White Noise

Television Symbol Analysis

Television Symbol Icon

TV is the most immediate means by which consumer culture is transmitted into Jack and his family’s lives. Whereas the supermarket allows the Gladneys to physically enter and interact with their culture’s psychic data, the TV passively ensnares their attention, distracting them from their own lives. When the Gladneys congregate around the TV, they hardly talk, choosing instead to fixate all their attention on the screen. At the same time, Murray makes clear that this form of entertainment shouldn’t be written off as base or destructive; instead, he argues that TV has a nuanced way of projecting messages and symbols—psychic data—and it can be productive and important if viewers know to actively search for these hidden screeds. Murray appears to value the innate hunger children harbor for the medium, believing that Wilder’s wide-eyed, unquestioning consumption denotes an understanding of the cultural underpinnings embodied by the various programs he watches. However, most of the characters seem not to treat the TV as a medium requiring inquiry and interpretation; Jack frequently hears programs and advertisements emanating from some other room, disembodied manifestations of the marketing, product placements, and perpetual entertainment making up the world around him. The TV, then, is a constant undertone of white noise in his life, rather than a stream of important messages. To Alfonse Stampanato, this explains the widespread attraction to TV footage of catastrophes. Since most viewers of TV consume it passively and uncritically, catastrophes become orienting events that cause people to snap to attention and seek meaning and emotion from an otherwise ignorable medium. Similar to how the supermarket is rife with psychic data, the omnipotent TV radiates a wide-ranging spectrum of information, leaving the viewer to sift through the various messages in search of meaning, an endeavor that is both futile and never-ending, though also—according to Murray—worthwhile.

Television Quotes in White Noise

The White Noise quotes below all refer to the symbol of Television. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fear, Death, and Control Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Books edition of White Noise published in 2009.
Chapter 11 Quotes

[…] I’ve been sitting in this room for more than two months, watching TV into the early hours, listening carefully, taking notes. A great and humbling experience, let me tell you. Close to mystical. […] I’ve come to understand that the medium is a primal force in the American home. Sealed-off, timeless, self-contained, self-referring. It’s like a myth being born right there in our living room, like something we know in a dreamlike and preconscious way.

Related Characters: Murray Jay Siskin (speaker), Jack Gladney, Babette
Related Symbols: Television
Page Number: 50-1
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 29  Quotes

The sense of failed expectations was total. A sadness and emptiness hung over the scene. A dejection, a sorry gloom. We felt it ourselves, my son and I, quietly watching. It was in the room, seeping into the air from pulsing streams of electrons. The reporter seemed at first merely apologetic. But as he continued to discuss the absence of mass graves, he grew increasingly forlorn, gesturing at the diggers, shaking his head, almost ready to plead with us for sympathy and understanding.

I tried not to feel disappointed.

Related Characters: Jack Gladney (speaker)
Related Symbols: Television
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Television Symbol Timeline in White Noise

The timeline below shows where the symbol Television appears in White Noise. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
Uncertainty and Authority Theme Icon
Consumer Culture and Identity Theme Icon
Later that week, the family sits down for dinner in front of the TV—their Friday night ritual. Babette believes that doing this will minimize the children’s desire to consume... (full context)
Chapter 11
Consumer Culture and Identity Theme Icon
...suggest that Murray talk to Babette’s son Eugene, who is growing up in Australia without TV. Murray says that “TV is a problem only if you’ve forgotten how to look and... (full context)
Chapter 14
Fear, Death, and Control Theme Icon
Uncertainty and Authority Theme Icon
Consumer Culture and Identity Theme Icon
Plots and History Theme Icon
One night, Heinrich breathlessly summons everybody to the TV, which is playing plane crash footage. This greatly excites the children. On Friday of that... (full context)
Chapter 20
Uncertainty and Authority Theme Icon
...his fascination with what he calls “the society of kids.” When Babette appears on the TV, everybody in the room is taken aback. They try to turn up the volume, but... (full context)
Chapter 23
Plots and History Theme Icon
...spillage only distracts them from the true danger at hand: radiation caused by the radio, TV, microwave, and other everyday objects. Taken aback by Heinrich’s thorough knowledge of terrifying scientific statistics,... (full context)
Chapter 26
Uncertainty and Authority Theme Icon
...she went searching for a way to understand her problem, visiting libraries, reading magazines, watching TV, making lists and charts, calling scientists, visiting a Sikh holy man, and studying the occult.... (full context)
Chapter 29 
Fear, Death, and Control Theme Icon
Uncertainty and Authority Theme Icon
Consumer Culture and Identity Theme Icon
One night on TV there is a breaking news segment about a backyard in which two dead bodies are... (full context)
Chapter 39
Fear, Death, and Control Theme Icon
Consumer Culture and Identity Theme Icon
...Mink is sitting in a chair in a Hawaiian shirt and Budweiser shorts, watching a TV that hangs in a metal case near the ceiling. Before Jack can say anything, the... (full context)