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By Charles Curley

"Two professors at the Annenberg School of communications at the University of Pennsylvania, Larry Gross and George Gerbner, have studied some of the effects of television 'reality' upon people's ideas and beliefs pertaining to the real world. The results of their investigation suggest that the television experience impinges significantly upon viewers' perceptions of reality.

"Gerbner and Gross asked heavy television viewers and light television viewers certain questions about the real world. The multiple choice quiz offered accurate answers together with answers that reflected a bias characteristic of the television world. the researchers discovered that the heavy viewers of television chose the television-biased far more than they chose the accurate answers, while light viewers were more likely to choose the correct answers.

"For example, the subjects were asked to guess their own chances of encountering violence in any given week. They were given the possible answers of 50-50, 10-1, and 100-1. The statistical chances that the average person will encounter personal violence in the course of a week are bout 100-1, but heavy television viewers chose the answer 50-50, or 10-1, reflecting the 'reality' of television programs where death prevails. The light viewers chose the correct answers far more consistently.

"The heavy viewers answered many other questions in a way revealing that what they saw on television had altered their perceptions of the world and society. They were more likely than light viewers to overestimate the U.S. proportion of the world population, for instance. They also overestimated the percentages of people employed as professionals, as athletes, and as entertainers in the 'real world', just as television overemphasizes the importance of these groups. ...

"The viewers' incorrect notions about the real world do not come from misleading newscasts or factual programs. The mistaken notions arise from repeated viewings of fictional programs performed in a realistic style within a realistic framework. These programs, it appears, begin to take on a confusing reality for the viewer, just as a very powerful dream may sometimes create confusion about whether a subsequent event was a dream or whether it actually happened. After seeing violence dealt out day after day on television programs, viewers incorporate it into their reality, in spite of the fact that they know that the programs are fictional. The violent television world distorts viewers' perceptions of the real world, and their expectations of violence reflect their exposure to violence on television."

The above are the words of Marie Winn from her book The Plug-In Drug, Penguin, 1985, pps 103-104

Many people who favor gun control do so because they oppose violence. Question: is the move toward gun control a creation of the television, not the real world? In other words, is HCI composed of couch potatoes?

I don't have any direct answers, of course. But presumably gun owners do have other things to do besides watch the goddamnnoisybox (as Robert Heinlein termed it). Presumably, some of them shoot their guns, hunt, engage in target practice or practice their self defense shooting. Or reload.

Which leads to an affirmative benefit of active gun owning: it helps keep your mind from rotting.

Also, having read Winn's book, it occurred to me yet another damning indictment of the goddamnnoisybox: Bill Clinton is the first president of the United States to be raised on television. Brrrrr. I can see it now: in every libertarian and conservative household across the land, "Turn off that television set, Johnny, or you'll grow up to be just like our commander in heat!" "Yes, Sir!" [click!] "Good lad! Care for some target practice?"

(c) 1999 by Charles Curley

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22 April, 1999