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The idiot box no more?


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#16 Alexandra

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Posted 09 May 2005 - 02:58 PM

Estelle, because I think the argument could be made that "Madame Bovary," like the novels of Dickens and many others, WERE popular culture; extremely well-written popular novels, intended to be read by a great number of people and enjoyed by people with varying degrees of education and levels of sophistication, and I wanted to forestall someone saying, "But Madame Bovary IS pop culture" :)

#17 Estelle

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Posted 09 May 2005 - 03:19 PM

Thanks for the explanation, Alexandra ! I haven't read "Madame Bovary" for about ten years and don't remember much about the circumstances of its creation (except the problems of censorship) but even though it was published as a "feuilleton", I wouldn't see it in the same category of "popular novels" as, say, those of Dumas, Sue, Ponson du Terrail, etc. (e.g. Flaubert's books commonly are studied in high school here, while Dumas', Sue's, etc. aren't).

#18 dirac

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Posted 09 May 2005 - 04:24 PM

I'm hearing a lot of "yeah, right," but I'm not hearing substantive arguments against several of his theses


Put it down to despair. :)

#19 GWTW

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Posted 09 May 2005 - 05:01 PM

I think there may be two separate issues here: one being the high culture/popular culture divide and the other the nature of the 'ideal' individual in society.
The high culture / popular culture divide has been discussed at length on this board. My personal opinion is that the medium no longer is the message: some books are drivel and some television is great (again, Survivor and American Idol are not on that list; Buffy the Vampire Slayer is).
The second issue hasn't been debated as much, but Helene touches on it. I believe that during the past few decades there has been a change in the 'ideal' individual of Western society. An interesting book my husband read this year (sorry, I haven't) called The Jewish Century describes the typical Jew as being Mercurial (as opposed to Appolonian and Dionysian), by which the author means creative entrepeuneurs who are proficient professionals and can communicate with various cultures. This is almost an archetype of the person most likely to succeed in the 21st century. In an earlier time which valued different qualities and characteristics, this person might have been suspect.
The skills taught by videogames are not new ones - many of us were born with the ability to synthesize material quickly and to multi-task. What is new is that these skills are now highly valued.



#20 Mel Johnson

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Posted 09 May 2005 - 06:01 PM

There may be a parallel here to the many operas of Franz von Suppe, and the scarcity of their production today. I love the overture to Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna, but wondered why nothing else from this opera seems to survive. One day, I got hold of a script, and found that although the music was wonderful, all the dialogue and lyrics were about Viennese politics of the 1840s. Apparently, a real knee-slapper in its day and place, but not much fun any other way.

#21 Drew

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Posted 09 May 2005 - 07:52 PM

I just came across this thread today and at the risk of wandering off topic had to add that I first thought Alexandra mentioned The Faerie Queen because it is episodic and even dilatory in the way a lot of narrative television is -- new "Books" of the poem introduce new characters and new plotlines in a way that superficially, at least, hardly seems tightly unified in the way Madame Bovary does and most certainly leads to delayed gratification. After reading further into the thread I found she was making an entirely different point!

I also find that a lot of narrative television, even at its most "realist," is highly allegorical--as is The Fairie Queen. That is, characters are quite schematic, and in my opinion are often most effective that way, and whatever a show seems to be about on the surface, it often turns out to be about something else. An easy example would be the way most soap operas turn out to be about incest.

However, this is a far cry from finding the thesis as outlined in the article very compelling. Pop culture is doing something to us, but to find out what exactly probably calls for a more controlled point of departure than a vaguely asserted correlation with rising IQs . I assume some psychologists are out there at this very minute trying to come up with controlled experiments to answer (or ask) the same and similar questions more precisely. (Not that I exactly intend to endorse the authority of that method either...)


I also very much agree with what GWTW says about the oddness of equating reading solely with "explicit learning" -- and also find strangely little said (or even speculated) about the physiological effects of technologies which seem to me must be a big part of the picture of what happens (good or bad) when one engages with television/internet/video games etc. )

#22 dirac

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Posted 10 May 2005 - 10:38 AM

Thank you, Drew and GWTW, for the long and thoughtful posts.

Pop culture is doing something to us, but to find out what exactly probably calls for a more controlled point of departure than a vaguely asserted correlation with rising IQs.



Exactly.


Yes, a program like Seinfeld has multiple story lines involving supporting actors, in contrast to an Old Style sitcom like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, in which there is one main story line and the entire cast kibitzes. This does require the viewer to distinguish the A story line from the B and C story line, although I wouldn’t regard that as rocket science.

I was also puzzled by having reading categorized as “explicit learning.” It depends pretty much on what you’re reading. It’s true that when I read The Golden Bowl, I’m entering a world created, or a narrative controlled in Johnson’s terms, by Henry James. But my imaginative and analytic faculties are also fully engaged.

We can concede Johnson’s point that, for the most part, television series of today are technically better and more sophisticated than those of the past, in general. However, I watched for the first time in many years the old BBC series, The Six Wives of Henry VIII starring Keith Michell. It’s true that, by today’s standards, the camera is static and the pace is glacial. Writer and director think nothing of having everything stand still while actors discuss court intrigue or debate the good and bad points of the English Reformation or Henry’s Continental policy. If HBO did it today, it would have great production values, fancy shots, lots of snappy dialogue, and actresses far more glamourous than Annette Crosbie and Dorothy Tutin. (And lots more sex and violence.) But I don’t think it would necessarily be better or more challenging.

#23 dirac

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Posted 13 May 2005 - 09:23 AM

Steven Johnson debates Dana Stevens of Slate, in Slate:


http://slate.msn.com.../entry/2118588/

#24 GWTW

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Posted 13 May 2005 - 10:59 AM

Thanks, dirac. After reading the exchange of opinions in Slate (it's not really a debate - I expected something more interactive from a e-zine :unsure:), I find myself even less persuaded by Johnson's arguments.

#25 dirac

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Posted 16 May 2005 - 01:35 PM

I agree, GWTW, it turned out to be not much of a debate, didn’t it?

An interesting piece from the Chicago Tribune, by Steven Zeitchik:

So why do so many lament the state of TV and the encroachment of video games? Mostly, Johnson says, because they dwell on the content of the media--which indeed can be more violent and base--instead of the form. Think of word-logic problems on the SAT, he writes; they're educational not because of the content but because they work out a mental muscle. A layperson might see video games as encouraging little more than quicker finger reflexes, but for popular games like Zelda or Grand Theft Auto, success comes only if you can prioritize and probe as you would a Mensa puzzle.


http://www.chicagotr...ack=1&cset=true

#26 Helene

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Posted 16 May 2005 - 02:17 PM

The Slate exchange did let him express what is sounds like his main point:

"There is nothing more conventional—on the left and the right—than the suggestion that the pop culture out there caters to the lowest common denominator. If the reverse is true even for part of the spectrum of intelligence, that's not something to be taken lightly, if only because it inverts a lot of our assumptions about how mass cultures tend to work. "

#27 kfw

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Posted 17 May 2005 - 07:06 AM

This subject will be discussed on the National Public Radio program “The Connection” tomorrow at 10 a.m. Eastern Standard Time here in the U.S. It will also be streamed and then archived for streaming at The Connection's website . I didn’t hear the name of the guest, but presumably that will be Stephen Johnson.

#28 dirac

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Posted 17 May 2005 - 02:12 PM

A review in the Sunday Times (London) by Roland White:

http://www.timesonli...1609775,00.html



The trouble is: what are we demanding? Have the success and sophistication of popular culture come at the expense of more highbrow culture? The messages here are rather mixed. Our culture, and especially television, does seem to be afraid of open displays of intelligence: just look at what Dick and Dom have done to Ask the Family. The university-educated middle class, who might once have enjoyed long dinner party conversations about Kenneth Clark and the mysteries of the Renaissance, are now more likely to be reflecting on the fate of Big Brother contestants.



#29 dirac

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Posted 25 May 2005 - 10:50 AM

I hope you guys will stick around for those of us who are (a) slower readers/ digesters/ responders; (b) prefer to wait for the arrival of the magazine in the mail rather than read it electronically; and © find this a fascinating topic that requires extended thought.


bart, did you ever get a chance to read the article? I was looking forward to hearing your opinion....

#30 bart

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Posted 26 May 2005 - 04:14 PM

I was especially intrigued by Johnson's request that we imagine what people would be saying if video games were the old, traditional art form, and books were the radical new technology. It's a great way to make a point. Here are the possible criticisms of the "new" experience of books:

1) "Reading books chronically understimulates the senses.
2) "Books are tragically isolating."
3) "But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a fixed linear path."

Hey! These qualities happen to be precisely what I love about certain books -- often older books, "classics" -- and what keeps them in my imagination and memory and draws me back to them. They suit my education, personality, values, and my motivation to read in the first place.

I'm glad that "different styles of learning" are getting attention and respect. But there's been a parallel decline in concern about what is actually being learned. I loved Leigh's link to Stay Free Magazine, where the writer expressed this problem quite nicely. Over-valuing the virtues of the swifter, snazzier versions of popular culture is, according to this, "sort of like saying that the 4-year olds who recognize the McDonald's logo -- and who can conjure up all kinds of foods, smells, and cartoonish characters when asked about that locgo -- are smarter about restaurant chains."

Recent sad developments in American political propaganda (sensation over thought, slogans over analysis), as well as expession that focuses only on advancing one's position rather than understanding the problem, suggest some of the negatives that pandering to alternative learning styles can produce.

Kind of makes me want to drop everything and go to the ballet. Preferably something by Balanchine, where amid the immediate sensation of all those "steps, steps, steps" you can find, if you make the effort to attend very closely, infinitely larger meanings.


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