Television and Democracy: A Philosophical Analysis

April 20, 2012

tv democracy

TV and philosophers usually do not mix. The demonization of the media began in the fifties (ie from birth of the small screen) under the leadership of the Frankfurt School (Adorno and Horkheimer) and has not stopped since.

Two french authors, Dominique Wolton, a sociologist, and Gilles Lipovestsky, a philosopher, tried to break this intellectual “diktat”, and defend the compatibility of democracy with television, that is to say with a critical citizen, free and active. In “Should we burn the media?” Lipovestsky answered critics commonly attributed to television.

Television as vehicle for freedom of thought

The first complaint sent to the television is that TV transforms people into “standards citizens”, to reduce individuals in pure uniform products. Certainly, he admits, it generated a homogenization of behaviors and thoughts, but this expansion is offset by the public dissemination of a morality based on autonomy, which allowed individuals, not become a mere copy of others, but to free classes and traditions that weighed on them.

The media, especially television, have privatized behaviors and judgments, and eventually fostered the freedom to think. At that point Lipovetsky judge the media as the continuation of the Enlightenment. True, but it remains unclear whether this “historic contribution to the advent of a new culture of individualism” is not actually gone hand in hand with the privatization of reason. Indeed, freedom of thought promoted by the media seems to be a purely private use of reason, which is a denial of the principle of publicity. Kant based public space on public use of reason: what are the consequences of this privatization of reason on the strength of public space?

Active or Passive Viewer ?

The second common complaint is that the passivity entailed television. For G. Lipovetsky, there is an activity, or rather a reaction of the viewer. Sensationalism, exacerbating fears and collective fantasies, often practiced by the media, contain a positive: it is possible to consider “what [push] people to react, to protest, otherwise said to arise actors “, while promoting” mobilizations and protests of consumers and citizens. ” D. Wolton was also stressed in several works, the autonomy of the public in respect of messages broadcast by television. According to him, the individual can establish a remote or a resistance to them. It is often said that the daily use of television, as well as repeating the same images (the “hype”), produces a commonplace, a kind of naturalization of the world that would squander the ability to critique him. To this D. Wolton contends, against what he called “conformity review” of elites, that the individual, gifted with a critical sense, it is precisely at work in his daily use of that instrument. The relationship between television and receiver would not be in the mode of unilateralism but on that of interactivity. This media contribute to building a culture critic. However, sensationalism seems rather double-edged: if we take the example of the 2002 presidential campaign, conducted on the theme of insecurity, it is possible to wonder if the “reaction” of citizens s is not proven to be a manipulation of the media more than a campaign. Another example: the images of war, staged by the media, and passing loop on the chain drive more people to fatalism, passivity, and therefore that mobilization. The reaction to the television seems to have to be qualified.

Television and social ties

The third criticism of television is to isolate individuals, destroy social ties. According to G. Lipovetsky and D. Wolton, or denies intersubjectivity: “We do not watch only the programs, we talk about it.” Watching television is a “free and individual participation in a group activity.” It would be an instrument to fight against individualism. The problem is that the discussion will take place only within the sphere of intimacy: this is always the private use of reasoning that television promotes, not the public use.

Television and politics

The fourth argument used against television is to blame him for “depoliticize politics.” G. Lipovetsky do not think so. Through dissemination of debates and the omnipresence of political leaders, create television media figures that allow voters to recognize them, and hence of interest in politics. This neutrality would allow individuals to form their opinions freely. This means the influence of communication technologies on the political public sphere, which perverts the vote of the voter to vote more so for a person to a program. In addition, says G. Lipovetsky, the reality of the neutrality of television against parties. Argument seems questionable in view of many existing collusion between politicians and the media, which have the effect of skewing the public scrutiny. This neutrality is probably displayed more than practiced. TV materialize, according to D. Wolton, the democratic ideal, since it gives everyone access to information, the sine qua non for the exercise of citizenship rights. It would allow the citizen viewer to “decode the world.”

Television and democracy

Two questions remain unanswered: Is it the role of television? Is not assign a responsibility it  can not endorse? If so, the problem of the quality of information arises: if it is bad, it is wrong or partial, does the televisiont become a distorting mirror of the world?