Will we get McLuhan to the church on time? The “religious” dimensions of television

  • Author(s): Jennifer Lemon
  • When: 1989-07
  • Where: Communicatio: South African Journal for Communication Theory and Research
  • The social significance of television and film as the most powerful means of mass communication in Western civilisation today cannot be underrated. The mass media, and television and film in particular, are not merely neutral carriers of messages. They confer power, legitimate systems and provide ways of looking at the world. They supply the context in which information is learned, attitudes and values formed and decisions made, thereby fulfilling the functions previously filled by the medieval church. The general functions of the mass media, and television and film in particular, are entertainment, the provision of information and education, socialization and the handing down, or propogation of culture. However, these can be suggested to be merely surface functions and effects of the media's deeper power. There is a hidden role which transcends all surface effects. It may be proposed that it is the media, rather than the church which provides individuals with a worldview which reflects to them what is of ultimate value, and which justifies their behaviour and way of life. Television itself is becoming a kind of religion and has become a prime cultivator of culture, providing the myths, teachings and expressions of religion. Various authors suggest that television needs to be seriously considered as an operative religious activity. This does not mean that the television and film industry would see itself in religious terms, nor that the mass media can be seen to be replacing theistic religion, but that the correspondence between the content and uses of television and the traditional functions of religion and religious practice is significant. This article, based on a literature survey, explores the provocative parallel between the traditional functions of religion and the church, and commercial television.

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