When the Lumiere brothers premiered the first moving images, what captivated their nineteenth century audience was not so much the domestic scene of a mother feeding her child, but the public was curiously drawn to the gentle movement of tree branches swaying in the wind. Already the medium of motion pictures was marked by its ability to put the viewer in a different physical place. As viewers experienced the feeling of being transplanted while remaining stationary, television also produced an emotional response very different from the cerebral information one gets from print mediums.
The first exposure the American public had to actual images, of course, was the photograph. The invention of photography allowed people to hold images in their heads of places and events that they had never themselves experienced. Television comes closest to putting the audience physically at the scene of the event. "It is at its best as a transmitter of experience. There are elements of emotion and involvement in television's chemistry (Wood, 7)." But another reality of the photograph was that it had a visceral power to disturb the viewer. "This instinct that the visual was too powerful to contradict with words, that its impact could not be explained away by the best of logic, was one of the deadly legacies of the photograph (Neuman, 81). "
Moving images built on a photograph's immediate ability to emotionally connect with its audience. The coupling of motion pictures with audio allowed television, whether it be news or pleasure programming, to create a whole new reality for the viewer. "Appealing to the senses, it gave moving reality to the visual, and heightened power to the audible (Neuman, 121)."
The power of the image, both moving and still, to affect public perception of an event is nowhere more evident than in the war coverage. "Like photography, this visual medium opened the door to manipulation of the image in the cause of swaying public opinion. In time of war, film offered the ultimate weapon (Neuman, 120)." Because of the brutal nature of war, the images it begets invariably are emotionally loaded. "It might even be said that television accentuated the visceral, giving more credence to the emotional ballast of the war than to its causes or consequences (Neuman, 181)." The press became more and more explicit about what they showed the public, and finally during the Vietnam War, Americans were seeing graphic depictions of their friends and relatives in jungle combat every day.
Of course, what an image cannot give is complete context. Just as a newspaper can select what to write about, the viewer is never quite sure exactly what lies only a few feet outside of a camera angle. Images have the ability to strike someone without necessarily having to answer all the rational questions about the content of the image. Because of television's heavily packaged nature, the medium has a strong sense of reality and authority, which it does not necessarily always merit. "In spite of the hard work and considerable expense behind even a 10-second soundbyte advertisement, television gives the illusion of immediate access to reality and truth, and thus traffics in the notions of bias versus objectivity, just like scholars (Cumings, 21)."
Certainly the government recognized the power of television to make an impact on the public. In World War II, the government knew this to be a fact. While the pictures were banned, censors had cleared newspaper copy about the battle. The fear was that while words might cause a shudder and bare a concern, the pictures would horrify the public and dampen the will to fight (Neuman, 83).
In Vietnam, the government would find the Living Room war harder to handle, especially in an age of increasingly quick communication. Rapid improvement of equipment and techniques has made such coverage faster and easier than ever before (Wood, 33). More and more Americans found themselves being transplanted, mentally and emotionally, half-way across the world though images presented by the medium of television.