[VIEWPOINT] TV or Not TV, That Is the Question

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[VIEWPOINT] TV or Not TV, That Is the Question

Like a Siren Song, TV Holds Viewers Spellbound and Unheeding of Pitfalls

During the period of the Spring and Autumn period in ancient China, courtier Yang of Wei was on his way to the State of Chin when he heard strangely magnificent music coming from a mulberry grove on the river banks. The nobleman ordered an accompanying musician to listen and copy the melodies. Later, he had his musician perform the music for courtier Pang of Chin, boasting that it was a new piece of music the musician had learned to play during the trip. Hearing the first few notes, a musician from Chin immediately stopped the performance, calling it not a new piece of music but "the sounds of a nation in ruin." He explained why.

"In the times past, King Chou of Shang became addicted to the music his musician Yan had composed and spent his time feasting, drinking, and seeking other forms of pleasure. He was finally overthrown by King Wu of Chou. The musician Yan drowned himself in the river, clasping the musical instrument to his chest. Thereafter the music continues to emanate from the river. The people fear it as a decadent music, or the 'sounds of a nation in ruin,' and even today, they always take care to keep their ears blocked each time they pass by the river. It was that music that you have just played."

Now let's turn to a more current issue. There was a time when the TV was referred to as an "idiot box" for paralyzing the imagination and creativity of the viewers, and turning them into simple-minded idiots. No one calls the TV an idiot box today, however.

No other medium has had such an explosive influence as television in modern society. In a way, the TV can be said to have an even greater destructive force than nuclear weapons capable of wiping out the entire world at the touch of a button. The reason is because nuclear weapons come with multiple safety devices. Even if someone decides to press the button in a fit of madness, it cannot go off unless several people are pressing the button simultaneously. In comparison, television is exceedingly simple to turn on. Two-year-olds can do it. It instantly displays whatever the viewer might desire, much like the genie from Aladdin's lamp doing his master's bidding.

Brainwashing millions of viewers simultaneously with the same message in the briefest of an instant through a most powerful method, the TV makes us think of the revival of Big Brother in George Owell's "1984."

But what is television doing today with its tremendous power to influence? Especially during the last decade since the creation of a third public channel under the banner of commercial broadcasting, Korean TV networks have been veering almost unchecked toward indiscriminate sensationalism, ready to do whatever it takes to win in the competition for attracting more viewers.

Korea's networks mostly reproduce, almost to the last detail, the extremely frivolous Japanese show programs led by a group of hosts and hostesses. The networks then make caricatures of their guests, reducing them to cartoon characters, by subtitling every one of their actions. The entire network has turned into a single huge performance stage of the entertainers, for the entertainers and by the entertainers. Viewers are forced to watch them caper, exchange banter and generally fool around on public air.

Epitomizing an obscene height of consumption, singers spend billions of won shooting videos to promote their songs. TV networks waste half an hour of prime time on weekends on a ridiculous game of guessing how many thousands of people the singers will be able to attract to their performance.

Having to play by the rules of a desperate game of surviving through any means, an invisible sense of compulsion takes over every person appearing on TV to outshine others, causing them to exaggerate their actions and even use vulgar language, just to attract attention. Every person appearing on TV, whether the president, a politician, a scholar or a priest, becomes obsessed with a sham of his or her true self, the bogus captured by a third eye - the television camera - thus making every viewer play the clown for charlatans.

The sweet and extravagant melodies of a nation in a state of chaos and ruin and the decadent music the Chinese musician Yan wrote long in the past are still coming out of today's television. They are like the siren song that the mermaid sang on the Lorelei Rock in the Rhine, which mesmerized the captains of ships and blinded them to the dangers ahead, allowing them to run their ships aground on the rocks and sink to their doom.

Are we, too, going to remain spellbound by the powerful melodies constantly coming from the television and drift unheeding to an untoward destination? Or are we going to block our ears as the ancient Chinese did and turn off the TV? This is the question we have to ask ourselves today.

The writer is a novelist.

by Choi In-ho

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