TV: The Opium of the People

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Karl Marx is famous for saying, “Religion is the Opium of the people.”

Ten years ago I took a trip to Brazil and a guy took me on a tour of the slums, the “favellas” of Sao Paulo.

The favellas were miles upon miles of shanty towns and lowly concrete homes built on the sides of hills. Infested with gangs, drugs, prostitution and violence.

Every single person we met in the favellas had a color TV. Even the people who made $60 per month and had no job. Even the poorest of the poor watch TV.

Which is interesting because TV obviously shows people things they want. But what is not so obvious is that it teaches them nothing-

– absolutely nothing –

about how to get it. Which leads me to my observation:



In Sao Paulo, most of the people who were ‘wide awake’ were the religious ones. Like Paulo, the guy who took us to the favellas. He was helping the poor kids who lived there. The ones who were sleepwalking were the ones watching soap operas every afternoon.

Laura and I have friends at both ends of an extremely wide economic, social and political spectrum. We now have friends who make less than $100 per month and we have friends who make $100,000 per month.

And generally speaking, the prosperous ones are ones who generally DON’T watch TV.

Personally I have probably watched a grand total of six hours of network television in the last six months. I don’t think I’m missing much.

"So many options for growing my business, but what should I do NOW?" Tell me your most pressing business problems and I'll show you your BEST next step.

Also – have you ever noticed that TV shows never show people watching TV? And those actors and actresses are making a lot of money. Hmmmâ… Do you think there could be correlation?


I would like to make a request of you.

The request is:

If your TV is in the center of your living area in your house, unplug it and move it upstairs. Or move it to the basement. Or some place where a person has to deliberately GO THERE in order to watch it.

Never let a TV be the default influence in your living space. If you do, you’re just a piece of flotsam and jetsam floating along on the surface of a sick society.

If you comply with this request, it may earn you an extra $100,000 or $1,000,000 in your lifetime.

It may also prevent the nonstop gush of filth and nonsense from pouring into your living room on a daily basis.

One last thing about TV:

When you do watch TV, picture yourself as being somehow “above” it.

Don’t get hypnotized. Stay wide awake. Critique it. Observe it. Pay attention to what the TV producers are doing to you. How they’re manipulating you. How the people on the TV shows are using the medium.

That’s what Marketing Maniacs do.

There are marketing lessons all around you, 24/7/365. Only those who are wide awake learn those lessons. Everyone else is just manipulated by them.

Perry Marshall

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About the Author

Perry Marshall has launched two revolutions in sales and marketing. In Pay-Per-Click advertising, he pioneered best practices and wrote the world's best selling book on Google advertising. And he's driven the 80/20 Principle deeper than any other author, creating a new movement in business.

He is referenced across the Internet and by Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, INC and Forbes Magazine.

87 Comments on “TV: The Opium of the People”

  1. great comments…as a retired therapist specializing w/ the addicted population, I would add that TV-watching has greatly expanded our non-thinking citizenry and contributed to what Richard Hofstadter called “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life” citizens. That’s how we got this TV president folks.
    Those of us who are thinking, who do see what’s happening are scared for our country and our young people. Those who love it are raking in the dough and could care less…they got theirs, America be damned. Phony patriotism gives them cover.

  2. TV shows never show people watching TV? Really? That’s simply not true. I’ve seen that many times. For instance, on “Everybody loves Raymond” (one of my favorite shows. Heck I even like to watch reruns of it on YouTube) Ray’s dad loves to sit and watch TV. But I can understand how you won’t know this because you hardly watch TV.

    However, I generally agree with what you’ve stated. Most people place way too much importance on TV. Here in Barbados, the soap opera “Days of Our Lives” has practically become a religion for many. It has become so ridiculous that several months ago when our TV station couldn’t air it due to a shipment delay, people actually picketed the station!

  3. I moved the tv a couple years ago to a basement room and it was the best thing I’ve ever done. Thanks for spreading the word.

  4. This post is too dramatic. Sometimes it is fun to watch TV and unplug yourself. I agree it is not good to watch it too much but this problem is among people who is lazy to do anything else.

    1. I encourage all Planet Perry citizens to move their TV from the center of the house to the spare room or basement and watch their income go up.

  5. Well Perry, we all know that TV is of no good… and we also gave it the term “idiot box” despite of this fact and the observation that you have made in Brazil… I think people won’t change because the Opium called TV has already made gazillion of addicts already which seems like a hard thing to make this number low… anyways it was a nice post to read :)

  6. Exactly exactly exactly my thinking ! You put into words what I had in mind. TV truly is worthless and yes, those are marketing tactics.
    The only truly advantegeous shows are on Discovery and History !

  7. Balance and not extremeism seems to be one of the greatest sticking points of humans. Not all T.V. is bad..Some things do spark the imagination. I have always watched all of it with critical and open eyes. I just can’t and won’t assimilate to the Prohibition/Ban all of it model. There are some truly educational programs, too; history, science, discovery, documentary programs. Some movies, no. Some of the so-called News and todays version of Journalism. No. But utter and blind amusement. Never has been me. Commercials,they have always marketed us into consumeristic oblivion. Shows. Some have, too. What is reality about reality t.v. I guess if some prefer to not be aware of what the rest of the world really has to be it. Stay behind blinders as to the fact that we have a very widely diverse population.
    I have had this running debate with my Mom for most of my life. If it is on and the parents don’t want their kids to watch it, it is up to them to limit, or discuss it with their own kids. As well as to interact with them on other levels. I have to agree with “Bones” some of the Ambot still hanging out in there. Many of the, based on real life experiences in drama, have always been about being awake. You said that some of the more religious were the more awake, and I have to respectfully differ and say in my own very humble experience ( of 45 years now ) some of the religious are the very ones that need to wake up. It is just the opiate of personal choice. All opiates have the same power to blind in the same way. Repectfully meant rant over.

  8. I would agree however, I myself couldn’t take off my eyes from it. Well it really would depend on the show. Like what Cheryl Clausen stated on her post titled Octomom -Mom or Entrepreneur Marketing Example?, Television stations are producing and airing reality TV programs in droves. Viewers can’t seem to get enough of them, and the more we watch the more reality TV we’ll get.

    Well if everyone would have an iPhone and just watch on Youtube then we’d have no problem about TVs.

  9. Perry

    I totally agree and haven’t watched TV for going on 18 years now (apart from horseracing Saturday afternoons, my one indulgence) whilst I accept I do miss some worthwhile programs I’d still rather read a good book anyday.

    With the amount of rubbish on TV these days and competition from the web it’s little wonder the TV stations are in decline. What a contrast with 20 years ago when they were making so much money it was unbelievable.

    I’m afraid I’m in a minority of one in our house as everyone else still watches fortunately I don’t have to endure it although I occasionally hear it and one thing I’ve noticed is the constant hooping and hollering as the audience are no doubt being whipped into a frenzy by whoever is running the show. Hyperbole seems to be the order of the day and reality TV is anything but.


  10. Very astute as usual, Perry.

    I was addicted to the box at uni, hated myself for it – thankfully I did just enough work to get my degree.

    We haven’t had a telly since graduating in ’81. People often ask how we manage to get so much done and are usually gobsmacked by my reply…’No TV’

    Our children are SO much better for it too. Very creative and bright.

  11. Interesting! “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” That is what Marx and Engels proposed, and Lenin built upon it. “Television is the newest religion.” We pray upon the alter of HBO, Showtime, and ESPN every night and we depend on CNN for our world view. Heaven forbid we should be required to read a newspaper, a magazine or a book! It is frightening, and it is true, TV has become the latest-greatest method of inducing mass-anesthesia, keeping us occupied, living life vicariously instead of living life for ourselves! I too have traveled the world and never quite got over the sight of a massive satellite dish outside of a hut no bigger than the dish! Inside, the peasants living on $21 per month watching Dallas, Dynasty, and Baywatch…aka BabeWatch (the most popular show in the world at one time). The world shrinks, expectations shift, and we continue to live life through others. Sad really! Great post Perry!

    Professor John P. J. Zajaros, Sr.

  12. …and in line with Larry’s theme, I also thought of a musical reference when I read this – a little more contemporary than Zappa maybe, but still with a great deal of gravitas: Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy – Television, The Drug Of A Nation (Quote – “Breeding ignorance, fear and radiation”). Funny how music that could be decades+ old still rings true. Who says we learn by our mistakes?

  13. I was fortunate to learn a quick lesson about TV and life when I was very young. An elderly lady in the community stopped me as I walked past her house on the way home from school.

    She told me that my dad would want me to stop in for tea and cookies. I told her I didn’t drink tea, so she quickly corrected that to ‘milk.’ I was only about four or five (I’d started school early) so I was thinking if my dad approved it this must be okay. Besides, there were cookies at stake!

    Fortunately she only wanted me to watch her soap operas with her and listen to stories about the hotel she and her deceased husband had built.

    I learned that: someone always needs an operation; people may lie to achieve what they want and; there’s always a note or letter that would straighten everything out if only it would make it into the right hands–so you should always give people the benefit of the doubt if what you hear doesn’t sound right.

    Later that week my dad caught her in the act of inviting me in. He put his foot down and said I was to come straight home after school. Little did he know how much I learned that week!

  14. Perry,

    Just read the article and suggest a re-listen (because I’m certain you’ve heard it before) of Frank Zappa’s “I’m the Slime”. The song nails the button you just pushed. “I am gross and perverted, I’m obsessed and deranged, I have existed for years but very little has changed. I’m the best you can get, have you guessed me yet? I’m the slime oozing out of your TV set!”

    1. Larry,

      Interestingly, I recently saw Deezil Zappa doing a “Zappa Plays Zappa” show along with Dream Theater, BigElf and Scale the Summit in Chicago. Fantastic show – all four bands. Frank Zappa was a bit before my time and I’d had little exposure. But the music was brilliantly complex, the band enormously talented and tight, and yes, it included some really zany songs not unlike the ones you describe. Just cuz it’s couched in silliness doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain a profound truth.


  15. Perry,

    Something interesting I’ve noticed while reading the replies to this post is, while some people have made the valid comment that a person can substitute web surfing for television watching to waste time, it appears the people defending television in these replies seem to primarily be people who make their living via some connection to television (actors, working at the BBC). And, with no disrespect intended, these people wouldn’t seem to be disinterested commentators since they have a vested interest in people watching more television.

    Maybe those few commentators just stood out to me… or maybe I noticed that correctly.

    – John

  16. My wife and I do watch TV during the week, however, we only watch PBS and the news channels. Watching the right programs is educational. I have learned about famous people and events, animals and current events.

  17. Children, especially very young, are adversely affected.

    Researc shows that even watching ‘educational’ TV, the hours devoted to TV equals the hours lost in language development. This could easily be scores of hours a week for some kids.

    This is obvious really as the kids aren’t talking or interacting.

    Also commercial kids’ TV has adverts for junk food, junk toys, developing a mania for consumer goods, by making them feel they are lacking.

    Keep up the good work Perry.

  18. I rarely disagree with you Perry but this time I do.

    Sure too much TV is no good but there is some great content here in the UK (yeah and a lot of junk) but you have to be discerning.

    You can also watch TV to learn about poeople and how to market to them (most of your customers watch TV so why, what can this teach you?)

    If you really want to learn about people and marketing watch one of the TV Shopping Channels – these people really know how to market!

    Do I know what I’m talking about well see details of my BBC interview to learn more –


    The BBCs Marketing Magician, Stefan Drew

    1. Stefan,

      If you watch TV as a student and observer of humanity, and not as a person who is being hypnotized, yes, it is a GREAT education. Especially the shopping channels and infomercials!


  19. Perry,

    Nice piece. I couldn’t agree more. I gave it up over 2 years ago. I do study ads and I still have to watch my Steelers and Lakers.

  20. Right on Perry,

    TV sucks, the idiot box that has sucked the brains of many people while brainwashing them into sheap. I am glad I haven’t watch TV in 3 years, and now I’m stress free. My Rant

  21. One of the problems with TV is there isn’t that many good shows on.

    It’s amazing when you think about it. We have more channels now than we’ve ever had and for the most part they all cater to the lowest common denominator.

    Become a Coast Guard Pilot

  22. I got rid of the tv for MANY years back in my amway days, but stupidly brought one years later when I was feeling miserable about a relationship break up! :-)

    Big mistake that was, and it only made me feel better for about 4-5 hours. Waste of money!

    My partner just splashed out on a big ol Plasma (42″) and I started getting hooked into it again and not doing my business stuff! I have got her taking the remote control to work now every day, so I can’t turn it on.

    Works a treat! :)


  23. When I was 13 years old, we had 3 TVs in the house, they were our babysitter, and the biggest source of strife in our house. I actually got (verbally) thrown out of the house once by my parents for changing the channel on the TV when noone else was in the room. I asked my parents at least a dozen times from the time I was 13 till I finally moved out at 15 years old, to get rid of the TVs. I hate television, and I have very little respect for the people who watch it. One of the best decisions I’ve made in my life was to never buy a TV.

  24. Wow Dude, I’m not the only one who CAN’T STAND TV !
    My current living situation is with someone who must turn A TV on whenever she enters the room ! A TV in every room. When she’s not around I’m in Heaven, I can actually think ! I simply cannot understand people who grow uncomfortable being in a room for more than a few minutes without a TV on.

    Also my bank remodeled recently,guess what’s behind the tellers facing the customers ? A HUGE TV.
    Also in DunKin’ Donuts, Doctor’s offices etc, etc.

    Watch Fight Club, not for the fighting, but the philosophy. . .

  25. Perry,

    Outstanding post you have some very valid points TV warps the mind. Personally i hardly watch it at all i may watch the occasional movie to unwind from all the work i do here at my desk trying to get traffic for my various sites or to get a sale of whatever i am peddling at the moment.

    keep up the good work my friend.
    Kind regards

    John s

  26. Ohhhh… the “Time Vanisher” – that’s what I call TV…

    I didn’t have one for years, then kids came along – and I gotta say – it’s MAGIC allowing them to watch DVD’s or the (good) kids shows on a rainy day!!!

    I watch about 2hours of TV a week, literally to “veg out”, i.e. literally turn myself into a form of couch dwelling vegetable.

    I pity those without the same level of self control.

    However, the flipside is that some people replace the TV, by watching crap online.

    There’s no teachin’ unless the student wants to learn huh…


  27. Good point Perry!
    Here in Spain the television is pure garbage. If you want to see something good you have to wait late night until 2’00 in the morning.
    Two years ago my wife and I decided to put the tv on the floor, behind a chair. I just watch some tennis match from time to time. that’s it. And the news, you better don’t watch them. You just learn how to kill someone or listen to a circus of politicians insulting each other.
    Since we do not watch tv i’ve develop a range of habits like reading, listen to internet marketing interviews with my mp3 player, learn adwords…
    Now that i have kids i’m kind of worried that they will want to watch any of those horrible cartoons where thay just fight, just because that’s what other kids watch.
    It’s so obvious to me that those kinds of programs/films shouldn’t be allowed to be shown. What good can they teach to our kids?

  28. I make enough to buy a large plasma every week, yet I live without a TV and very happy that way. I might consider buying one just to watch movies every once in a while, but no cable, thanks! It seems like there’s only more and more garbage out there… I feel very sorry for TV junkies who consume all that humongous, monstrous flow of… nothing – even worse, absolutely degrading crap (never mind so-called “news” – oh I hate those.. nothing really new – or true – accidents, deaths, police reports, sponsored political messages from all over the world dictated by current big brother)… It’s sad and scary – my children are supposed to live with this crap around them sometime soon. Glad you wrote this, Perry.

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