The Lottery, with its weekly pay-out of enormous prizes, was the one public event to which the proles [proletarians or working class] paid serious attention. It was probable that there were some millions of proles for whom the Lottery was the principal if not the only reason for remaining alive. It was their delight, their folly, their anodyne, their intellectual stimulant. Where the Lottery was concerned, even people who could barely read and write seemed capable of intricate calculations and staggering feats of memory. —George Orwell, 1984
In the PLUG-IN DRUG, Marie Winn says that television is an addictive drug: “When we think about addiction to drugs or alcohol we frequently focus on negative aspects, ignoring the pleasures that accompany drinking or drug-taking. And yet the essence of any serious addiction is a pursuit of pleasure, a search for a ‘high’ that normal life does not supply. It is only the inability to function without the addictive substance that is dismaying, the dependence of the organism upon a certain experience and an increasing inability to function normally without it. Thus people will take two or three drinks at the end of the day not merely for the pleasure drinking provides, but also because they ‘don’t feel normal’ without them.
“Real addicts do not merely pursue a pleasurable experience one time in order to function normally. They need to repeat it again and again. Something about that particular experience makes life without it less than complete. Other potentially pleasurable experiences are no longer possible, for under the spell of the addictive experience, their lives are peculiarly distorted. The addict craves an experience and yet is never really satisfied. The organism may be temporarily sated, but soon it begins to crave again.
“Finally, a serious addiction is distinguished from a harmless pursuit of pleasure by its distinctly destructive elements. Heroin addicts, for instance, lead a damaged life: their increasing need for heroin in increasing doses prevents them from working, from maintaining relationships, from developing in human ways. Similarly alcoholics’ lives are narrowed and dehumanized by their dependence on alcohol.
“Let us consider television viewing in the light of the conditions that define serious addictions.
“Not unlike drugs or alcohol, the television experience allows the participant to blot out the real world and enter into a pleasurable and passive mental state. The worries and anxieties of reality are as effectively deferred by becoming absorbed in a television program as by going on a ‘trip’ induced by drugs or alcohol. And just as alcoholics are only vaguely aware of their addiction, feeling that they control their drinking more than they really do (‘I can cut it out any time I want—I just like to have three of four drinks before dinner’), people similarly overestimate their control over television watching. Even as they put off other activities to spend hour after hour watching television, they feel they could easily resume living in a different, less passive style. But somehow or other, while the television set is present in their homes, the click doesn’t sound. With television pleasures available, those other experiences seem less attractive, more difficult somehow.
“Finally it is the adverse effect of television viewing on the lives of so many people that defines it as a serious addiction. The television habit distorts the sense of time. It renders other experiences vague and curiously unreal while taking on a greater reality for itself. It weakens relationships by reducing and sometimes eliminating normal opportunities for talking, for communicating.” [p.p. 23-25, Marie Winn, THE PLUG IN DRUG; Penguin, 1977. ISBN – 0-14-007698-0]
According to the Washington Post, Terence McKenna’s FOOD OF THE GODS “Deserves to be the modern classic on mind-altering drugs and hallucinogens.” In this modern classic, McKenna convinces us that television is emotionally equivalent to electronic heroin: “The nearest analogy to the addictive power of television and the transformation of values that is wrought in the life of the heavy user is probably heroin. Heroin flattens the image; with heroin, things are neither hot nor cold; the junkie looks out at the world certain that what ever it is, it does not matter. The illusion of knowing and of control that heroin engenders is analogous to the unconscious assumption of the television consumer that what is seen is ‘real’ somewhere in the world. In fact, what is seen are the cosmetically enhanced surfaces of products. Television, while chemically non-invasive, nevertheless is every bit as addicting and physiologically damaging as any other drug.
“Most unsettling of all is this: the content of television is not a vision but a manufactured data stream that can be sanitized to ‘protect’ or impose cultural values. Thus we are confronted with an addictive and all-pervasive drug that delivers an experience whose message is whatever those who deal the drug wish it to be. Could anything provide a more fertile ground for fostering fascism and totalitarianism than this? In the United States, there are many more televisions than households, the average television set is on six hours a day, and the average person watches more than five hours a day—nearly one-third of their waking time. Aware as we all are of these simple facts, we seem unable to react to their implications. Serious study of the effects of television on health and culture has only begun recently. Yet no drug in history has so quickly or completely isolated the entire culture of its users from contact with reality. And no drug in history has so completely succeeded in remaking in its own image the values of the culture that it has infected.
“Television is by nature the dominator drug par excellence. Control of content, uniformity of content, repeatability of content make it inevitably a tool of coercion, brainwashing, and manipulation. Television induces a trance state in the viewer that is the necessary precondition for brainwashing. As with all other drugs and technologies, television’s basic character cannot be changed; television is no more reformable than is the technology that produces automatic assault rifles.” [p.p. 218-220, Terence McKenna, FOOD OF THE GODS; Bantam, 1992. ISBN 0-553-37130-4]