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Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

Put Me on TV

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer

There are a great many things I don't understand generally. Rising to the top of that fairly lengthy list this week is why aiming a video camera at some people seems to cut their IQ or maturity level in half. I just don't get it.

You can see it in Florida or during nearly any live news shot, where a reporter is standing in front of a crowd of people. Once the camera is on, some folks in the background shout and hoot, make gestures, wave, jostle for position right behind the reporter, and generally act like jerks because they're on TV. Sometimes they make it nearly impossible to hear or pay attention to the actual news that's getting reported.

At various public functions or football games, there was that guy with the rainbow-colored hair, always holding a sign carrying the citation for some Bible verse. In Florida, folks who don't shove themselves in front of a live camera try to wave a sign in the background.

Like I said, I don't get it.

I mean, I've always figured that the WORST time to act like an idiot was in front of a live camera. If I was behaving like a child or a Troglodyte, the LAST place I'd chose to do it would be in front of the whole country.

I don't understand the need or the thrill to get your mug (or your antics) on TV. I mean, these people are at the event themselves, so they can't be watching themselves on the tube. And their friends or family (even if they have relatives who will acknowledge the link) might or might not be watching. Whom do they think they're impressing? Total strangers?

I saw this same behavior last week at the high school where I work. It was Spirit Week, and each day was dedicated to dressing up in unusual or fun costumes - one day was Celebrity Day, another day was Pajama Day or Decade Day or what have you. I carried a video camera around, taking brief shots of the kids who were dressed up to be edited into a brief retrospective to be shown on classroom TV's the next day.

When you walk around with a video camera, you see this very odd desire to be on TV nearly everywhere.

"Hey! Mr. Walsh! Take a picture of me!"

"But you're not wearing pajamas today - and that's the theme."

"So what? Take my picture!"

"I don't think so."

"C'mon! PUT ME ON TV!"

Some begged, pleaded, and whined.

Other kids, when they saw that I was trying to videotape Ronald Ray-gun or a Smurf walking down the corridor, would stick their hand in front of the lens, shout and wave even if they were off-screen, or actually bend down and stick their face into the camera and scream "Hiiiiiiiii!"

They never showed up in the final tape - I guess they'd never heard of editing.

One group of kids was so desperate to get put on TV that they came up with their own plan.

"Hey, Mr. Walsh! Videotape us pushing Kenny down the stairs!"


"Yeah. It'd be really funny."

"Pushing him down the stairs?"

"Yeah, Mr. Walsh," Kenny himself replied, "It would be GREAT! You could show it tomorrow morning!"

"I don't think that would be such a good idea," I replied.

"Awwwww! We NEVER get on TV!"

I don't know what to make of this. I really don't. Are these folks so starved for attention that they'll risk serious injury just to get on the tube? Is having your face on TV more important than why it's there? Is the allure of the flickering blue screen so pervasive that even high school kids are trying to find ways to "get on TV" - even if it's just broadcast within the confines of their own school?

Any Warhol once speculated that, "In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes."

These days, "being famous" seems to be synonymous with having your face on TV.

"Noteworthy folks are on TV," the fallacious reasoning goes, "so if I get on TV, I'm famous."

That's backwards, of course. The trick is not to get your face on the tube, but to to actually do something which merits your face being on the tube.

But that's a lesson lost on America these days, it seems, where just appearing on the tube is at one and the same time, the cause, effect, goal, and reward of all endeavors.

It's an odd kind of media narcissism - not so much seeing yourself on TV as just getting your face on the screen for others to see, reasons be damned.

I fear that one of these days, we may, like Narcissus, fall so madly in love with our own image that we'll waste away.