Discover more from Nothing New Under the Sun
The One About TV (Television #1)
The recent revelations that Fox hosts lied intentionally about the 2020 election is a reminder of the ever-present influence of "the dumb box" in America.
November 2, 2010 - Control room at C-SPAN.
As with the onset of many new technologies, outright praise stops after it is revealed to have a dark side. This is not dissimilar to the internet and the way overwhelming optimism about connectivity ended up being crushed by the revelations of Big Tech’s greed and the ability of websites to become radicalization chambers.
Television was still new to American audiences when fabricated quiz shows roiled the networks upon revelations that the broadcasted competitions were fraudulent. The scandals at multiple game shows proved to be a cascading issue for NBC even though the producers would mount a comeback later in the twentieth century and serious legal ramifications were avoided outside of broader legislative changes.
Former contestants were suing shows like "The $64,000 Question" in order to receive damages they felt were owed to them because of the lack of a fair process. As stated above, the orchestrated quiz shows brought new questions to lawmakers about the nature of this new medium and resulted in tighter broadcasting regulations with the Communications Act Amendments of 1960. Amendments included making it illegal to prearrange the outcome of contests of skill or knowledge. Also, stations were required to be more transparent about funding and resources given to them for broadcasting purposes.
The scandals put scrutiny on the deep influence of advertisers in creating content for television networks. No longer could advertisers buy into a show itself but into commercial segments that are woven in between the targeted content. This was another major outcome of this scandal that reverberates into the present day.
However, we don’t live in such regulatory times anymore and some on TV are able to spread whatever fiction they want and dress it up as expertise or even journalism.
Reflecting on revelations coming out of the revanchist Fox “News” station made me reflect on this moment in history. Even at the dawn of the television age, some Americans did not take the communications tool seriously. It was dubbed a “dumb box” by many (like my grandmother) who remember when TV was new and mysterious.
Today, we live in a jaded society that has access to information on a multitude of platforms coupled with an endless number of screens to distract us. Fox “News” is an outgrowth of a culture that is both wedded to the almighty glow of such screens and also, at the same time, intrinsically aware of media’s pretension towards the absurd, hyperbolic, and outright false. Still, a network that has perfected a Potemkin news operation that only serves to elect exclusively Republicans and also creates distrust in the process of journalism, is remarkably successful.
The lies that Fox hosts (day and night) spewed and enabled led to our nation breaking its chain of peaceful power transfers.
It could be an omen.
Objectively, the January 6th insurrection was built on the elaborately duplicitous programming the Fox charlatans helped spread with reckless abandon while thinking they can play a key role and save some loyal watchers mad about President Trump’s loss. Even worse, Fox brings fever-swamp-based ideas to the mainstream cable and news world by focusing only on news stories that they believe confirm conspiracies (like intense border coverage) so they can become part of the national conversation in a covert and deceitful manner.
It is beyond scary what the Murdoch family has successfully done to America under the innocent guise of just running a large company. The fallout is the stunted health of American democracy and a nation worried each and every election cycle about it potentially being the last free one.
Fox is an outgrowth of a postmodern cable television culture that has encased America during its decadent years after believing they had moved to the end of history as democracy seemingly became the preferred form of government for many. However, this optimistic outlook overlooked the pain of bigotry and classism that many who are subjected to because it’s so embedded in people’s fears and sense of survival.
We may be silly and decadent (used decadence twice on purpose) and that may be why Fox slid in and corrupted our fourth estate as other parts of mainstream media closed their eyes purposefully out of selfishness, intellectual laziness, or monetary motivation. I would like not to think that, but the ongoing events in America’s democratic twilight make it hard to avoid.
This leads me to my last point.
We still have yet to understand the impact of the almighty glow emitting from “the dumb box.”
Nothing New Under the Sun with Steward Beckham is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.