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Television: Medium of the Future (1949)

The 1949 book Television: Medium of the Future by Maurice Gorham correctly identifies, but dismisses, a concern about the visual age: voting with your eyes.

Fears have been expressed lest this new reliance on television may lead to choice of candidates for their face rather than their real qualities; that the film-star types will have it all their own way. Personally I see no reason to think that this is a greater danger than we have faced in the radio age. Is it worse to vote for a man whom you have seen and heard than for a man whom you have heard but never seen except for fleeting glimpses in photographs and films? Is there any more reason why a man who is good on television should be a charlatan than a man who is good on radio? Or any inherent merit in a fine radio voice uttering speeches written by somebody else?

Many people ask if Abraham Lincoln could be elected today (he was an ugly, ugly man). What do you think? Is a candidate's appearance kind of like advertising, everyone believes it only works on other people?

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Reader Comments (8)

Of course appearance is very important in any election. Even the great emperor August (who was not really elected but needed the favor of the public) had statues made of himself 2000 years ago. People nearly never saw him in real life so he is said to have his statues made a lot better looking.

August 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Snort. He turned out to be wrong.

What's that quote? Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the public?

August 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterScott

I think a slick campaign is more important than the actual phsyical looks of the candidate... I don't think the trick is so much to make them look physically attractive as it is to make them look like proper statesmen and leaders. Of course, what that advertizing entails varies from market to market.

August 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCory

In the first Back to the Future movie, when Christopher Lloyd's character in 1955 discovers from Michael Fox's character that Ronald Reagan served as president in the 1980's, Lloyd's character infers that of course political parties in coming decades would choose actors as candidates. They would have to look really good on the new medium of television to give them the edge in getting elected. I found that a very astute remark, though the screenwriter probably had the televised 1960 Nixon/Kennedy debate in mind as a precedent for Reagan's mastery of the medium.

August 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMark Plus

Well, George W. Bush isn't such a beauty, is he?

August 15, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I think an average-looking candidate can be elected, and could defeat a better-looking candidate based on other factors -- issues, smarts, character, PR and slogans, etc. But I think an unattractive or ugly candidate could not be elected. I think both Lincoln and FRD would have a hard time today.

August 15, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterWutzke

Of course, in the American market for executive political leadership, the worst possible thing you could be is intelligent and attractive. Above average intelligence is a detriment in that market, and is a feature that has to be downplayed or otherwise mitigated by the advertizing agency. In the American market, you want to pass off as average to below-average, both in looks and brains. The current trend seems to orient towards making the service provider seem as much like an "average joe" as possible.

August 15, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCory

In "Everything Bad is Good for You," Steven Johnson makes the argument that with the advent of television, viewers (voters) can look at political candidates in terms of their "Emotional IQ" (perceived honesty, empathy, poise, and the like).

Of course, that still doesn't explain why George W. Bush smiles when he talks about the war.

September 9, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterthe liz

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