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Television watching plays a major part in most people’s lives. Millions of people watch their favorite shows on television every week. Parents from all over watch the news on TV every night, and their are others who settle down in front of their televisions for the weekend movie. From the beginning of time people all around the world have used images as well as typographic symbols for public discourse. This medium has played a very important role in today’s society and has helped people to progress toward the epistemology of television. Since the birth of the television there has been much debate over the influences of this medium. Two theorists who seem to have a firm grasp on the subject are Camille Paglia and Neil Postman. These two theorists demonstrate how the Dionysian and Apollonian conflict can be used to better understand, and appreciate the use of television. They also go further into detail by explaining how this perspective influences how one views television vs. typographic dimensions. Throughout the course of this paper there will be a series of television shows that will illustrate the positive and negative dimensions of the television medium as debated by Paglia and Postman.

One popular television sitcom that is loved and seen by many people around the world is NBC’s “Friends.” As Postman and Paglia have stated, “we agree on the influence of popular culture through visual images (She Wants…).” Many people look for these visually popular images. This popular television show carries many Dionysian examples of television. Some of the negative elements that can be found in this particular show is the misrepresentation of America.

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The groups of people in this show are all Anglo-Americans. There is no diversification of ethnic groups on this show except for the occasional guest. A television show like “Friends”, gives people the wrong impression regarding everyday life. The nonverbal message of the show says people do not have real friends unless you look like the cast members. Postman argues, “Television conditions us to tolerate visually entertaining material (Amusing…).” An all Black or White family sitcom helps only to strengthen the negative idea of a non integrated Black and White society. “Friends” is about a group of White friends who live and run around all of New York City and hardly ever run into a single minority. This concept can be understood to mean that the “Friends” live in a perfect New York. Furthermore, what makes this show Dionysian is that their lives appear to revolve around their own apartments and the little coffee shop they call “Central Perk.” These “Friends” always appear to have perfectly flawless hair and makeup. As Paglia has stated, “Soap operas are mainly about hair, you know, very pagan-the worship of beauty (She Wants…).” Although, despite its flaws, this show does posses some positive qualities. This show continues to provide people with humor. The humor in Dionysian television can be a great escape from everyday life. “Friends” makes anyone who has come home from a tough days work laugh. Comedy programs, such as this one, make viewers laugh, feel better, and make people generally happier.

An additional show that can be seen in the Dionysian light is “The Jerry Springer Show.” This show covers some of the darker realms of talk shows. This “tell-all” show addresses the problems and hardships of everyday life that people may or may not encounter. Jerry Springer, on the other hand, has more of a target with the young adults of society. These people are usually in the 18-21 year old range, whose main troubles in life involve love, relationships, sex, pregnancy, money, peers and influence. They are the ones who see some value and lessons to be learned underneath the show’s exploitations. Postman states, “Television does have a way of showing the authentic soul (She Wants…).” We can safely say that the show is based mainly on relationships between people. Principles are first put into question when guests start to confess of deeds that have betrayed their partner’s trust. Shortly after a fight would normally break out with the audience in the background screaming Jerry, Jerry! Once again, morality questions arise regarding the reactions of the audience. There is no basis on what is the right kind or ideal life, but it is apparent that the audience cheers only when the guests act up. The audience reassures the guests of their negative lifestyles with cheers. Jerry Springer ends every show with his “final thought” and it is here where he offers didactic advice as to what is the appropriate way to handle one’s personal relationships. His speeches at the end are basically an assurance that the values and morals passed down by our elders are still intact and they are the correct approach to life. This show however, does give its guests the opportunity for open communication and help towards the end of the TV show.

Postman gives the reader a new perspective on this medium, and the effect that it has on society. One other form of television that can be seen in our society today is the Apollonian version of television shows such as PBS’s “Sesame Street”. “Sesame Street” is a widely recognized and educational program for children. “We acquire most of our knowledge from TV (McLemore).” Many people from all over the world learn so much from this program. PBS is funded solely through the public’s donations. Schools often use television as a way of providing additional education for students. The reasons why television is used in schools is to demonstrate many things that cannot be done in the classroom and often show things that cannot be experienced in the country or area where the school is located. “Sesame Street has remained on the cutting edge of educational children’s entertainment (Sesame Street).” PBS is strictly Apollonian television without the hassle of advertisements in the way. “Sesame Street” focuses strictly on the Apollonian criteria of the television show. As a result of this, “Sesame Street” incorporates repetitiveness of quick and catchy letters of the alphabet, numbers, and social skills. As a matter of fact, “Sesame Street” has evolved to become more relevant to mainstream culture and the environment. In South Africa, “Sesame Street” has created a female monster character with the symptoms of HIV and AIDS to better inform and to educate the children who at times are already born with this illness. One downfall to this as Postman has stated, “Television does not encourage children to go to school but also affects their cognitive and social development (Amusing…).” Some additional shows that could be considered Apollonian as well are game shows.

As Paglia has stated, “We need to reinforce the logo centric and Apollonian side of our culture (She Wants…).” Game shows popular right now are “Jeopardy” and “The Weakest Link.” Shows such as these are forms of Apollonian television; they help in educating us about the things or matters that surround us. By using this form of television this makes it more appealing to the eye. Besides, by watching the television set we are listening and learning because it makes it easier to see what is going on. We can then remember the images that are being represented so that it may be easier to recall later in time. “We are a multitask culture”, as Paglia states. The positive side to these Apollonian game shows is that it also brings families closer and is something that the whole family can enjoy. This type of television is also helpful in that it educates people in a variety of subject matters as well and is not restricted to any one topic. “TV is a medium that makes us feel at home (She Wants…).” Apollonian programming allows families to and watch together without parents worrying and screaming out during regular Dionysian television shows “turn around and cover your ears kids!”

Television has been a controversy since its early beginnings. Yet even today controversy and debate still surround this fairly new medium. Television can be a rich source of stimulating entertainment and a learning tool. Television is a useful source for building a better future when used properly. Throughout the course of this paper we have examined how a series of television shows illustrate the positive and negative dimensions of the television medium as debated by Paglia and Postman.

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