September 12, 1983 12:00 PM

by Jib Fowles

Ever since television sets began to flicker in living rooms across the country, Americans have wondered about the effects of the pervasive tube on their lives. Fowles, a professor of human sciences at the University of Houston, is an unusual social scientist; he comes not to bury television but to praise it. His theory is that TV watching, like dreaming, allows viewers to relieve anxieties through wish-fulfilling fantasies. Anybody who disagrees with this notion, according to Fowles, is a Media Snob, an elitist who would deny ordinary citizens their right to relaxation. After all the anti-TV studies and books, Fowles’ notion is novel, but his book is about as substantive as a 30-second commercial. The writing is simplistic (“Television does not so much put things in brains as it does take things out”), and his theories are debatable. Though Fowles invokes Freud, his understanding of Freud’s theory of dreams seems unfocused. Dreams are created by individuals out of their own needs, while television’s fantasies are fabricated by Hollywood producers for viewers’ passive consumption. The most disturbing aspect of television, in fact, is that it does too much for the viewer, perhaps dulling his ability to exploit the cathartic power of his own imagination. Anybody who says, as Fowles does, that TV fantasies are “more effective than dream fantasies…as the sanitation man of the psyche” needs to turn off the TV and get a good night’s sleep. (Stein and Day, $16.95)

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