Television as an amusement or as a source of news is inferior to print. $1That is a point that I have been trying to make in this column over the past few months. A comparative study of the various communications systems employed by mankind through the ages reveals that in terms of sheer articulation, television ranks about even with the American Indians' smoke signals. And of smoke signals at least it can be said that they were less nerve-wracking and had far fewer commercials. Moreover, television makes os few demands on the intellect that the inveterate viewer is in constant peril of having his brain turned into truffles.
Somewhat to my surprise, these views have not ingratiated me to the tycoons of television. Like the reverend clergy, they see themselves as having answered to a higher calling; and they do not believe that they should be exposed to scrutiny -- though their news teams and even their entertainment programs scrutinize others very rigorously. Hence I now get frosty telephone calls from television reporters asking me to explain myself, notifying me that my criticisms have been wholly negative and informing me of an obligation to offer constructive criticism.
Of course this is flapdoodle. No writer is ever under any obligation to be constructive. A huge amount of the world's misery has been the porduct or writers' trying to be constructive. Think of the anguish brought on by the authors of "The Interpretation of Dreams" or "On the Origin of Species" or those dreadful diet tracts whose regimens have left so many of our fellow Americans looking like pallid prunes.
Yet I do have a few constructive recommendations for American television. To begin with, I urge that all the great networks be gathered up and nationalized. One of the dangers of television is that it is not boring enough. If it were more boring, it would be more intelligent, and the tycoons of television would be transformed from the mountebanks that they usually are to the archbishops and the schoolmarms that they yearn to be.
If network news and network entertainment were produced by one government-owned network originating from Washington, D.C., I believe American television would soon be even more boring than the British Broadcasting Corporation, a government entertainment corporation renowned throughout the world as a soporific of incomparable effectiveness and beneficence.
Yet I would go beyond merely turning network television into one government-owned system. To ensure that television remains benignly boring and perhaps to bring a bit more diversity into the public discourse, I recommend that this new Federal Broadcasting Corporation be turned over to the Soviet Union's Ministry of Radio and Television. This one gesture would do more for detente with our Russian friends than any disarmament proposal even confected by the State Department or the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Furthermore, this gesture would not have the harmful effect on our defense industry that other disarmament proposals might have.
Think of the possibilities: Dan Ruther introducing a five-hour tirade by President Leonid Brezhnev, Hugh Downs introducing marathon readings from the autobiography of President Leonid Brezhnev -- and forgot not that President Brezhnev is a recent winner of the Lenin Prize for Literature! There would be parades, interviews with babushka designers and thrilling in-depth reportage on colossal acts of heroism witnessed at the tractor production lines in Sverdlovsk.
American consumerists and ecologists would doubtless be pleased. There would be plenty of sermons about the perils of strong drink and cigarette smoking. There would be a lecture on the science and cuisine of boiling potatoes. Even the Moral Majority might be soothed. One does not hear rock music on Moscow television -- just lots of wholesome martial marches and the sound of young heels clicking
Here is a sound policy recommendation that liberals and conservatives can agree on. The liberal brethren so often complain that we do not pay proper respect to the legitimate concerns and needs of our Russian friends. If the Ministry of Radio and Television controlled our national television network, we would hear their side of the story for a change. The invasion of Afghanistan would seem much more plausible. The conservative brethen complain about the lewd and tawdry tendencies of the networks. Well, there is only uplift and chaste thought presented in the Soviet media.
I hope that the tycoons of television will accept these recommendations cheerfully. Remember, those who make peaceful evolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.