Television? That’s right, the title referred here is One Nation Under Television, and that’s apt.
Some folks think that’s exactly what we’ve been for over 50 years. Author J. Fred MacDonald is a scholar and man of immense experience in the history of TV, its birth, envelopment of radio and many of its stars and business practices, and the rise and decline of the networks.
Because of the sheer density of the information he has to impart the book is fairly disinterested and not a smash of Mainstream Media. He is a disciplined, fair writer of history – that delicious and rare find. History is all we’ve got in life once you boil it all down and when it is delivered with a broad and sturdy base of fact, it is gold.
The facts themselves numbed me with the realization that since nearly the inception of TV the issues of programming dominance by advertisers, and then the networks for the sole purpose of selling more ads for more, have been decried over and over again. Take these questions about the ‘new’ arts of TV, posed by Prof. Herman S. Hettinger of the Wharton School (cited by MacDonald at p. 149) that “still demand answers”:
Will they make us less reasoning, more given to catchwords and the over-simplification of issues, more prone to follow the attractively presented shibboleth, swaying from one extreme to another? Will these new arts add further to the pressure of speed, which is the enemy of reflection, and the mass of detail, which impairs assimilation? Will they provide increasing escape in passive entertainment? Or will the increasing supply of knowledge, attractively presented, open up new vistas to the average citizen, lay the basis for a growing discrimination in enjoyment and in the judgment of issues, and eventually develop a more wide-awake and civically conscious public?
Who knew this man asked these compelling questions before most of us were born? Who knew these questions were burning throughout? J. Fred MacDonald.