By Hyon O’Brien
May 9 marks the 50th anniversary of the famous ``vast wasteland” speech given by Newton Minow (1926- ), then the chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Vital Speeches selected Minow’s speech as one of the 25 speeches that changed the world. As a person who has had an abiding concern over many people’s mindless and endless watching of television, for me this speech in which Minow raised the issue is a notable one.
As the chairman of the FCC, Minow addressed the leaders of television at the National Association of Broadcasters’ 1961 convention. His speech, titled ``Television and the Public Interest,” sought to warn these media executives about the negative role that TV plays in society.
In a phrase that everyone who heard it remembered, he referred to television programming as a ``vast wasteland” and advocated for programs that enhance the public interest. He was alarmed by the procession of silly ``game shows, formula comedies, blood and violence, sadism, murder, more violence and cartoons including the endless commercials (many screaming, cajoling and offending)” and urged his listeners, who were all decision-makers involved in TV programming, to think about the vast wasteland they were creating.
He went on to add, ``Children will watch anything, and when a broadcaster uses crime and violence and other shoddy devices to monopolize a child’s attention, it’s worse than taking candy from a baby. It is taking precious time from the process of growing up.”
Do we ever think about what we are doing to our children when we place them in front of a television as an electronic babysitter and let them become the passive recipient of all the contaminating elements of TV? We are giving them the shots of its unwholesome values of consumerism and materialism. We encourage them to soak up unthinkingly all that flows out from the screen. This irresponsibility on the part of adults and care-givers will generate kids who demand instant gratification, never realizing that they are being indoctrinated by the lure of commercialism.
Once the intense desire to own things has been gratified (instantly or otherwise), the momentary high of getting dissipates quickly. Since they obtained things easily, the value of ownership evaporates quickly ― easy come, easy forget. Their attention moves on to the next thing that can entertain them, however briefly. And all that things that gave them short-lived fun will be added to the vast wasteland of discarded things.
Unfortunately, Minow’s speech hasn’t changed the world very much. In addition to continuing trash on television, technology has created other vast wastelands around us that Minow never dreamed of, particularly computer games. Many people lose track of time and regular life engrossed in them, forsaking all other activities and obligations and inhabiting the wasteland. One tragic example in Korea is the recent death of an infant baby from starvation from horrific neglect of a couple with computer game addiction.
I regard all the things out there beckoning addiction-prone people onto their products and making money preying off them as morally reckless, evil and wicked.
The other day, in a true Florida moment, I joined a group of senior citizens on an outing to the Miami’s Magic City casino. It was depressing to see people glued to the machines and feeding endlessly money into them for in hope of a fluke chance of winning. Their glazed faces blankly staring at the machines, their body language revealing their inner anxiety and desperate moods, were the same universal look that I had witnessed at other similar places: Macau, Atlantic City and Las Vegas and other many Indian reservation hosted casinos scattered around the States.
There are other kinds of addictive gambling that have the potential to ruin many people’s lives. Horse racing, dog races, car races and worse, cock fights, bull fights and many more avenues of gambling make people zombies who lose control of their life. Their lives become a wasteland of betting and losing not only the money but the human dignity they let go participating in a sick pursuit.
So who is going to save us from the vast wasteland? Ourselves. Through the ongoing vigilance of an alert person guarding against all danger signs and symptoms. Questioning every choice we make on how we spend time, what we do, and what we are becoming. We must also watch the children under our care. Are they subject to bad habit-forming mindless pursuit of things? Are we eating junk food, watching junk TV program, listening to junk radio, seeing junk shows, engaging in junk activities, and reading junk stuff that will definitely crowd our body, soul and heart with unhealthy, filthy, immoral and corruptive ideas and things? Heaven help us. It is time to take control of our own life and declare the path of freedom. Freedom from all the junk in our life.
It’s time to walk out of the vast wasteland into the land of living.
Hyon O’Brien lives in the United States. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.