New Internationalist

Screen Tests

January 1983

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TELEVISION [image, unknown] Are you awake?

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Screen tests
Twelve ways to keep alert while watching TV
Does your brain turn off when the TV comes on? Pin this wallchart by your set and try one of these simple techniques, every half hour or so, to show you’re still awake.

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TV is two-dimensional, but the image jumps around between cameras to create the illusion of three — if it didn’t you’d very quickly to get tired of watching. Count the cuts for a minute to keep you aware of the medium as well as the message.
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You know ifs all a fake, but they try to make you forget Widen the view to bring in everything else as well — the microphones, the cameras, the prompters, the crowds, the lights.
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Watch for the hackneyed conventions of film realism - like cutting from the outside of a building to a group of people talking indoors. What makes you think it’s the same building? It almost never is.
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You never see a pore-counting close up of a Prime Minister or the Queen; distance on TV indicates respect The authority system is similarly indicated by who is given permission to talk direct to the camera — not allowed when you’re being interviewed.
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Do you think at all while watching TV? Does it get any easier to do so without the sound, or the pictures, or both?

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Television has to be ‘visual’, so reporters will stand in front of the White House to signify Washington or the Houses of Parliament for London. Give marks for the cliches — zero for a blank screen up to ten for any programme shameless enough to indicate Paris with the Eiffel Tower.

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Programmes are made to appear neat and complete— so you don’t realise what arbitrary slices of life they really are. The watchful viewer spots the editing, like the shots of a questioner’s face or back that splice together the odd bits of a long interview.
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A film camera can’t point in two directions at once. So in an interview the questioner may be filmed separately afterwards, by which time the subject has probably left the room. Interrogating (or nodding sympathetically at) an empty chair is quite a difficult acting job. Hand out your own Oscars.

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Break the spell of the ads by thinking — a little. See how rapidly you can classify them into:

a. Humour
b. Sex appeal
c. Macho
d. Romantic setting
e. Slice of life
f. Excitement
g. Fun
h. Irritation
i. Repetition
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Whatever the broadcasters may say, the news they give is always from a particular point of view. For each news item see if you can identify which side they want you to be on.
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Think of any disadvantaged group — women, the old, blacks, the disabled, the poor— and see how often they are limited to these stereotypes. How often do you see an Asian or a disabled person play an ‘ordinary’ part in a drama?
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On the basis of the programme you are now watching try to explain to any visiting extra-terrestrial what life on earth is like. Do you want to live in such a place?

Graphics: Clive Offley

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This feature was published in the January 1983 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 119

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