May 02, 2005
Bad culture good culture

It is extremely unsurprising in these anti-elite, revisionist times that a book is coming out with the thesis that low culture is good for you. By low culture is meant stuff like video games and television. There was a long excerpt of the book in NYT recently.
I am as great a fan of televison as anyone, and I watch a lot of it, I grew up on it, along side all the books and all the music. In spite of that, I have to say that the argument given seems wildly self serving.
First of all the characterization of numerous shows as "complex therefore good" is extremely superficial. '24', 'ER' and even 'The West Wing' is every bit as formulaic as lesser shows. Watching these shows you're constantly 'gaming the formula' instead of just enjoying the show, simply because the formula is so limited that you have plenty of spare time while watching to just study the shows as formula. Maybe the first season of a show is new, but it rarely goes beyond that.
Second, the assertion that "information rich" is better is obviously bogus. I think it is pretty clear that you don't get smarter watching modern day satellite or networked news shows with an anchor in the foreground and 2-3 info areas of the screen constantly updating you with competing facts. You're getting tons of information, but none fo that is of high quality. Information isn't knowledge and it doesn't induce smarts. In fact some studies suggest it has as negative an impact on intelligence as smoking cannabis.

It's a shame really, because the "TV is dangerous" argument is even more ridiculous.

If one were to give a succesful argument that television and games make you smarter it would have to be another argument, namely that these new media gives you access to tremendously efficient new means of communication that foster new modes of thought. Some examples: In Denmark most adults undere the age of 50 speak some kind of understandable English. I am willing to bet money that school is only part of the explanation and that years of native language english absorbed through television is the real reason.
Similarly, video games have fostered an expectancy of being able to influence the action, instead of just being a bystander. Clearly this is a good thing.

Posted by Claus at May 02, 2005 02:14 AM | TrackBack (0)
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