LOS ANGELES — ``At the most fundamental level, TV is shaped by the deepest force of change in the world, which is human curiosity,'' says Brian Stonehill, a professor at Pomona College who teaches a course in visual literacy. ``Remember what `television' means: `seeing far.' And when it changes, it changes in response to our curiosity. TV exists because we want to know what is happening and how it looks and sounds and how it feels everywhere. We want to know how it looks and feels to set foot on the moon. We want to know how it looks to fly by Jupiter. In the '90s we will want to know what it looks like on the surface of Mars.
``If curiosity is the strong force working on TV, the weaker force is the human need for diversion. What it seeks is novelty. Novelty amuses us, and so TV must keep searching out new things. Every football game must look different from the last one. Every rock video must be different. Seasons must have new shows, new formats, new story lines. The proliferation of channels and the remote-control device, the VCR, and laser disc all express both our curiosity and our need for diversion and are driven by them.
``TV is the advertising arm of commerce, and that yokes it to fashion and marketing. But TV is also the purveyor of fashion in thought, and fashion in image and sound, and therefore the ultimate fashion victim - a slave to the currents and even the faintest eddies of pop culture. Not to mention its status as a kite tossed around in political winds.
``Driven by its ratings, TV must be a follower of the public will, even as it shapes that will. It is not a malevolent force. It is a fragmented and unstable mirror that reflects what is both silly and sublime about us. Responding both to our curiosity and to our boredom, TV is humanity's best response yet to the Biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply.''