I think anyone who has been watching television lately has probably noticed a shift in the way that television advertising, and some television shows, are being displayed. Certainly to anyone with a medical condition aggravated by these changes, such as epilepsy or a seizure disorder, migraine, or similar condition, have noted a dramatic shift in their television viewing habits from these changes. The use of flashing, strobing, and other types of lighting effects seems to have increased dramatically over the last few years, and for many, this has had not only a detrimental affect on what they watch on TV, but also on the overall health and medical conditions that may cause them to have an adverse reaction to such advertising tactics. Predominantly because it has had such a major impact on my life and on the lives of my family, and we have found very few individuals or organizations that are willing to address the issue, I wanted to include information about the current trend in broadcasting about using flashing and/or strobing lights of any form, and attempt to include information that others may find somewhat helpful about photosensitivity and its related health affect, This is by no means an exhaustive research article or intended to give medical advice of any sort; my purpose is merely to provide a platform to focus attention on the issue, and to find a constructive means to address it.
Photosensitivity can come in many forms, with some reactions ranging from the obvious and profound to the most minor of indications that the flash affected the individual. While a flash to some it may be of no importance or an annoyance, to many, it is a single event that causes not just one reaction, but will continue to affect an individual long after they have seen the single camera flash. Obtaining and maintaining seizure or migraine control is never easy to achieve, and once it has been broken, it is extremely difficult to reach the sensitive equilibrium that an individual had previous to the exposure. At times, it has taken me over a month to recover somewhat from a single camera flash, and this doesn’t include the cascade affect that the increase in seizure frequency has on my other health conditions. The same holds true for my Mother, and I know of many others who have recounted the same experiences. There have been many times in which we have been in a public situation, such as a restaurant, and an individual will become extremely enthusiastic about taking a flash photo to make sure they capture every important moment; which is certainly and unarguable within their right. Admittedly, a few times we have asked the managers at a restaurant or wherever we are to ask the individual if they could stop for just long enough for me to be carried out of the situation, though this is only at times when I have experienced so many seizure episodes that I am no longer capable of walking out. If the situation and I am able, our preference is always for us to leave before inconveniencing or restricting anyone else; it is easier both on the individual and the place of business for us to do so, though it does severely limit our ability and freedom to do what we needed or wanted to do at that business.
One example that I think many would be able to recognize the possible catastrophic affect flashes of light can have on others in the form of photoradar cameras and speed enforcement. I haven’t driven since I was 16 years old, both because of the lack of seizure/event control, and because I realized that it simply wasn’t safe for me to do so out of concern for everyone’s safety, not just mine. I made this decision willingly, even though it has not only affected my freedom but the lives of my parents and my family, and with the understanding that as soon as I was able to obtain some control over these events that I would no longer have these constraints, though would exercise caution and common-sense at times when I did seem to be in a seizure-cycle. With the installation of the radar cameras on many of the local freeways and major roads and intersections here, many arguments were made both for and against their installation, though one of the areas that could have been used by those opposed to their use that I thought would be one of the strongest was never addressed with any frequency or adequate explanation-the possible affect that the camera flash would have on all the drivers and the possible injuries, deaths, etc. that this could lead to.
However, probably one of the most problematic examples of all is the current trend for what seems to be a majority of television ad campaigns, and many television programs, to use flashing of some form or another at least once during their short time spot. One of the most striking events that epitomizes this issue was in 1997 when the “Pokemon: Pocket Monsters” episode aired in Japan, and a particular scene in the cartoon utilized a sequence of strobing red, blue, and white lights. Hundreds of children and adults had to be hospitalized because of the type and severity of the reactions that they had to this visual sequence in a children’s cartoon show, with symptoms ranging from vomiting blood to seizures, migraines, dystonic movements, and a myriad of other health issues that had long-term implications for their sufferers, many of whom had previously been extremely healthy and didn’t appear to have any underlying neurological or other physiological disorder. The reaction to this set of flashing lights wasn’t limited just to when the individual saw them or immediately thereafter; many people continued, and probably still continue to some extent, to have serious complications as a result of this type of overstimulation. This single event was enough to create a massive public panic and outcry, as well as to bring focus to the idea that a public health issue doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of a contagion in order for it to be considered an epidemic and a very real threat to many members of society. This idea has been further cemented since by the mass-induction of seizures and similar neurological attacks caused by video and computer games, and any other media form that uses flashing, strobing, or a specific frequency of lights that is enough to affect brain function and ability. Many companies also realize the inherent risk in using this visual tactic; many electronics and similar items now come with a warning, both on the box and instructions, that there may be an inherent risk of possible seizures or similar neurological attacks with the use of their product, and that sensitive individuals need to exercise caution when using the item.
There have also been numerous studies in the medical community around the world with documented information in regard to the affect of strobing and/or flashing lights, and the data gathered from each of these studies has been further qualified by countless hospitals, specialists and other centers of scientific research and study. This information has been further studied to the extent that certain frequencies of light, color, and strobing have been identified commensurate with the profound affect they have physiologically, and public policy has been formulated around this
information to try to protect public health. In essence, the global consensus is the same: flashing lights do have an affect on brain function, and much of the time, this affect is detrimental and causes a disruption in normal activity electrically, metabolically, and in other capacities. In addition, the extent to which it impairs normal function varies with each individual; while scalp electroencephalograms (EEGs) can effectively document electrical activity on the surface of the brain, attempting to map the inner is much more difficult, and can cause a different set of symptoms to arise as a result of where focalization is taking place.
Again, the issue of flashing or strobing lights on television may be of no importance to some or a mild irritation or annoyance to others, but to those that are affected by flashing lights, it is on-par with unleashing a bolt of lightening into their living room at multiple and random points throughout the day. Because of the very nature of advertising, the random and sporadic nature of ad placement and the need to reach a wide-viewing audience by placing these commercials on multiple channels and times throughout the day further complicates the issue in that there is no concrete means to determine at what point it’s safe to turn the television on. Admittedly, a valid argument can be made to just completely stop watching television all-together to reduce the possibility of a reaction to 0%, but to someone who has already had to give up many freedoms others take for granted, and is usually feeling somewhat isolated already because they do have these physical limitations, it can also be argued that television is one of the few “normal” activities that people should be able to participate in for a multitude of reasons.
Another argument could be made that all television programming should be safe for everyone to watch; this isn’t an ADA issue, but is in reality keeping everyone safe. It isn’t necessary to have a visible physical reaction to stimuli in order for it to have an affect on an individual, particularly if the reaction is localized and only affects certain regions. To compound any health issue, and I really do mean any health issue, with the type of over-stimulation that is inherent in this type of advertising is unnecessary and irresponsible. If I am fortunate enough to be able to remember the beginning of a commercial or program segment that involves flashing lights of some form, this is of some value. However, much of the time, my memory loss prior and subsequent to a seizure event doesn’t afford me this luxury, and I am dependent on my family much of the time to warn me beforehand if they recognize that this is going to occur. Needless to say, if I have any memory at all of what was being advertised, or if I ask anyone in the room with me what the commercial was highlighting, my first reaction is not to buy the product or service; if the company using these techniques has that much disregard at the point where their consumer is making the decision to utilize what they are selling, logic dictates that the customer service will probably not improve once you are their customer. This may or may not be true with each case, but when given a choice of what to buy, I will usually gravitate towards whatever product I have seen, and can remember, that hasn’t had a detrimental affect on my health or otherwise, and I’m sure there are many who would echo the same sentiment. Softer messages may be more difficult to sell, but it is safer in the long run for everyone.
My purpose with this atricle isn’t meant to be a written formulation of my frustration and concern with the current fad to include visual stimuli in television advertising and broadcasting. Rather, it has taken me months to gather the courage to write something about this topic; I fully appreciate the need for freedom of the press and for expression, and I certainly don’t believe in complete government-control with any media form. I do believe, however, that television broadcasters, advertisers, and others involved need to consider that there is a reason why there are strict guidelines in other countries regarding what can and can’t be put into media outlets, and that they do have a certain amount of social responsibility to ensure public safety. If merely seeing a set of flashing lights can continue to cause a reaction for at least a month after I am exposed, I shudder to think of the ill-affects that this is causing for children with autism, ADHD, ADD, and other related disorders that are already complicated enough to handle and treat without adding in outside factors. Legislation to limit the use of flashing or strobing lights would be a possible answer, though I wonder if there were enough public outcry and obvious dissatisfaction if this could perhaps be a more effective means through which to change these practices with television broadcasters. If nothing else, it may limit the number of advertising companies to the few that may realize that there is a form of responsible advertising to convey a message that is much more effective and doesn’t create as much of a liability issue. I realize that there are many, many important issues that are being debated now, and that the long-term affects of many of these issues are so crucial that the issue of flashing lights on television seems rather meaningless. However, I also think that there are many, many people who are affected by this issue and aren’t quite sure how to go about trying to influence change in this arena. Out of the many groups we have contacted about if they were involved in any activities that would limit the flashing and strobing lights in broadcasting, we are somewhat surprised at the lack of cooperation and interest we have received from organizations that we thought would be more able to initiate change, either through the private sector or government lobbying. My hope is that perhaps by trying to share information about this issue, it will be possible to change this trend. If nothing else, perhaps because this issue isn’t as critical as the others being debated, perhaps it would be easier to effect change just because it isn’t as much of a “hot topic”.
If you are reading this paragraph, I applaud your saint-like patience, and thank you for being willing to read such a long blog posting. As you can probably tell at this point by the length of this article, I’m not watching nearly as much television, so I have some additional time to devote to researching and writing topics I feel are important of that I’m interested (or have a vested interest in). I hope that I included some information that was a little helpful either for yourself, a family member, or someone you know. Thank you again so much for all of your attention, patience, time, and support.
All user-generated information on this site is the opinion of its author only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for any medical conditions. Members and guests are responsible for their own posts and the potential consequences of those posts detailed in our Terms of Service.