Lentis/Anti-TV Social Movements

When television was introduced in 1920, it received praise for being both a significant technological innovation and a new source of entertainment. As its popularity increased, some began to examine the social effects of the new medium. In 1977, Marie Winn published her book The Plug-In Drug, which argued that such effects were largely negative, focusing around the argument that it impairs childhood development. [1] The book gained popularity and became the foundation for many Anti-TV movements. While some of these movements only oppose certain TV content, others oppose TV entirely.


A projecting praxinoscope, 1882

The modern concept of television was developed over many decades. Pre-television inventions, such as the praxinoscope, were developed in the late 1800s. By the early 1900s, inventions began to resemble the modern television. However, the TV industry did not get its start in the United States until after the Great Depression.[2] Following World War II, television began gaining popularity in American households. In 1928, the first television service was offered regularly and the popularity of television exploded. [3] Television was celebrated as not only a new form of news broadcasting, but also entertainment.[2][4] Any opposition to the glorification of television did not take shape until the end of the 20th century. In 1980, following the publication of Plug-in drug, Mary Dixon founded the Society for the Eradication of Television, the first group organized around the elimination of television from households.[5][6] Regardless of the creation of more anti-television groups, the average number of televisions in American homes increased from 1.57 in 1975 to 2.86 by 2009.[7] Brief boycotts of television are commonplace, the largest being the boycott of Ellen in 1997 when four million American abstained from watching the show as part of the larger TV-Turnoff Week.[8] Through these boycotts as well as formal organizations and publications, the anti-television movement has taken various forms throughout history.

Anti-TV GroupsEdit

There are two main components of the anti-TV movement: those who wholly oppose television and those who are concerned about the messages that current programming conveys. These groups do not necessarily work together, as they often have varying agendas.

Groups for the Elimination of TVEdit


A TV-B-Gone

WhiteDot is a UK based movement created in 1996 by Jean Lotus. It believes TV alienates us from reality, promotes an unhealthy lifestyle, and corrupts children. WhiteDot’s prevalent argument is based on the claim that TV is an undesirable cultural trait. It claims that “television is hurting the quality of our lives,”[9] and supports initiatives to control and eliminate it such as TV-B-Gone.

WhiteDot also claims that TV is a hazard to democracy. Its manifesto is in line with the views of physiologist Bruce E. Levine, who claims that “TV keeps us indoors, and it keeps us from mixing it up in real life. People who are watching TV are isolated from other people, from the natural world—even from their own thoughts and senses. Television is a ‘dream come true’ for an authoritatian society.” [10]

TV-Free AmericaEdit

TV-Free America started as an initiative to raise awareness about the amount of time the average American spent watching TV. From there, it was renamed as the Center for SCREEN-TIME Awareness (CSTA), focusing not only on television, but also on all means of electronic media. CSTA is an international nonprofit based in Washington DC. They claim their “objective is to see more healthy people in functional families in vibrant communities.” [11] The CSTA also views television—and all electronic media—as a control mechanism, and invites Americans to take control of their lives by turning off all screens during the annual Screen-Free Week.

Groups for the Modification of TV ContentEdit

Professional OrganizationsEdit

The American Psychological Association (APA) published recommendations for parents on managing what their children are exposed to.[12] They reference studies which support a correlation between watching violence and behaving aggressively. One such study collected data on the amount and type of violence that children between the ages of 6 and 10. A follow-up study conducted on a majority of the original participants 14 years later found that viewing violence as a child led to increased rates of aggression later in life.[13] With these studies in mind, the APA recommends parents consider the Film Rating System when deciding what their children can watch. [12] The Surgeon General of the United States issued similar messages to those of the APA, noting that children who are susceptible to reactions from viewing violence may experience “nightmares or be afraid to go to sleep….”[14] While not directly opposed to graphic content, both groups acknowledge that certain images are not suitable for children under a certain age.

Non-Professional OrganizationsEdit

Non-professional organizations, including the American Family Association (AFA) and the Parents Against Media Violence (PAMV), have voiced their opinion. While their arguments have different bases, the disapproval of messages in popular television in the same. The AFA states that current programming often opposes Christian values, saying that people in charge of TV programming are "overtly hostile to the Christian faith." [15][16] PAMV is concerned more with general morality concerns and the glorification of sex and violence. They argue that TV producers only have profits in mind and disregard the education of children. They refer to a variety of professional organizations, such as the APA, who have published studies that legitimize their claims. PAMV also claims parents are a large part of the issue because they indirectly support media violence by not screening what their children watch.[17]

Opposition (Pro-TV)Edit

While no organizations exist with the explicit goal of opposing these movements, those with a financial stake in the television industry implicitly aim to counter them. Instead of arguing against the claims of anti-TV movements, these participants take a more passive strategy of promoting their industry through lobbying and advertising. As of 2014, the industry is valued at around 74 billion dollars, [18] giving these groups significant economic influence. One such group, the TV Bureau of Advertising (TVB), represents the television advertising industry, and is composed of representatives at advertising companies, broadcasting groups, and networks among others.[19] In addition to facilitating TV advertising profits, TVB aims to promote the idea of TV as a positive source of entertainment by running different campaigns such as their recent “Project Road Block” program, which runs ads that discourage drunk driving. [19]

Other major players include the Consumer Electronics Association and SAG-AFTRA. While the former exists to grow the consumer electronics industry,[20] the latter exists to negotiate “the best wages, working conditions, and health and pension benefits” for its members, which are largely actors. [21] Consequently, both of these groups implicitly oppose Anti-TV movements, seeing as successes in such movements would harm their profits, and thus impede their missions.

All of these groups are united in the fact that they aim to please TV viewers, another participant largely on the pro-TV side of the equation. Roughly 283 million Americans watch TV every month, [18] which amounts to about ninety percent of the population. TV is a major source of media for the majority of the population, and consequently, consumers are exposed to more TV advertisements than those from any other media source. [22] In this sense, the viewers supply the economic fuel that sustains the industry.

Related MovementsEdit

Anti-technology MovementsEdit

Most anti-technology movements inherently oppose TV. The most visible of these is the Neo-Luddist movement, which takes its name from the British Luddite movement that opposed the industrial revolution in the early 17th century. The Neo-Luddist movement does not oppose all technologies, only those which “are, at root, destructive of human lives and communities”. [23] Neo-Luddites believe that television fits these criteria, asserting that it “ offers corporations a surefire method of expanding their markets and controlling social and political thought.” [23] Fittingly, the movement does not have a website, so limited information about them is available to the public.

Other MovementsEdit

Some individuals that oppose the current political system believe that television is part of a large government conspiracy to facilitate mind control and social engineering. [24] Some of these individuals believe that the flickering of different images that we perceive as video intentionally produces a state of hypnosis in the viewer. [25] Consequently, they oppose television and other related technologies.

Television has also received criticism from environmentalists who see TV as a source of electronic waste with heavy metals harmful to the environment. Groups like Take Back My TV[26] seek to reduce the amount of e-waste produced and disposed. E-waste disposal has become a complex political issue. According to GreenPeace, most of the e-waste produced in the west is shipped abroad to countries like China or India.[27]

Relation to Technological DeterminismEdit

Technology has been understood as the practical application of scientific knowledge, usually in favor of the betterment of human life. However, the subjective nature of this definition has given place for disagreement on what better is. It could be argued that technology is the means to free humans from menial tasks and allow them to serve a more noble purpose: ‘think and dream.’ [28] This is the view presented in Rydber’s Prometheus. However, after the birth of technological determinism, some discourse surrounding technology has become more skeptical and preventive. Technology, and TV in particular has been portrayed in popular media as the perfect means of control of an authoritarian society. Some examples of this are Orwell’s 1984 portrayal of tele-screens, or Alan Moor’s V for Vendetta. [29][30]

Representation in the media has been a subject of controversy. Reality TV, for example, has been said to reinforce gender, cultural, religious, and sexual stereotypes. Within a short period between the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, a number of articles dealing with this started circulating. Some examples include “Reality TV plays into stereotypes”[31] or The New York Times article “Does Reality TV Promote Dangerous Stereotypes?” [32] These articles deal with television as a technology that can morph culture, for the better or worse.

Technological determinists like Merrit R. Smith claim that “technology [is] a key governing force in society,” [33] and as such it has the power to shape culture. TV, as a form of technology, abides to this. However, television is also a form of media that pushes forward narratives. It could be argued that as such, it is particularly influential on the social construction of culture since it relates to the viewer as an object as well as a source of information. This dualistic characteristic of television is what has given room for different groups to oppose it or support it either for what it is or for what it shows.


  1. Winn, M. (1977). The plug-in drug. New York: Viking Press.
  2. a b Abramson, A. (1987) The History of Television,1880 to 1941.Washington, D.C.: McFarland
  3. What Television Offers You, Popular Mechanics, November 1928, p. 823
  4. The Latest in Television, Popular Mechanics, September 1929, p. 472
  5. Boshra, B. (2003, January 18). How to kick the boob-tube habit. The Gazette.
  6. http://webwm.com/set/
  7. The Nielsen Company. (2009). Television Audience 2008. New York City: The Nielsen Company.
  8. Mittell, J. (2000). The Cultural Power of an Anti-Television Metaphor. Television & New Media, 1(2), 215-238.
  9. http://www.whitedot.org
  10. Levine, B. E. (2012, October 30). How TV Zombifies and Pacifies Us and Subverts Democracy. Retrieved from brucelevine.net
  11. Universal screen-time reduction: A lifestyle for the 21st Century Fact Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved from depts.washington.edu
  12. a b http://www.apa.org/about/policy/media.aspx
  13. Huesmann, L., Moise-Titus, J., & Eron, L. (2003). Early Exposure to TV Violence Predicts Aggression in Adulthood. Developmental Psychology, 39, 201-221.
  14. Subcommittee on Communications, Committee on Commerce, Senate. (1972). Surgeon General's report by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behavior. Washington, D.C.: United States Senate.
  15. http://www.afa.net
  16. http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2011/winter/afa_quotes
  17. http://www.pamv.net
  18. a b Nielsen and Simulmedia. (2000). The Data-Driven Future of Video Advertising. Amit Seth and Dave Morgan. http://www.slideshare.net/aseth/nielsen-simulmedia-future-of-video-advertising-whitepaper
  19. a b http://www.tvb.org/
  20. http://www.ce.org/
  21. http://www.sagaftra.org/
  22. Jin, H. S., & Lutz, R. J. (2013). The Typicality and Accessibility of Consumer Attitudes Toward Television Advertising: Implications for the Measurement of Attitudes Toward Advertising in General. Journal Of Advertising, 42(4), 343-357.
  23. a b Notes toward a Neo-Luddite Manifesto. (1990). Utne Reader. http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/chellis-glendinning-notes-toward-a-neo-luddite-manifesto
  24. http://rense.com/general69/mass.htm
  25. http://pupaganda.com/originals/Tv_mind_control.html
  26. http://www.electronicstakeback.com/
  27. Where Does e-Waste End Up. (2009, February 24). GreenPeace. Retrieved from www.greepeace.org
  28. Henrik von Wright, G. (1993). The Tree of Knowledge and other essays. Leiden, Netherlands: E.J. Brill.
  29. Orwell, G. (2004). Chapter 1. In 1984 a novel. S.l.: S.n
  30. McTeigue, J. (2006). V for Vendetta. Warner Bros. Pictures.
  31. Ryan, M. (2005, February 25). Reality TV plays into stereotypes. Chicago Tribune.
  32. Gonchar, M. (2013, January 3). Does Reality TV Promote Dangerous Stereotypes? The New York Times
  33. Smith, M. (1994). Does technology drive history?: The dilemma of technological determinism (p. 2). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.