Television and Commercialism

Television and Commercialism
Television is populated with images which are superficial and lack depth.

Programs look more like ads and ads look more like programs. All this leads to
a close circle of consumerism. The three excerpts relate to these unifying
ideas thus the validity of their argument.

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“Surface is all; what you see is what you get. These images are proud
of their standing as images. They suggest that the highest destiny of our time
is to become cleansed of depth and specificity altogether.” (1). We live in a
world populated by images. Children’s television has concocted small, preset
groups of images such as rainbows for happiness, red hearts for warmth, unicorns
for magical regeneration, and blondness to indicate superiority ( 2). Images
are just thatimages which keep the viewer on a superficial level. For instance,
in the program Sailor Moon, little girls are kept on a level of clothes and
being cute for boys. This is a very unrealistic outlook and short circuits any
thoughts of importance in their lives. Barbie, the Mattel doll, also portrays a
false image. With her petite, fragile figure, large bust, tiny waist, long legs,
big eyes, and vast career ranging from a lifeguard to a doctor, Barbie wins the
hearts of many innocent little girls who become subjected to her unrealistic

Most often in television there is no depth beyond the surface, what you
see is what you get. This is very prominent in children’ s television, where
without the special effects in action- adventure shows, all that is left are
shows that lack enthusiasm. For example, many children’s programs are alike.

They often involve very innocent, sweet, high-voiced creatures that live in
happy land. They are threatened by bad people who capture one of the happy
creatures. However they are rescued on the end and everyone lives happily ever
after. In response the viewer experiences the emotion of feeling “happy.”
These programs allow for a quick emotional response but no deep response that
permits you to go past the surface.

However, television allow us to see further at times such as a program
about black Americans discovering their roots. Yet shows like this are far and
few between. Most of the time, we only see what’s on the surface which focuses
on what society already knows or what they (writers) think we need or want to
know (3).

“Television, with all its highly touted diversity, seems to becoming
more of a piece, more a set of permutations of a single cultural constant:
television, our debased currency.” (4). TV looks like TV and when you look at
it deeper it takes you back to itself, this is referred to as homogeneity. “But
even as television becomes televisionplus, it remains the national dream
factory, bulletin board, fun house mirror for distorted images of our national
desires and fears…And yet non of the metaphors seems quite right, because
finally television is not quite anything else. It is justtelevision.” (5).

Ads are becoming to look more like programs with the use of narrative
strategies called “mini- narratives.” This strategy is used in a particular
Pepsi commercial which models the TV show Miami Vice. It features Don Johnson
and the music of Glenn Fry. It is almost as if the commercial is a three minute
episode of the show. Similarly programs are beginning to look like ads. When
Price Adam pulls out his sword in the show He-Man, he is encircled with lively,
lightning flashes as he shouts in a deep, echoing, voice, “By the power of
Grayskull… I have the power!” He then transforms into He-Man . This appears
to be a commercial for the He-Man action figure and sword of power. There is a
history behind programlength commercial. A cartoon Hot Wheels , which is also
the name of a line of cars made by Mattel, was aired on ABC in 1969. One of
Mattel’s competitors, Topper, filed a complaint with the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) stating that the show was a thirty- minute commercial. The FCC
agreed stating that during the program, Mattel was receiving a commercial
promotion for its product beyond the allowed time for commercial advertising.


Both ads and children’s television generally have minimal plots which
contribute to the lack of depth . In kids TV there is more focus on visual and
sound effects, pyrotechnics and a recognizable theme song. “Plots repeat each
other from one show to another, no matter who produces them. Whether aimed at
little girls and syrupy sweet, or at little boys and filled with “action”
sequences in which the forces of Good triumph, however provisionally, over the
forces of Evil, they involve an obsession with theft, capture, and kidnapping
(emphasis on “kid” ), with escape, chase, and recapture, with deception and
mechanical transformation from one shape or state of being to another all
stung together to make each show a series of predictable permutations.” (7).

“… TV now exalts TV. Spectatorship by perserving a hermetic vision
that is uniformly televisual. Like advertising, which no longer tends to evoke
realities at variance with the market, TV today shows almost nothing that might
clash with its own busy, monolithic style. This new stylistic near integrity is
the product of a long process whereby TV has eliminated or subverted whichever
of its older styles have threatened to impede the sale of goods; that is,
styles that might once have encouraged some nontelevisual type of
spectatorship.” (8). “Authorship” as a business concept has moved from
television studios to the toy industry, greeting card companies, advertising
agencies, and cereal companies. In only a short time, a small scale business
of licensing popular kids characters to appear on products has been turned into
a multibillion dollar industry. Through the “licensed character” and the
program length commercial. Originally the idea of character licensing came
about in 1904 when the Brown Shoe Company purchased the rights to use the name
of a popular comic strip character, Buster Brown, to promote its children’s
shoes. (9). At first, licensers thought it was a good idea to simply get free
advertising value of having their “image” on a product with no payment required.


Character licensing was made for children’s television and started to
get out of hand. The 1950’s were a golden age of kids TV. Announcers like
Buffalo Bob of Howdy Doody who did ads themselves would pressure the viewers by
saying things such as “have your Mom or Daddy take you to the store where you
get Poll Parrot shoes, and ask for your Howdy Doody cut out!” (11). Thus
popular characters in kids TV lead to huge lines of products to which their
images are attached.

The process of TV merchandising began with a successful show. Then
along came a toy company who had paid for the right to make a doll of the show’s
main character. Then a clothes company paid to make clothing featuring the
character and on the story goes. (12). More importantly, this created a new
framework for not only marketing a toy, but an image. Thus leading to children
surrounded by advertising images which were mirrored off every object that
caught their eye. (13)
Cartoons are often about multiply groups so that there are more
characters to sell. The more they sell the more money they make. “What better
than urging kids to get into sharing and togetherness and cooperation by buying
whole integrated, cooperative, loving sets of huggable, snugglable, nurturing
dolls? ( “Ten Care Bears are better than one, ” as one Care Bear Special put
it.)” (14).

Kids have enormous imaginative capacities which leads to highly
structured play which requires highly structured toys. For instance, in the
cartoon Sailor Moon, the characters wear rings to give them power. What better
marketing strategy than to create gadgets which will increase sales. After all,
Sailor Moon is not Sailor Moon without her ring, and Price Adam is only He-Man
with his sword.

Children’s television is “intimately linked to the seasonal launching
and selling of new lines of dolls and other licensed products not singly, but
in bonded groups: ten or more Care Bears; scads of My Little Ponies; eight
Hugga Bunch plush dolls with their baby Hugglets in their arms.” (15). These
shows focus on the need for teamwork. Most often in children’s television one
of the worst crimes you can commit is to be alone.

Consumerism becomes a naturalized act since all you see is superficial
and fake. You begin to believe what you see is real because that is all you see,
so it seems natural. The ideas of superficiality and lack of depth, as well as
homogeneity combine to promote consumerism. Ads portray utopias which convey
that we are supposed to think it is the magic of things. Such that if we buy
these things they will transform our lives. For instance, if a child has a He-
Man sword he too will have the ” Power of Grayskull.” These images try to place
the product’s image onto the image of this transformation and eventually lead to
a purchase. (16).

” If we want a different set of images on the screen, we’ll have to
produce not just better plots, but a different production system with different
goals in a different world.” (17).