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Television and America
There have been many technological advances within the past sixty years that have fundamentally influenced the way that we live in the United States. Among the most influential is the invention and proliferation of the television.
Though there are other advances which, are equally important it is still the television that dominates the background noise of nearly every home. In fact most homes have more televisions than they have bathrooms. It is not unusual for television to be the single most used avenue for national and international information. "From its early position as a new medium for political coverage in the 1950s, television quickly supplanted radio and eventually newspapers to become by the early 1960s the major source of public information about politics."
This information includes political, social and popular issues that have helped shape the culture of America. It is through the influence of television and the media that politics of America have become what they are. It is through television that the civil rights movement reached so many more than it would have otherwise and it is through television that to some degree the Americanization of foreign people has occurred.
Though, television was invented in 1927, by Philo Farnsworth, (Schatzkin 2002) the proliferation of the technology did not begin to occur until the mid 1940s and early 1950s. "The introduction of television was stalled while the nation devoted its technical might to winning the Second World War, but by the late 1940s television swept the nation and the world." (Schatzkin 2002) It wasn't until the picture gained color in 1946 that the invention really exploded as something every home needed. (Bellis 2003)
There are a few striking visual messages, associated with the political that really stand out in the minds of most Americans.
From the first televised presidential debates to the near continuous television coverage of congressional activities that exists today, television has made landmark strides towards informing the people. Though, many would argue that this has all come at a price, associated with the visual image sometimes being more compelling than the political message and also the sheer cost of national campaigns given the high cost of television advertisement.
Yet, it is also clear that the world of politics in the United States would not be what it is today without the political images and information we all get form the television.
A observers have long discussed the fact that television coverage of the famous 1954 McArthur Day Parade in Chicago communicated more excitement and a greater sense of immediacy to television viewers than to those participating in the live event. The televised hearings in conjunction with Joseph McCarthy's search for communist sympathizers in the early 1950s also captured the attention of the public. (Kaid 2003)
Who can argue that the major political event surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy did not burn images into the minds of many people, a great deal of whom can remember exactly where they were when the news hit the television and when the famous home video was broadcast repeatedly for days.
Through television Americans have been eyewitness to state funerals and foreign wars; a presidential resignation; hearings on scandals such as Watergate, Iran-Contra, and Whitewater; triumphs of presidential diplomacy and negotiation; and innumerable other political events. (Kaid 2003)
Yet, as Kaid points out in her scholarly work "Political Process and Television," (2003) the aspect of politics which has been the most effected by television is the process of the political campaign, most specifically the presidential political campaign.
The first presidential election to see extensive use of television was the 1952 race between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson. In that campaign, Richard M. Nixon, as Eisenhower's vice-presidential candidate, "took his case to the people" to defend himself on television against corruption charges in the famous "Checkers" speech. (Kaid 2003)
Yet, the use of practical television marketing as a campaigning tactic has become one of the most important of all political process changes effected by television.
However, the most significant innovation related to the role of television in the 1952 campaign was undoubtedly Eisenhower's use of short spot commercials to enhance his television image...Not only did this strategy break new ground for political campaigning, but many observers have credited the spots…[continue]
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