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Television—Art or Anti-art?
Conflict and cooperation between the avant-garde and the mass media in the 1960s and 1970s
Dieter Daniels


Television as a world power

In the 1960s television became the world's dominant mass medium, wielding an opinionshaping power that took it well beyond the press and radio. The current term ‹mass medium› was coined at the same time. This can be seen quite clearly from linguistic usage, even without detailed etymological examination. The press, radio and film are mass media as well, but only television seems to comprehensively embody the concept as a synthesis of their collective effects. It tends to have negative connotations, however, and these are distinctly different from the enthusiasm that greeted radio in the 1920s. And television is indeed the most hopeless medium of all for the arts. It emerged and developed along tracks that had already been laid by the established mass media. There was scarcely a phase when everything was open, allowing creative investigation to define the medium. The only available alternative is between the commercial principles of the American film and radio industries and the state-controlled European radio station model. This was predictable even before television was introduced, as can be seen from Rudolf Arnheim's statement to this


respect in the final chapter of his 1933 book on radio.[1] This did not prevent David Sarnoff, head of the Radio Corporation of America, from alluding in his emphatic address at the start of American television broadcasting in 1939 to «the birth of a new art … which shines like a torch of hope in a troubled world.»[2]

Since the 1920s, the worlds of radio and television have developed very differently in Europe and America. In the USA the commercial stations funded by advertising held the field, but in Europe it was usually the state that was fully in charge of programs, implying lofty cultural aims as well as political influence. This conflict between commerce and culture continued into the 1980s debates about the introduction of commercial television in Europe, and ended with the worldwide triumph of the American model. So viewing figures became the sole criterion for success or failure, and they favored commercial TV from the outset. In the USA, the average family in the 1960s was already watching about five hours of television per day. There was also a choice of over ten channels according to region. They broadcast round the clock,

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