Alright junkies, I
know you don’t like staring at long strands of motionless text, and I know
it’s a struggle for you to analyze and comprehend the meaning of complex
sequences of words. But if you give me just a few minutes, I will let you in
on a little secret that marketers and governments have been relying on for
decades. That television you watch every day, your secret best friend, is an
addictive opiate, and not only that, it’s one of the most potent mind
control devices ever produced. And I’m not just basing this on intuition.
I have the neurological evidence to prove it.
Although the definitions are vague and somewhat
misleading, the word “addiction” usually refers to a psychological or
physical dependence on a particular experience that must be repeated in
order for a person to be comfortable. Usually, we think about this in terms
of chemical addiction, which occurs when the addict’s chemical of choice
reorganizes the nervous system so that it requires the presence of that
chemical to operate smoothly.
Of course, not all addictions are chemical. Any behavior
that leads to a pleasurable experience will be repeated, especially if that
behavior requires little work. Psychologists call this pattern “positive
reinforcement.” This is what we mean, technically speaking, by addiction.
In this sense, television certainly fits into the category of an addictive
When you watch TV, brain activity switches from the left
to the right hemisphere. In fact, experiments conducted by researcher
Herbert Krugman showed that while viewers are watching television, the right
hemisphere is twice as active as the left, a neurological anomaly.1
The crossover from left to right releases a surge of the body’s natural
opiates: endorphins, which include beta-endorphins and enkephalins.
Endorphins are structurally identical to opium and its derivatives
(morphine, codeine, heroin, etc.). Activities that release endorphins (also
called opioid peptides) are usually habit-forming (we rarely call them
addictive). These include cracking knuckles, strenuous exercise, and orgasm.
External opiates act on the same receptor sites (opioid receptors) as
endorphins, so there is little difference between the two.
In fact, strenuous exercise, which produces the nominal
“runner's high”—a release of endorphins that flood the system, can be
highly addictive, to the point where “addicts” who abruptly stop
exercising experience opiate-withdrawal symptoms, namely migraine headaches.
These migraines are caused by a dysfunction in opioid receptors, which are
accustomed to the steady influx of endorphins.
Indeed, even casual television viewers experience such
opiate-withdrawal symptoms if they stop watching TV for a prolonged period
of time. An article from South Africa’s Eastern Province Herald
(October 1975) described two experiments in which people from various
socio-economic milieus were asked to stop watching television. In one
experiment, several families volunteered to turn off their TV’s for just
one month. The poorest family gave in after one week, and the others
suffered from depression, saying they felt as though they had “lost a
friend.” In the other experiment, 182 West Germans agreed to kick their
television viewing habit for a year, with the added bonus of payment. None
could resist the urge longer than six months, and over time all of the
participants showed the symptoms of opiate withdrawal: increased anxiety,
frustration, and depression.
The signs of addiction are all around us. The average
American watches over four hours of television every day, and 49% of those
continue to watch despite admitting to doing it excessively. These are the
classic indicators of an addict in denial: addicts know they're doing harm
to themselves, but continue to use the drug regardless.
Recent studies on laboratory rats show that opioid-receptor
stimulants induce addictive behaviors. The evidence is conclusive: all
opioids are addictive! Even the ones your body produces naturally. The
television set works as a high-tech drug delivery system, and we all feel
its effects. The question is, can an addiction to television be destructive?
The answer we receive from modern science is a resounding “Yes!”
First of all, when you're watching television the higher
brain regions (like the midbrain and the neo-cortex) are shut down, and most
activity shifts to the lower brain regions (like the limbic system). The
neurological processes that take place in these regions cannot accurately be
called “cognitive.” The lower or reptile brain simply stands poised to
react to the environment using deeply embedded “fight or flight”
response programs. Moreover, these lower brain regions cannot distinguish
reality from fabricated images (a job performed by the neo-cortex), so they
react to television content as though it were real, releasing appropriate
hormones and so on. Studies have proven that, in the long run, too much
activity in the lower brain leads to atrophy in the higher brain regions.
It is interesting to note that the lower/reptile/limbic
brain correlates to the bio-survival circuit of the Leary/Wilson 8 Circuit
Model of Consciousness. This is our primal circuit, the base “presence”
that we normally associate with consciousness. This is the circuit where we
receive our first neurological imprint (the oral imprint), which conditions
us to advance toward anything warm, pleasurable and/or protective in the
environment. The bio-survival circuit is our most infantile, our most primal
way of dealing with reality.
A person obsessed with the pursuit of physical pleasure
is probably fixated on this circuit; in fact the Freudians believed an opium
addiction was an attempt to return to the womb. We could logically deduce
that such addictions occur when higher brain functions are anesthetized and
the newly dominant lower brain seeks out pleasure at any cost. Taking this
into account, television is like a double edged sword: not only does it
cause the endocrine system to release the body’s natural opiates
(endorphins), but it also concentrates neurological activity in the lower
brain regions where we are motivated by nothing but the pursuit of pleasure.
Television produces highly functional, mobile “bio-survival robots.”
Herbert Krugman’s research proved that watching
television numbs the left brain and leaves the right brain to perform all
cognitive duties. This has some harrowing implications for the effects of
television on brain development and health. For one, the left hemisphere is
the critical region for organizing, analyzing, and judging incoming data.
The right brain treats incoming data uncritically, and it does not decode or
divide information into its component parts.
The right brain processes information in wholes, leading
to emotional rather than intelligent responses. We cannot rationally attend
to the content presented on television because that part of our brain is not
in operation. It is therefore unsurprising that people rarely comprehend
what they see on television, as was shown by a study conducted by researcher
Jacob Jacoby. Jacoby found that, out of 2,700 people tested, 90%
misunderstood what they watched on television only minutes before. As yet
there is no explanation as to why we switch to the right brain while viewing
television, but we do know this phenomenon is immune to content.
For a brain to comprehend and communicate complex
meaning, it must be in a state of “chaotic disequilibrium.” This means
that there must be a dynamic flow of communication between all of the
regions of the brain, which facilitates the comprehension of higher levels
of order (breaking conceptual thresholds), and leads to the formation of
complex ideas. High levels of chaotic brain activity are present during
challenging tasks like reading, writing, and working mathematical equations
in your head. They are not present while watching TV. evels
of brain activity are measured by an electroencenograph (EEG) machine. While
watching television, the brain appears to slow to a halt, registering low
alpha wave readings on the EEG. This is caused by the radiant light produced
by cathode ray technology within the television set. Even if you're reading
text on a television screen the brain registers low levels of activity. Once
again, regardless of the content being presented, television essentially
turns off your nervous system.
In addition to its devastating neurological effects,
television can be harmful to your sense of self-worth, your perception of
your environment, and your physical health. Recent surveys have shown that
75% of American women think they are overweight, likely the result of
watching chronically thin actresses and models four hours a day.
Television has also spawned a “culture of fear” in
the U.S. and beyond, with its focus on the limbic brain-friendly
sensationalism of violent programming. Studies have shown that people of all
generations greatly overestimate the threat of violence in real life. This
is no shock because their brains cannot discern reality from fiction while
Television is bad for your body as well. Obesity, sleep
deprivation, and stunted sensory development are all common among television
So I hope we’ve firmly established that television is
an addictive drug, one that is no better than opium, heroin, or any other
opiate. Television is just as (and possibly even more) harmful to the
body-brain as every other drug. But there’s one big difference. All other
drugs apparently pose a threat to the established social order. Television,
however, is a drug that is actually essential to maintaining the
social infrastructure. Why? Because it brainwashes consumers to throw money
at the gaping void of their meaningless, terror-filled lives. And by
brainwashed, I mean they’ve been hypnotized using very subtle and
established techniques which, when coupled with television’s natural
effects on brain waves, make for the most ambitious psychological
engineering ruse ever concocted.
Psychophysiologist Thomas Mulholland found that after
just 30 seconds of watching television the brain begins to produce alpha
waves, which indicates torpid (almost comatose) rates of activity. Alpha
brain waves are associated with unfocused, overly receptive states of
consciousness. A high frequency alpha waves does not occur normally when the
eyes are open. In fact, Mulholland’s research implies that watching
television is neurologically analogous to staring at a blank wall.
I should note that the goal of hypnotists is to induce
slow brain wave states. Alpha waves are present during the “light hypnotic”
state used by hypno-therapists for suggestion therapy.
When Mulholland’s research was published it greatly
impacted the television industry, at least in the marketing and advertising
sector. Realizing viewers automatically enter a trance state while watching
television, marketers began designing commercials that produce unconscious
emotional states or moods within the viewer. The aim of commercials is not
to appeal to the rational or conscious mind (which usually dismisses
advertisements) but rather to implant moods that the consumer will associate
with the product when it is encountered in real life. When we see product
displays at a store, for instance, those positive emotions are triggered.
Endorsements from beloved athletes and other celebrities evoke the same
associations. If you’ve ever doubted the power of television advertising,
bear this in mind: commercials work better if you’re not paying
attention to them!
An addictive mind control device . . . what more could a
government or profit-driven corporation ask for? But the really sad thing
about television is that it turns
everyone into a zombie, no one is immune. There is no
higher order of super-intelligent, nefarious beings behind this. It’s the
product of our very human desire to alter our state of consciousness and
escape the hardships of reality.
While AdBusters has their highly ineffectual “TV
Turnoff Week,” I’d like to announce a campaign of my own. Starting next
week, we will celebrate what I like to call TV Pawn-Off Week. I encourage
you all to sell your televisions, and use the money to buy some books.
We’re living in a Brave New World, only it’s not so
brave, or even that new. In fact, it’s starting to look more and more like
the Dark Ages, with the preliterate zombie masses obeying the authority of
the new clergy: Regis Philbin and Jerry Springer.