Fifth Annual Survey of Parents and Children 2000 (Philadelphia, PA: The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, 2000).
  • Elizabeth F. Brown and William R. Hendee, "Adolescents and Their Music: Insights Into the Health of Adolescents," The Journal of the American Medical Association 262 (September 22-29, 1989): 1659.
  • Robert A. Papper, et. al., "Middletown Media Studies," International Digital Media & Arts Association Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring 2004, 5.
  • Gary D. Malaney, "Student Internet Use at UMass Amherst," Student Affairs Online, Vol. 5, No. 1, Jan. 2004.
  • Rebecca Collins, et. al., "Watching Sex on Television Predicts Adolescent Initiation of Sexual Behavior," Pediatrics, Vol. 114 (3), September 2004.
  • Joint Statement on the Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children, American Academy of Pediatrics , 26 July 2000.
  • S. Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman, "Media and Business Elites," Public Opinion, (October-November 1981): 42-46.
  • S. Robert Lichter, Stanley Rothman, and Linda S. Lichter, The Media Elite (New York: Adler and Adler, 1986).
  • S. Robert Lichter, "Consistently Liberal: But Does It Matter?" Media Critic (Summer 1996): 26-39.
  • "Survey: Liberals dominate news outlets: Far higher number in press than in general population," WorldNetDaily, 24 May 2004.
  • John Leo, "Liberal media? I'm shocked!" U.S. News and World Report, 7 June 2004, 12.

© 2005 Probe Ministries. Copyright/Reproduction Limitations This document is the sole property of Probe Ministries. It may not be altered or edited in any way. Permission is granted to use in digital or printed form so long as it is circulated without charge, and in its entirety. This document may not be repackaged in any form for sale or resale. All reproductions of this document must contain the copyright notice (i.e., Copyright 2007 Probe Ministries) and this Copyright/Limitations notice.


Entertainment and The Media