Television Tyranny

A rant about the adverse effects of television, with a special mention the cult of celebrity. Television sets are installed in prisoners’ cells in the UK and can be a source of much conflict when there two people in a cell. Being obliged to watch drivel is, for me, a vicious form of torture, especially as I find it very difficult to read, write or sleep with the television on. There is some good stuff on the television, of course, but most people just keep it on. If they make a selection it’s often the least bad choice. New technology is actually changing that for the better by providing a more choice. So, maybe, this poem will soon be a little part of history. Let’s be optimistic but wary about this sort of progress.

Television Tyranny

Instant images of daily destruction

Light up lovelorn lives

Sights and sounds from some space on earth

Where a woman wails and, though stricken, strives

To find the remains of her husband or son

Amongst concrete and human rubble

Is this a demonstration of demonic design

Or the bursting of television’s bubble?

A change of channel shows a sporting event

Where so-called fans with the like-minded fight

A deadly dystopian dream displayed

By flickering points of illiterate light

Wherein messengers have travelled the planet

To deliver their descriptions of distress

That which cannot be displayed

To them matters less and less

What they consider crucial is celebrity status

Or the creation of a cult of personality

The sacred or sacrificed exposed

To viewers addicted to this barrage of banality

In television’s domain, only the visual is important

Even if what’s shown is totally atypical

To the producers, that is of little concern

Persuaded, as they are, that most reality is physical

Alas, when asked why we hold an opinion

We are expected to repeat what some celebrity has said

Or be accused of a lack of televisual knowledge

Through ignorance of what lies in another’s head

And when special effects matter more than substance

Reality is conflated with drama or dream

Fact or fiction enhanced to entertain

Existence is no longer what it may seem

What’s spoken or written is minimised

For fear it may be too difficult to follow

A picture may equate to a thousand words

But the truth it reveals may be hopelessly hollow

And statistics are said to be confusing

Unless a graph can be shown on a screen

So the data are selected for simplicity

Preference, again, to what can be seen


This medium has superseded other media

But  has reduced the use of cognitive skill

It obliges us to rely on its own professionals

To present their opinions without imposing their will

Its ubiquitous sights and sounds

Suppress creativity in human genes

Reduce participation in cultural activities

And even determine what creativity means


Prior to this all-pervasive invention

This audience was obliged to depend on the ear

Their pictures were self-generated

As were most analyses, hope and fear

Words were more clearly a point of view

Or the voice of the media elite

Listeners were obliged to augment their understanding

Through discussion in the pub, club and street


Television may serve a useful purpose

But, in the age of digital transmission

All programmes should carry a warning

From the producers of each emission

“This is not the totality of the facts

These images are chosen from a multitude

And may have been manipulated

To support a specific, unstated attitude”


What was envisaged as an additional source

Now dominates people’s lives

Much cultural advantage has been lost

Yet no current alternative thrives

Hope cannot lie in new technology

That is even more reliant on what we can see

And ever more subject to manipulation

Which channel will show us how to break free?