How Television Affects The Mind:
A Review Of The Tube
by Ron Kaufman
Television is not solely an American phenomenon. In the movie, The Tube, journalist Peter Entell and actor Luc Mariot travel to three continents to uncover the history of television and its effects on the human brain. Entell and Mariot's search is to find out the effect of television regardless of its content. Overall, this is an outstanding investigative movie that begins to present interesting questions about the true nature of television.
The movie starts off in Geneva, Switzerland with Mariot's young daughter, Zoe, crying because he had turned off the Pokemon cartoon. Mariot notices Zoe's fixation on the TV while she watches. He is disturbed by her unblinking gaze. He then begins to investigate on the Internet a little about the Pokemon cartoon and comes across articles describing an incident in December, 1997 when between 600 and 700 children and teenagers were hospitalized with convulsions and eye problems because of a Pokemon episode.
Mariot then travels to Tokyo, Japan to visit the hospital where many of the children were treated and the television station that broadcast the episode. At the hospital, the doctor explains that 1 in 4,000 people posses a hypersensitivity to light and therefore is "at risk" when watching TV. It makes sense that an unusually high rate of television "flicker" would effect people's minds and induce epileptic-type reactions. At TV Tokyo, the home of the Pokemon cartoon, Mariot discovers that because of outrage after this incident, the station now employs an Animation Flicker Machine which monitors each episode.
The film then travels to Schenectady, NY and visits the television research and development section of General Electric. There, the Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) and electron gun which make television work is explained. Television screens are made up of Red, Green and Blue pixels which flicker at a high rate when bombarded with fast moving electrons. This method allows the TV screen to give off colors of nearly infinite shades. Mariot asks the men working at GE why this machine seems so hypnotic and addictive? They don't have an answer.
Lunenburg, Massachusetts is the next stop for the film crew. There they visit with Dr. Thomas Mulholland whose experiments with electroencephalograms and alpha waves with children was some of the first indications of an actual physical reaction to watching TV. Alpha waves are brain activity which increases as brain work decreases: closing your eyes and relaxing produce more alpha -- looking around the room decreases alpha. Mulholland discovered that children watching TV had more alpha -- which means less brain activity.
The Tube crew then visits with Eric McLuhan at the University of Toronto who demonstrates in an experiment, that because of the nature of television (beams of light being fired at the viewer at a high rate), it gives off transmitted light. This is unlike reflected light, where light is reflected on the viewer, like in a movie theater. McLuhan says that with transmitted light, "you are the screen." The brain responds to the medium, not the content.
Finally, Mariot tracks down former researcher Herbert Krugman of the Advertising Research Foundation. Krugman's experiments on the effects of television led him to conclude that TV induces some type of "sleeping awake" activity. Why are people so mesmerized or hypnotized by the TV. Krugman used this power of TV to help the advertising community. Krugman says that with TV, "when you lose touch with the body and the brain will play." You're not asleep and not awake(1). It's midnight and you are staring at the TV and can't turn it off. You sit watching commercials blankly and unthinking. You don't turn it off.
"The television is the easiest, quickest and cheapest way to distract yourself from how you already feel that's ever been invented," says one psychologist in the film.
A worker at a TV station says, she thinks "TV is like a drug. . . Sure, just try taking it away from them."
The Tube is a well done film. It presents many compelling facts and questions about an activity that most people take for granted. Unfortunately, many questions still remain unanswered as some continue to question the benefit of staring at red, green and blue flickering light. [Source here]
(1) SH: It is interesting that in Brave New World, Aldous Huxley called "sleep teaching" hypnopedia, the 'science of teaching through subconcious conditioning utilizing audio'.
HDTV: The reason TV works is partly due to the way the brain perceives information. All TV sets show images made from thousands of very small dots called pixels, however when these small pixels are closely packed together they create an image to our brain. The amount of pixels in an image can determine the quality of a picture, usually the more pixels in an image, the higher the quality. HDTV is known for creating more pixels than standard TV. Color TV screens have three electron beams that shoot out of the CRT to the flat screen. Each of these beams has a name: red beam, green beam and blue beam. The screen of a color TV set is actually made up of three different sheets of phosphor. While black and white TV's only have one sheet of phosphor, color TV's have a screen coated with red, blue and green phosphors sheets. These phosphor sheets are arranged in dots or can be arranged in stripes. You can't see these dots or stripes with the naked eye, however if you have a powerful magnifying glass, you will be able to view them. Finally, inside the sheet is a device called a shadow mask. A shadow mask is a screen with very tiny holes. These tiny holes are aligned with the red dots or stripes. They help provide a clear picture for the viewer.
A color TV signal is similar to a black and white signal; however there is an extra chrominance signal that is added on. This extra chrominance is added by superimposing a 3.579545 MHZ sine wave on the end of a standard black and white signal. A color TV signal includes eight cycles of the 3.579545 MHZ sine wave after a horizontal sync pulse. This process is called a color burst.
In addition to the chrominance signal and color burst, you will have a phase shift that follows. A phase shift is a signal that indicates what color is to be displayed by the TV set. The signal determines this by the amplitude of the signal as well as the saturation. It is important to note that black and white TV's filter out the chrominance signal. [Source: Topbits.com]
Reading v. Television: What actually happens in the brain when we read a book or watch television?
Lehrer: Television requires that we think a lot and invent worlds and keep track of characters, but when we watch The Sopranos, we're all watching the same Sopranos. I think the most complete act of imagination is still reading words on a page. The brain provides an incredible feat of cognition when we read. It transforms symbols [without unnatural projected transforming beams to brain---sh] on a page into a movie we create in our head. It reads a sentence. 'Jack was smiling.' The abstract communication is translated, and our mirror neurons light up as if we were smiling, too, a hot new brain circuit. The mirror neurons are involved in how we understand how someone else is feeling. In science, we call this dual process. The frontal cortex rationally takes in the information and farther back in the brain, the limbic system responds. [Source: Vickie Karp, HP, emphasis mine]
"We are certainly coming," Marshall McLuhan wrote, "within conceivable range of a world automatically controlled to the point where we could say, "Six hours less radio in Indonesia next week or there will be a great falling off in literary attention. Or, "We can program twenty more hours of TV in South Africa next week to cool down the tribal temperature raised by radio last week. Whole cultures could now be programmed to keep their emotional climate stable in the same way that we have begun to know something about maintaining equilibrium in the commercial economies of the world" ---Understanding Media
--->Four Out of Five Prefer Laser Beams, the future of TV?
--->Television: Inducing the Double Mind by Michael Hoffman...