Teacher's Guide: Picture Power

Although initially considered a luxury, television spreads rapidly around the world. Through government control, it fosters education, development, and propaganda. Through commercial control, it creates entertainment, public opinion, and new cultural values.

Unit Themes and Topics:
changing role of government
cultural imperialism
mass media and social change
values and popular culture

Connections Across History
connection: when: where: program:
rise of movies as mass entertainment 1895-1964 France, Great Britain, India, Italy, United States "Great Escape"

Steliana Stefanoiu
(citizen, Romania)

"We spent a lot of time watching Dallas. We could see the American way of lifehow people dressed, how they lived, how they handled their finances."
photographic portrait of Stanislava Kraskovskaya


Before Watching

1. What was the most memorable image you saw on TV in the last week? What made the image dramatic or meaningful? Who else might have seen it in the community, state, country, or world? What makes television images stay in a viewer's mind? How does television shape our perceptions of the world?

2. As students watch the program, have them look for examples of how television can connect people to history, how it can make events memorable, and whose perspectives it presents.

After Watching

1. What role did television have in the historical events depicted in the program? What were viewers' responses? Why does watching history as it happens on television make people feel more like participants than witnesses?

2. How did television contribute to the Romanian Revolution? In the program, what other ways did television spread new values or contribute to social or political change? Do you think TV can encourage democracy or other values? Do you think TV can distort democracy or other values? Why or why not? Give examples.

3. What determines what you see on television? What are the goals of the people or industries that determine the programs and commercials? How do their goals influence your relationship to the world around you?

4. What hopes and fears did people express about television when it was new? How do you think advertising bolstered the power of television? How do you think the spread of satellites and cable stations will influence people in the future?


Have students explore parallels between television and the Internet by choosing a subject to watch on television (such as a documentary or docudrama) and then researching the same topic on the Internet. Ask students to compare and contrast how the information is obtained and how it is presented. Discuss the benefits and pitfalls that exist in obtaining information through each medium.

The Influence of Television

The following lesson focuses on a program segment about three approaches to televisiongovernment control, public service programming, and commercial televisionand how television transformed daily life in the United States. Television viewers and producers tell their stories.

Program Segment
approximately 25 minutes

A couple dances on British television.

The Apollo moon landing is broadcast on TV.


Before Watching

1. What companies sponsor sporting events on television? Why might they sponsor these events? How do you think producers get financial support for programs aimed at a smaller audience?

2. As students watch the program segment, have them write down how each country's approach to television influences the kind of programming offered and how the audience responds.

After Watching

1. Why did governments in Great Britain, Egypt, Japan, and the Soviet Union try to control television programming? Why do you think the American government didn't? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each approach? Which approach do you think has the most powerful political impact and why?

2. What kinds of activities did television replace in Fort Wayne, Indiana? In what ways has television weakened the bonds of community and in what ways has it brought people closer to one another?

3. How did the Kennedy/Nixon debate influence viewers? How is television used by politicians past and present? How can television influence public opinion?

4. How did television change public perceptions of news, such as the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War? What were the consequences of those public perceptions?


Have students survey their peers about their television viewing habits and preferences. As a class, develop a list of categories, such as types of programs, number of hours watched a week, viewing habits (e.g., whom you watch with, what you eat while you're watching), etc. You may wish to ask another class to volunteer to be surveyed, or stipulate a minimum number of students to be surveyed.

Have students devise a list of additional interview questions to ask, such as: How do you think television influences your life? How do you think it influences the lives of your parents, teachers, or others in your community? If you could watch only one television show or series, what would it be and why? Do you think life was better or worse before television? Explain your answer. Has television gotten better or worse since you were younger? How so? What is the future of television?

After students have completed their surveys, have them graph their individual results and then combine their data to create a class graph. What do the results reveal about television and society? What do they reveal about students' peers?

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