Judging from responses collected over several years, most viewers who tune out for "International TV Turnoff Week" (usually the last week in April) seem to demonstrate three things: (1) TV is pervasive in American society, (2) TV viewing resembles addiction, and (3) very little is known about the TV industries. The books below raise important questions about TV, including the relationship of advertising to programming, the implications of media ownership for democracy, the psychological and physiological effects of watching TV, the missing information from television programming, and the news coverage of the 1990-91 Persian Gulf Oil War. For more information, check out the TV-Turnoff Week pages.


Robin Anderson, Consumer Culture & TV Programming (1995)

Since its inception, TV has been about selling stuff. From General Motors sponsoring "Playhouse" in the 1950s to Seinfeld munching Kellogg's cereals in the 1990s, TV programs are vehicles for products. Anderson reviews the ways in which sponsors have invaded programming to the point that most TV shows resemble extended commercials for a variety of consumer goods. Includes a useful chapter on how advertising industries use psychoanalysis and other techniques in manipulating images to sell more stuff.

Douglas Kellner, The Persian Gulf TV War (1992)

Detailed, at times relentless, analysis of TV images during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf Oil War. In a bomb-by-bomb survey of the war, Kellner uncovers a shrill litany of lies, half-truths, censorship, and omissions in the war coverage. He also extends his critique to deeper cultural issues, including TV's role in the subversion of diplomacy, the failure of contextualization, environmental terrorism, managing dissent at home, and the militarization of American society.

Jerry Mander, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (1978)

Once you get beyond the sensational title, this really is a useful book to help understand the cultural and physiological effects of TV viewing. Four sections illuminate his arguments: (1) TV mediates experience, (2) TV colonizes experience, (3) TV has tangible, physiological effects on human beings, and (4) TV embodies several technological biases.

Bill McKibben, The Age of Missing Information (1992)

The author tried an experiment: he and his friends collected all the TV programs that aired on every channel during one day in 1990, which McKibben watched in its entirety. He then spent a day camping alone in the mountains. The book is based on reflections from the journals he kept of those experiences, highlighting the issue of what is going to be lost to human experience in the "Age of Information."

Dennis W. Mazzocco, Networks of Power: Corporate TV's Threat to Democracy (1994)

A dissident former TV executive, Mazzocco provides a rare inside glimpse of the machinations of power in the TV industries. After explaining why he left the industry, Mazzocco tells the history of major networks, discusses the increasing concentration of ownership, and concludes with ways to democratize media.

Joyce Nelson, The Perfect Machine: TV in the Nuclear Age (1987)

Essays on the relationships between war and television in the age of nuclear weapons. Nelson concludes that TV is best at conveying death and dying, but fails to capture the rest of human activity with anywhere near the same degree of accuracy. Also includes chapters on TV and public relations for nuclear armament in the 1950s, the patriarchal nature of TV programming, and radiation hazards of television viewing.

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985)

Postman's thesis is that TV has conditioned Americans to tolerate visually stimulating material doled out in small portions, and that public discourse has suffered immeasurably as a result. Includes suggestions on how to reverse this effect and rescue politics, education, religion, and journalism from the show business demands of the TV age.

Herbert I. Schiller, Mass Communications and American Empire (1992)

Updated edition of the classic media studies text about the rise and role of American corporate broadcasting.