How does television suppress people's thoughts and ideas in "The Pedestrian"?

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Television can be used to suppress people's thoughts and ideas in "The Pedestrian" by influencing citizens to become passive and ignorant while simultaneously distracting them from significant political decisions. By consuming mindless entertainment, the population refrains from engaging in intellectual pursuits, examining their dystopian culture, or socializing with one another. Television can also be used to manipulate the population into believing or thinking a certain way, which benefits the ruling government.

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In Bradbury's celebrated short story "The Pedestrian," he depicts a futuristic dystopian city where the vast majority of citizens remain inside their homes watching television all night. In 2053 A.D., the population is consumed by mindless entertainment and refuse to leave their homes to enjoy the natural environment or socialize with others. When Leonard Mead goes for his nightly walk, the city is completely desolate and the only forms of life are the "gray phantoms" behind the curtains and murmurs coming from inside the "tomb-like" homes. During his solitary walk, Leonard is stopped by the city's autonomous police cruiser and asked a series of questions, which identify him as a non-conformist. Leonard is then arrested and taken to the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies.

Throughout the short story, Bradbury is critiquing society's obsession with television and reliance on technology. In the dystopian city, citizens refrain from reading, engaging in intellectual pursuits, or socializing with one another. Mindless entertainment has turned the population into passive, ignorant individuals who lack a voice and feel comfortably numb in front of their televisions. In the story, Leonard's profession as a writer is illegitimate, and it is unacceptable to leave one's home during the night. The fact that Leonard is arrested for being a pedestrian is evidence of the shallow culture and oppressive laws, which are the outcome of a society founded on mindless entertainment. Bradbury warns that television can be a vehicle to control one's thoughts and mold the population's outlook. By constantly indulging in television, the population does not exercise critical-thinking skills and can easily be manipulated by the ruling government to think and act a certain way. Television can be used to distract citizens from pressing issues or significant political decisions. In a world where people are primarily focused on consuming shallow entertainment, political power can be consolidated and individual freedoms are at risk.

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In the future world of 2053 A.D., as foreseen by the solitary pedestrian Leonard Mead, families would not converse and interact, but would all sit in the dark, staring at the lighted television screen.

Sometimes he would walk for hours and miles and return only at midnight to his house. And on his way he would see the cottages and homes with their dark windows, and it was not unequal to walking through a graveyard where only the faintest glimmers of firefly light appeared in flickers behind the windows.

This would put an end to conversation, as it would to reading, and thereby impose limitations on people's thoughts. Television has a hypnotic effect; it puts people into a sort of trance in which they are most susceptible to the suggestions contained in the commercials. Furthermore, the "entertainment" offered, then and now, is largely idiotic. It has the effect of "dumbing down" an entire population. They don't think for themselves but allow the "boob tube", "the idiot box", to do their thinking for them.

"What is it now?" he asked the houses, noticing his wrist watch. "Eight-thirty P.M.? Time for a dozen assorted murders? A quiz? A revue? A comedian falling off the stage?"  

Ray Bradbury wrote "The Pedestrian" at a time when television was in its infancy. The TV screens were very small, the reception was poor at best, and the programming was cheap. Hollywood had millions of feet of old cowboy films in its repositories, and these represented a large part of what was offered. Hollywood also had a lot of old-time, slapstick comedies which suddenly acquired new value because of television. And there were many old animated cartoons - not quality ones like those of Walt Disney - but mindless, black-and-white junk full of cats chasing mice or mice chasing cats. It was not unreasonable for Bradbury to assume that the future of television was garbage. It was said by some cynics in media that the programming should be so bad that the commercials would seem like superior-quality entertainment. The worst part about modern-day television is the insane jumble of zany commercials breaking in every few minutes.

Bradbury thought that television would encourage passivity, would destroy human interaction,  and would keep people confined to their homes where they would lose touch with reality and have their minds shaped by what they saw on the little lighted screen. A certain percentage of the American population has become "couch potatoes", but fortunately that hasn't happened to everybody. Bradbury's picture of the future was either intentionally or unintentionally distorted. He was a writer, and he feared that books would be made obsolete by television, putting him out of work like Leonard Mead in his story, who tells the robot cop, "I guess you could call me a writer." The robot cop interprets that answer as "No profession." Bradbury foresees the same dismal future for books in his novel Fahrenheit 451. He has a strong tendency to exaggerate. After all, who knows what's going to happen a hundred years from now?

We can see now that television has been a mixed blessing. It offers some quality entertainment along with lots and lots of commercial interruptions. Children seem to learn from it, but it does seem to encourage mental passivity. Teachers have a harder time getting students to think and to participate. Obesity has become a national problem, both for children and adults, and television has been at least partially responsible for that. But television has not been the dystopian horror that Bradbury predicted. It has become incorporated into the home and does not seem to dominate families or destroy minds. Some people watch a lot of television and others never watch it at all. It is a blessing for people in hospitals, nursing homes, and other shut-ins, who couldn't be pedestrians even if they wanted to.

Electronic media actually seem to have a tendency to encourage the exchange of ideas and opinions. There is no sinister agency intent on controlling human thought, at least in most countries of the world, including ours.


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