In America, the average American is sitting glued to his chair in front of the television set. The television has become his whole life. Now television can be used in a dangerous way, and it is being used. Ronald Reagan would not have been able to become the president of America if there were no television. The television has changed the whole structure of the American mind. Now, the leader need not be wise, but he has to be photogenic. Now what has being photogenic to do with being a president? He has to be a good showman, an actor. Ronald Reagan understood the situation. He was a third-rate actor in Hollywood, a cowboy actor. I don’t think any society would have chosen him to be the president, but television changed the whole situation. He could act on television and fulfill a new desire in the people that the president should look strong, should look authoritative, should be able to look at least handsome.
And this he learned when Richard Nixon was defeated by Kennedy, because Nixon was not aware that now the contest is not one of intelligence; the whole area of contest has changed. Kennedy looked younger – well dressed, well spoken, although some ghost writer had written his speeches and he had rehearsed them. With both men on the television screen, the comparison was very simple: Nixon looked lousy, his clothes were not up to date. He had never thought about it, that these things matter. He had not rehearsed what he was going to say. That used to be the way, always – a more spontaneous person was thought to be more intelligent. To be photogenic is one thing; to encounter the people directly is a totally different thing.
Nixon was defeated and his advisors suggested to him that he would have to change a few things. He had to become a little more photogenic, with a better hairstyle, better clothes. And spontaneous speeches won’t do; you will have to rehearse them. There is no need for you to create your own speeches, there are far better writers – let them write the speech. And the second time, he came on television as a totally different personality. The same Nixon appeared now to be matured, capable, and he was chosen.
When Nixon was chosen as president, Ronald Reagan tried to be the governor of California. And he was immediately chosen, because the other contestants had no idea that you have to be a showman, that you have to be an actor. These have never been the qualities of leaders. Once he was governor, he knew that the presidentship was not far away. And he became the president.
The people who are continuously watching television…and seven and a half hours average per day is not a small amount of time, it is one third of your life. You are being imposed on by ideas, by personalities, continuously repeated. People have forgotten to read; there is no time. In America people read only trashy novels – that too when they are traveling in the trains or in the airplane.
In America, the beautiful hardbound book has disappeared. Who is going to purchase it? Cheap literature cannot create a Leo Tolstoy, or a Dostoevsky or a Maxim Gorky. In a certain way, television has introduced a new kind of primitiveness, because the primitive man depended only on his eyes – whatever he saw, that was his only knowledge.
If you look into small things you will be surprised…. Before the fountain pen came into existence, people had beautiful handwriting. Tremendous effort was made to write beautifully, because it was signifying your personality, your intelligence, your aesthetic sense. But the moment the fountain pen came in, beautiful handwriting disappeared.