Marty Pelletier


Channels of Identification
When we see stories on the news of children murdering each other, what
must we think in terms of responsibility and which influences
contributed to the decisions which left four children and a teacher
dead? Who is responsible? How do we as individuals make decisions?
What in our culture influences our behavior and impacts our value
systems? More specifically, what exactly does it mean to be
influenced? I have chosen television as my focus because I feel it is
the most successful media in terms of sculpting social values and,
therefore, social relations. The examination of the television
industry, with an emphasis on communication (through perception and
subsequent identification), yields answers to these questions that are
so essential to understanding core sociological themes. I will first
discuss how the process of acculturation produces the human need to
create a personal identity every second, and the inherent implications
of the role of communication toward this goal of self-identification. I
will examine why television fits this human need so perfectly, as it
presents an incredibly safe place to identify without being judged in
Television is notorious for its ability to create and alter our concept
of reality, but how did it become such a powerful influence? Which
human cultural need produced such a demand for a medium that can be
passively consulted for clues to our personal identities? What is the
nature of the interaction that people have with television? The act of
watching television highlights a number of phenomena that explain the
culture of television. The key players are the programs on TV and the
viewers, the latter creating a need for the former. After all,
television would have no place in a world with no viewers. Television
is a profound clue in to the inter-workings of the larger culture, as
well as to the nature of human behavior, in that it reflects our
weaknesses and goals, and the extremely exploitive nature of power.

 ^ÓCommunication is a symbolic process whereby reality is produced,
maintained, repaired, and transformed^Ô. This process is enabled by the
fact that communication is necessary for human survival. The very
nature of humans as a social animal accounts for such a need to
communicate. The media^Òs ability to influence the individual and serve
as a cultural resource is the result of the individual^Òs incessant
search for identity, which established a permanent niche for television
in society. In other words, it was our need to be influenced, to have a
resource of clues as to our identity, which made television an authority
in values and ideas about reality. TV is important because we as humans
need to identify ourselves everyday and it is an easy and safe way to
reinforce what you want to see. It is a basis for interpreting and
defining our environment, about which we are constantly having to learn
and adjust. I will argue that inherent to human social relations is the
need to identify oneself in the moment in order to know how to respond.
 All living organisms have a fundamental need to interpret their
environment in order to survive, and to do so as efficiently as
possible. This raises the issue of why humans have such a need to find
identity in sources outside of the self. The answer lies in the fact
that humans do not have instincts, meaning that we do not have the
luxury of having access to predetermined responses to stimuli within the
environment. As such, we have to scan and consult our environment
(culture) to learn a system of responses that appeals to us
individually. Orchestrated by the ^Óself^Ô, our perceptual data from our
five senses is filtered and interpreted based on how we need to see the
world. Every second we are efficiently interpreting only the necessary
stimuli that must be responded to according to our self-created
investments. This is the reason you have not felt your feet in your
shoes until just now, there was no reason to. In a very real sense, we
are controlled by our investments in that it is in our investments that
we make or break our identities. Where we look then, what we listen to
is almost chosen for us (and yet somehow by us) as we are driven to
create an identity every moment based on the brain^Òs incredible need to
efficiently respond to its perceptions. We take clues from family,
educators, role models, peers, and the media, among others. Television
was designed in such a way that it is easy for us to consult it for
quick answers about who we want to be, what appropriate behavior is, how
we want our society to view us, how we want to spend our time. This is
a critical aspect to TV^Òs ability to impact us. It takes very little
energy for us to turn on the TV, it allows us to forget about the stress
in our own life, it does not require that we speak with anyone or have
to defend our ideals, it is optimistic in that it convinces us that we
can always be prettier, richer, better, and always more accepted by
others, only with the help of their products of course.
My intention in purposing this thesis of self-identification as the
basis of all communication is to show where the relationship between
perceiver and perceived truly lies, as this will show where
responsibility rests. I will demonstrate why TV is so appealing to our
impressionable nature, and why it is so potentially dangerous. I say
potentially because I will simultaneously argue that it is the perceiver
that ultimately must react to the message, and that although accountable
for her reaction, she is not necessarily in control. This idea that
humans are accountable for their perceptions while not being in control
of them may seem awkward or even conflicting, yet it is evidenced in
this theory of self. This theory is instrumental in illustrating the
process of perceiving, and thus the formation of values, because it
reflects how and why humans allow their mass media to affect them. It
is in the way in which we perceive an event, a commercial, or a
conversation that determines what we think about it, and therefore
whether to invest energy in it. The real question is what determines
how we perceive, how much influence is taken, how much is forced?
Television is an authority in social values because we invest so heavily
in its messages. In other words, people have assigned to television the
role of educator, informant, and mentor through our reliance upon it for
clues. Commercials serve to tell us what products, attitudes, and
behaviors we need to be socially acceptable, and characters model the
lives that we ought to lead. Through these means television sculpts our
ideas of success, health, beauty, happiness, love, and morality, of
which these productions avow to be an authority. However, it must be
acknowledged that viewers are those that truly make TV an authority in
social relations and ideals. The producers simply live up to such
The initial step in television^Òs ability to influence us is its capacity
to hold our attention in the first place, long enough to impact us and
leave a lasting impression. Television has long been a greater source
of entertainment than books or lasting conversations about life. We
turn to it and dedicate more time to watching than we do to any other
leisure activities. It is from these large proportions of invested time
that television derives its power as a primary influence. Furthermore,
the viewing of television is a ^Ósafe^Ô activity because we are not judged
as we view, no one knows what reaction we have to what we see is in the
privacy of our own mind; whereas with speaking we have to risk having
our ideas refuted.
The second step in television^Òs success in influencing us is through its
array of programs, messages, and realities, which ensures that everyone
will find something that speaks to them and provides some sort of
desirable feedback. Television is a powerful invention in that it allows
channels to human identity. Satellite TV, (soon DHTV) and comprehensive
cable programs present hundreds of channels with individual programming
that have the power to captivate anyone, regardless of background or
belief. This makes it easy to identify. Producers are able,
furthermore, to determine in which ways we identify with the messages
through Nielson ratings and product sales, and continually reinforce
whatever values or messages that sells. This selling of attention makes
billionaires of certain CEOs and immediately raises questions of
responsibility, morality, and where exactly free-will lies in a society
so structured in conformity.
Producers of programs and advertising are well aware of the competition
they have with other sources for clues as to identity. Being the
quickest, easiest, and least expensive product through which values and
answers are communicated is an asset that makes it so influential. This
is why millions of dollars are offered per episode to a comedian living
in New York City for playing the part of a comedian living in NYC.
Conglomerates of businesses, thousands of jobs, all rest on product
sales. Americans have become so addicted to finding our personal
identity in consumerism that Jerry Seinfeld has become extremely
influential to our economy.
Is it too late? Are we already so conditioned to need to be influenced
by the same messages that we can^Òt see it? Are corporations already so
invested in their own growth that to take their ^Ócustomers^Ô well being
in to account would be bankruptcy? A perfect example is the Tobacco
Industry. They are so incredibly invested in their worldwide
distribution of nicotine that they knowingly target children, heighten
nicotine levels, and then lie about its addictive nature and ability to
kill if used properly. They were not born evil, I believe they have
just learned to identify themselves by not looking at the consequences
of their actions. This would be pretty easy with billions of dollars to
spend and a true belief that one is simply offering a product for sale,
as a public service almost.
Smoking cigarettes is another perfect example of how the ^Óself^Ô needs to
find identity. The act of inhaling cigarette smoke is incredibly
dangerous to one^Òs body and yet I feel that is exactly why kids do it.
They know its not healthy, they smoke because it^Òs not healthy. Smoking
started out as a social activity but as it became a ^Ódirty habit^Ô,
suddenly it was attractive to anyone who wanted to rebel or make a
statement, namely teenagers. They smoke because it^Òs cool and important
to claim your independence as a teenager. What better way than to show
that they can successfully ingest one of the most harmful substances
known to man. The recent uproar and court cases over tobacco, I
believe, only gives kids more reason to smoke as they see how easy it is
to find identity in what others believe is bad. That is why they snuck
that first cigarette in the first place. What are the implications of
all individuals needing to find their own identity and a society so
attached to its products? Are we growing in our consumerist need to
find our^Ôselves^Ô or will this trend result in an intense rebellion when
the cards are finally laid on the table and everyone sees the true
relationship of a commidified culture to it^Òs need to identify?
To what extent does conformity promote a stable society and at what
point does it limit its possibilities? What responsibility do
corporations have in sending messages that could easily harm social
relations, such as the beauty myth, or the problem of drinking and
driving? What freedoms are granted by our Amendments and further
reinforced by our government^Òs subsidizations? What is my
responsibility? I hope to attack these questions, based on the above
assumptions, in my next paper.


Quotes: Search by Author