Friday, March 24, 2017

Is television more than it's cracked up to be? Neil Postman in his work, "Amusing Ourselves to Death," claims that television offers entertainment value and not much else. He identifies television as a communication platform that offers a variety of types of information, and one that requires very few skills to comprehend. He also describes the purpose of television to be "largely aimed at emotional gratification."

While I agree with the basic tenets of Postman's claims, I do believe television is a much more sophisticated modality than he seems to purport. Indeed, television is popular in my home for its ability to entertain, provide information, and for the ease and convenience with which it can be consumed. Favorite shows at our house include "Good Luck Charlie," "Twilight Zone," "Orange is the New Black," and "Saturday Night Live." Though the majority of TV viewing is spent on news.

Postman goes on to say that "technology becomes a medium as it employs a particular symbolic code, as it finds its place in a particular social setting, as it insinuates itself into economic and political contexts." Now I feel that Postman's ideology is getting somewhere. While there is indeed a demand made of television to provide entertainment, I believe television is an industry that generates so much more.

Local and community television captures local culture and offers opportunities for communities to display various skill sets. At Southern Utah LIVE Television Network based in St. George, Utah, I served as executive producer and program developer for a handful of locally produced shows. Leading the pack in terms of viewership, audience size and budget was a little gem of a show, "Southern Utah Chef."

Each episode is designed to be – yes – entertaining. Also, episodes showcase skills of southern Utah's highest rated chefs from restaurants including Painted Pony, George's Corner, Benja Thai & Sushi, Red Rock Grill, and premier dining locations in Springdale, Utah. The shows host, Ms. K, is a dynamic and fun local personality, and she is entertaining. She banters throughout the episodes with chefs as they cook. The show is taped before a live studio audience and episodes are live streamed and made available on the local community television streaming site. The show captures community culture and offers a cook-at-home demonstration and recipe for viewers interested in trying the chef's favorites.

Additionally, audience members were invited to sample the chef's works after the taping of the show. Each episode required a great deal of community collaboration, script writing, directing and editing. Again, while it was designed to be entertaining, the show was also educational and informative. Just as much of television is.
Southern Utah Chef audience members enjoy sampling
recipes prepared by Benja following the taping of an
episode of Southern Utah Chef. 

I use this example to illustrate a point. From a small community cooking show to CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" or "Modern Family," television is a communication industry that operates at many levels. As a whole, it has the ability to educate, encapsulate culture, drive economy, and to unite.

When Postman claims, "American television,  in other words, is devoted entirely to supplying its audience with entertainment," I have to disagree. Such a position minimalizes a complex modality.

Do you agree with Postman that television is devoted entirely to supplying entertainment?

And if so, do you agree that such an attribution minimalizes television as a medium? Why or why not?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Does television really represent the decay of society?

I really vibed with the reading on Amusing ourselves to death, by Postman. His whole premise just makes sense with me starting with the claim that entertainment is the supraideology of all discourse on television. "the overarching presumption [of television] is that it is there for our amusement and pleasure". The entire premise on which television is based affects the way we see television as well as the world. In the same we that I would view my butler ( if I had one), I view my television as serving me in some way. I expect it to amuse me. Just from this claim alone we start to see how the viewing of television could bleed into other aspects of society and our worldview

But Postman goes further and points out how television has to constrain itself within certain parameters in order to obtain viewers. He points out that the fact that the image and entertainment value of programs like the news is focused on can't be blamed on the television producers. He says: " They are televising the news to be seen. They must follow where their medium leads. There is no conspiracy here, no lack of intelligence, only a straightforward recognition that "good television" has...everything to do with what the pictorial images look like". There you have it. The medium of television, due to its existence being designed to entertain and its commercial influence, is a medium conducive to doing things that entertains in order to obtain the most viewers and keep particular programs on the air.

Another reason this could bleed into other aspects of society is this. I have noticed that there is very often a strong relationship between availability of something and a dependence on or need for that thing. I see it when I have soda around; I start feeling like I need soda. When I have a significant other I start feeling like I need to see them. Kids having a dependence on their phones. What if none of those things were around? Would we need them. I don't think we would. This is how availability can create dependence. Thus it is with television. In order to appeal to their audiences, television programs become more fast paced, more stimulating, more emotionally gratifying without any need for reflection or thinking on our part. What does this create? A dependence on/ a feeling that we need everything in our lives to be fast paced, hyper stimulating and with quick emotional gratification.

 I feel that this could explain how television as a  medium could create a society that that is less likely to think for themselves and more likely to expect everything and everyone to cater to their every whim of amusement. For example, we talked in class about how Kevin sometimes feels the need to cater to the need of millennials to have teaching and presentations be more presenting. I'm sure the expectation the younger generation has that things should be more stimulating has been affected by mediums such as television, mediums that cater to them rather than challenging them or causing them to reflect.

However, I also really liked Eric's comment in class today. He basically said that although we're talking about television as though it represents the decay of society, who's to say that our progenitors before the time of television weren't just as prone to mindless entertainment and instant gratification as we are now. He used the example of the gladiator contests during declining years of the Roman empire. They went to pretty extreme lenghts, having people kill each other, in order to entertain and appease the masses. I really vibed with this comment. Who knows what if people in the old days found other ways to be mindlessly entertained while others actually read more books or found ways to reflect? and that this difference in tendencies was simply based on personality rather than the availability of television?

But what do you guys think? Does television really represent the decay of society since it is clearly the opposite of being conducive as a medium to literacy and reflection? or is it just another option we have through modern technology to appease the mass need for mindlessness and entertainment?

I Lived the Dream. I Had it All.


            Some might declare that I am a gifted television-ist because I have a perfect relationship with TV.   All four of the articles from this week’s readings confirm that I belong with the best of the best.  Born in 1972, raised in front of a black and white television, pioneer in the digital entertainment age, and aficionado of today’s truly sublime programming, I deserve to be hoisted upon the shoulders of you younger, less experienced classmates.  However, if Dr. Stein can make similar claims, perhaps I will scoot over and allow a couple of you to lift him off the ground that supports ordinary television consumers.

 

While the photo to the left is only a representation of the concept, I will be at SUU for graduation in April, and I will be sure to wear pants so that I can be lifted high above you without concern.
           

Dude, Let it Go! (exclamation point pun intended)

It seems the author of “Ha ha,” he said.(Chuck Kloisterman) and I might have been laughing into our respective Zenith television speakers at the same time, as we watched the sitcom Laverne and Shirley.  While his young mind was focusing on being a part of the laughing audience, (pg. 194) mine was plotting how in ten years I could date cool guys, just like Laverne.  Kloisterman’s hyper-fixation on laughing didn’t allow him to see the greatness of 70s television.  Shows like Happy Days and Three’s Company were necessary steps on the path to greatness.  These shows approached a few boundaries so that later television could leap into unexplored areas.



            I simply must present a brief tangent in response to Kloisterman’s tangent about the evils about not only laughing at your own jokes, but also the disgust of hearing a dead person’s laugh (pg. 186).  To counter his theory, I challenge anyone to listen to Click & Clack, the Tappet Brothers on NPR’s Car Talk.  These brilliant and joyful men laugh throughout the entire show.  They laugh at themselves, at each other, and at the callers.  In 2014 one of the brothers died, yet NPR still plays syndicated episodes.  I can’t help but smile when I hear the expressed love and happiness of these men.  A recording of someone’s laugh should be celebrated.  Listen:




I’m an active participant!

Not that I have anything against the title, but the fact is, I’m not a couch potato.  As Maloney stated in his article, American Idolatry, “viewers are encouraged to become active participants in the media industry” (pg. 44).  While Maloney was referencing the ability of viewers to participate in the perceived democracy of voting for a favorite singer on Fox’s American Idol, the fact remains that minds can indeed be active while watching both reality and scripted television.  My new hero, Steven Johnson, explains in his essay, Watching TV Makes You Smarter, that today’s popular culture can provide a cognitive workout (pg. 190).  Heck, I’ve been exercising my brain for years because I began following multiple storylines on soap operas when I was ten years old and helping my mom fold laundry.  I watched the characters weave in and out of each other’s lines, each having a different plotline to pursue.  That was a mere warm-up for the television I would tackle in my late 20s.



Reading about Johnson’s obvious crush on fast-faced and witty dialogue made me giddy.  I too pursued those shows that provided mental stimulation.  For politics?  The West Wing.  For family and romance?  Gilmore Girls.  For Sports?  Sports Night.  For medicine?  E.R.  I used my VCR and taped them all!  I was delighted to learn that my taste in television reflected my superior intelligence.  I’m even proud that I only watched Survivor, and never that mindless Fear Factor (pg. 199).   There is however, a small problem…







…much of the current higher-brow television entertainment is mainly for adult audiences on paid networks, like HBO.  While CBS builds its fortune on predictable sitcoms and multi spin-off franchises that repeat the same stories in different climates, the clever shows do not get the viewership network demands.  Klosertman alludes to this problem when comparing The Big Bang Theory to Arrested Development.  Unfortunately the obvious laugh has the longer run. Critical acclaim does not secure a spot in the network’s lineup.  If a new program does not net a certain number of viewers in 10 episodes, the show is yanked.  For example, last year I fell in love with FOX’s television program, The Grinder.  Sure Rob Lowe lured me in, but the plot and quirky writing hooked me.  Great stuff.  The husband and I watched it together and laughed constantly, without being prompted.  You young readers – have you ever heard of it?  I thought not.  Without those young viewers who look to formulaic programming, the smart scripts dropped.  R.I.P. Grinder.




I Can Stop Whenever I Want To!

While my love of television runs deep, I am not an addict.  In Television Addiction is No Mere Metaphor, Kubey explains some of the behaviors associated with dependence and disorders, and it is clear that I don’t have a problem (pg. 181).  I’ll prove it.  Instead of abandoning my family to watch television by myself, we watch TV together while eating dinner. I never watch the TV for longer than I intend because I never get to watch it enough. (This is the part where I turn to SUU and look at it accusingly)  Instead of sitting and watching Young and the Restless daily, I have it playing in the background while I get ready for work or clean the house.  See?  No problem.


Told You So!
I really do have the perfect relationship with television.  We have grown together, both in our level of sophistication and our love of language.  In my lifetime I have seen miraculous entertainment developments, and I have enjoyed each one.  I feel sorry for my 13 year-old son who will never watch Little House on The Prairie, who will never understand what Joey means when he says, “How you do’in?” and who will never have the attention span to delight in tight dialogue because his phone will demand attention to its screen.  I lived the dream.  I had it all.  However, I have not given up hope because I can still find jewels that bring laughter and intrigue into my home.




Question: Have you seen any older "high-brow" shows such as West Wing, Sports Night, or ER?  If so, what did you think?  Are you able to settle in and enjoy or do you consider them boring with no real action?

Question:  Do you know of any television programming on the public networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CW) that is cognitively demanding or can assist with your cognitive exercises?




Reality TV...Is It Reality?

From "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" to "The Real Housewives" franchises, reality television is everywhere...it is so hard to avoid. There are currently 40+ reality shows on television right now, ranging from singing competitions to following up with teen moms. I'm a fan of reality shows but I know everyone wonders: is reality television really real? Let's be honest, reality television is pretty fake. It isn’t as fake as scripted television shows, but viewers, like me, understand that reality shows have been altered to some degree.

 

How do we know this? Depending on the show, characters are built via the "reality stars" themselves or through editing. For reality shows, a lot of them tend to end with linear plots, that wrap up nicely (or somewhat nicely) at the end. Take "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" for example, every episode is essentially the same...someone takes someone or something for granted, then someone else intervenes and at the end of the episode, amends are made and valuable lessons are learned. Then it repeats in the next episode, just like a scripted television show.

Does it matter? I think it's safe to say everyone knows that their favorite reality show has been altered to some degree...yet, does anyone care? I for sure don't. I still watch all my favorite reality shows because I don't really think of them as reality show; I think of as scripted shows.

Discussion question:
Do you watch reality tv shows?
Does knowing that reality television isn't really reality deter you from watching?



“The Bachelor” Is it reality? Is it Love?


I always found myself interested in reality TV show such as Kate plus 8, Cake Boss, 17 Kids & Counting and so much more. Though there was one show that I said I would "never" watch but I ended up watching it "The Bachelor." To this day I can't believe I watched it. Even my older brother was surprised that I watched it. Though I did. Well, let's just say it was the most interesting thing that I have watched when it comes to finding love on a reality TV Show.


Here's the basic layout of the show and how it works.
  • They obviously choose an eligible Bachelor, to find love on the show. 
  • Which either the producer find or they can apply to be The Bachelor
  • There is one man and 30 women who date (and compete) and where he tries to fall in love with one of them.
  • These are women who apply to try to find love on the show as well. 
  • Anyways, the dates on the show can be either group dates or one on one dates and that's where The Bachelor tries to get to know each woman in the show. 
  • Every week The Bachelor must eliminate girl(s) of his choice.
  • The women who The Bachelor wishes to stay will be given a rose
  • When it down to the last 4 women, The Bachelor goes to their hometown to meet their family.
  • Afterward The Bachelor takes the final 2 women to his hometown to meet his family. 
  • The last episode is the final rose ceremony. Where the Bachelor decides which one he wants to marry. Then he will give the final girl a rose and ask her to marry him.
Then they live happily ever after right? ehh...


As I was watching this show I thought to myself "is this really a reflection of dating in real life?" Then I thought probably not. The Bachelor only happens within 6 weeks, and during those 6 weeks they are supposed to find their "true love." Also how likely is it in real life to date 30 different people at the same time. Then decide which one of them is "the one." Out of the previous 20 season of The Bachelor, only 2 couples are still together to this day. Even though the show was interesting to watch,  it doesn't really reflect on how the dating world works.


Though there was one thing that I actually think reflects in the dating world. Was the race subject between one of the women and The Bachelor in season 21. Rachel was African American, she and The Bachelor Nick both discussed the racial conflicts that surround them. That a black person dating a white person or visa verse. I thought that this subject was probably the most realist things that most couples do face in the real world. Especially when dating someone of a different race than yours.


Overall even though The Bachelor is another amusing reality TV show to watch. It's not a real reflection of how the dating world works in the real world. 

Discussion:
  1. Have you ever seen "The Bachelor"?
  2. Do you think that "The Bachelor" shows any type of real reflection of the dating world?


The Age of The Memes


In the book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman said, "Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas; they exchange images.", and the more that technology grows the truer this becomes. All our media is made into shorter and shorter time frames, to hold our attention because we want our messages to be short so that we don't have to spend much time on it. It's easy for us to sit through a long movie, but a 75-second long commercial seems torturously long. We've grown accustomed to everything being instant. When we want to know something or find directions to go someplace, or even watch a movie all we have to do is reach into our pocket for our phone. People have become all about the instant gratification of being able to do things quickly.



Lately "binge watching" has become a popular thing to do. With a culture so intent on having media at our fingertips, and in our pockets, it's so easy to over indulge. You don't have to wait week by week for your favorite show to put out a new episode or suffer through the weekly mini-cliffhangers. Personally, I have a few shows that I will only watch by the season to make sure I don't hit an episode with a terrible ending, just a season.


By making our media more accessible, we burn through it more quickly which seems to have led to a sort of decline in content. We have so many TV shows that don't require any thinking to watch, you just plop down and allow yourself to do nothing as the show plays in front of you.  I call these "nothing" shows because they don't have much real content, and you don't do anything while you watch them.  One such show that followed this trend was called Selfie.  It was marketed by ABC as a "retelling" of My Fair Lady. To me felt like another show "for millennials" that didn't understand millennials at all. Eliza is a vapid young woman, who lives for the social media fame. She thinks she's popular, and well loved until something embarrassing happens and everyone avoids her. A coworker named Henry does his best to repair Eliza and give her a more appealing image to gain real acceptance.
Another show The Great Indoors attempts to show the difference between "adults" and "young adults" making fun of a generational gap between a 45-year-old, and a 33-year-old pretending to be a 20 year old. The only plot to this show is Jack, trying to relate to his younger coworkers, and not understanding anything they say or think and finding it difficult to relate to them. Despite being in the "millennial" 20-something age group that this show supposedly represents, I don't relate to the characters either. 

It seems to me more and more shows have removed the dimension behind a character. In more and more shows, we don't see much of the background of a character, we just see everything happening to them RIGHT NOW in the present. It's easier to watch a show without thinking if we don't have to remember anything about the backstory of a character. It makes it easier to watch something without really watching. It makes it easier to write content for a show if the plot is completely disposable. You can just nothing.

The part of media that told a story is starting to disappear, leaving boring, "entertaining", quickly absorbed, nothing in its place. "Nothing' TV shows become a guilty pleasure because you don't have to think or feel to consume it. You plop down, turn off your brain and relax because it's easy.

Discussion Questions:
1. Do you have any guilty pleasure TV shows that you like to "nothing" to? 
2. Do you find yourself watching nothing shows more than you find yourself watching something with an engaging plotline? 
3. Do you find many new television programs to be more engaging, or to be nothing? 

Brain Candy

In his article “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” Neil Postman suggests that television doesn’t “extend or amplify literate culture. It attacks.” I am taking this out of context a bit, but in general, I agree with this statement. Obviously, there are exceptions to this general rule, but I feel as though television can be cumbersome to the literate and hinder the ability and interest in enhancing literacy if used inappropriately or extensively. However, in moderation and if approached correctly, this attack against literate culture won’t be as extensive.


In my high school AP Literature and Honors English courses, my teachers introduced us to the importance of a combination of literary works as well as novels that they called “brain candy” or books that don’t have the same depth as classic works. A combination of the two is necessary in order to be a well-rounded reader and person; however, consuming one or the other as the dominant or only form of entertainment can be detrimental to the growth of the mind and can attack literate culture. I believe the same can be said for television.


Television and film are newer forms of art that are growing in popularity and importance. These artforms add a visual aspect to traits that can be found in novels (narrative, plot, character development, themes, etc.) and are a more accessible version of entertainment than stage productions. However, each medium has their own importance with their own themes and uses, which is why higher or more literate works should be combined with “brain candy” without focusing solely on one. With this combination, the literate culture won’t be as attacked, since the viewers are becoming more cultured with various narrative forms.


Television can have narrative elements that can lead to critical thinking and can also enhance literate tendencies, but too much television consumption and consuming immense amounts of “brain candy” television can attack the literate culture. What I consider good/beneficial television are shows where the audience can recognize dynamic plot structures, character development, ideas that make the audience think, witty dialogue, and other similar components of a complex narrative, while “brain candy” shows are simple and don’t seem to focus as much on narrative components.


For example, Gilmore Girls, in my opinion, can be considered above “brain candy” status because within this show I can see dynamic character development, witty dialogue, fun plots, and other narrative points. However, I have never seen Supernatural as anything other than “brain candy” because the characters are static for the most part, the plots are basic and repetitive, and the show don’t add to literacy.


Both shows, though, and both types of shows hold entertainment value, but one seems to hold higher literate capacities than the other. As long as audiences don’t focus solely on “brain candy” shows, the literate culture won’t be as attacked as if audiences consumed “brain candy” only. This is because the mass and immense consumption of “brain candy” shows does attack the literate culture, but a balance of both can keep a stable literate culture.


Discussion:
Do you think literate culture can be saved if we have a balance between narrative-oriented shows and “brain candy” shows?

What shows do you consider narrative-oriented and what shows do you consider “brain candy”?

Television Entertains You, Is That It?

Is television more than it's cracked up to be? Neil Postman in his work, "Amusing Ourselves to Death," claims that television offers entertainment value and not much else. He identifies television as a communication platform that offers a variety of types of information, and one that requires very few skills to comprehend. He also describes the purpose of television to be "largely aimed at emotional gratification."
While I agree with the basic tenets of Postman's claims, I do believe television is a much more sophisticated modality than he seems to purport. Like most Americans, television is popular in my household. We enjoy our rectangle screens for their ability to entertain us, provide information, and for the ease and convenience with which it can be consumed. Favorite shows at our house include "Good Luck Charlie," "Twilight Zone," "Orange is the New Black," and "Saturday Night Live." Though the majority of TV time spent viewing is dedicated to news:  we tend to start our day and end our day checking in on news headlines.

Postman goes on to say that "technology becomes a medium as it employs a particular symbolic code, as it finds its place in a particular social setting, as it insinuates itself into economic and political contexts."

Now Postman's ideology is getting somewhere. While there is indeed a demand made of television to provide entertainment, I believe television is an industry that generates so much more.

Local and community television captures local culture and offers opportunities for communities to display various skill sets. At Southern Utah LIVE Television Network based in St. George, Utah, I served as executive producer for a gem of a show, "Southern Utah Chef."

Each episode is designed to be entertaining – not to Postman – and also to showcase skills of the region's most popular chefs. Guests represented top chefs at restaurants including Painted Pony, Cliffside Restaurant, Benja's Thai and Sushi, and River Rock Grill. Also appearing were tope chefs from Springdale find dining establishments. The show captures community culture and offers a cook-at-home demonstration and recipe for some of the chef's favorite dishes.
Southern Utah Chef audience members sample recipes
prepared by Benja following a studio taping. 

I use this example to illustrate a point:  From a small community cooking show to CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," television is a communication industry that operates at many levels. As a whole, it has the ability to educate, encapsulate culture, drive economies, and unite communities and sub cultures.

When Postman claims, "American television, in other words, is devoted entirely to supplying its audience with entertainment," I disagree. Such a position minimalizes a complex modality and clearly underrates its potential.

Hi my name is Amie and I am addicted to Trash TV

One of the hardest things to do in life is admit that you have a problem. Well I am here today to do just that, admit that I am addicted to Television. What I did not understand until reading the research is why, and it makes perfect sense. All the reasons listed out by Robert Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi clearing illustrates why I, and millions of others, so drawn to the entertainment medium.

They explain; “Psychologists and psychiatrists formally define substance dependence as a disorder characterized by criteria that include spending a great deal of time using the substance; using it more often than one intends; thinking about reducing use or making repeated unsuccessful efforts to reduce use; giving up important social, family, or occupational activities to use it; and reporting withdrawal symptoms when one stops using it” (Kubey & Csikszentmihalyi, p.181).

If I am being honest with myself, I can answer yes to every criteria listed regarding my TV habits, defining me as having a substance dependence with the television. However, it isn’t any more than the average person who spends at least 3 hours of their day watching. In fact, I watch significantly less than that amount throughout the workweek. But once that weekend hits, the TV turns on.

Knowing more about the science behind the medium really answered why for me. The researchers conducted a study of individual’s brain activity, behavior and emotions in real life versus when they were watching TV. Results showed that when watching TV participants reported feeling instantly more relaxed. “Because the relaxation occurs quickly, people are conditioned to associate viewing with rest and lack of tension. The association is positively reinforced because viewers remain relaxed throughout viewing, and it is negatively reinforced via the stress and dysophoric rumination that occurs once the screen goes blank again” (Kubey & Csikszentmihalyi, p.182).


With all the stress and pressure that occurs during my week, all I am looking for in my spare time is some relaxation and it seems that one of the easiest way to find it is through that screen. Truly my guiltiest pleasures are watching trashy television shows – Real House Wives of Beverly Hills, Criminal Minds, Snapped, Law and Order: SVU, New Girl, all Lifetime Movies and even The Bachelor/Bachelorette. My husband always roles his eyes and asks why the hell I waste my time on these really rather pointless shows, and I never really have an answer for him. He is right, they don’t teach me anything of significance or highlight a cultural phenomenon but they do allow me to relax and not think so much (a common issue for me). And I have always been a little ashamed at how much I dread when it comes time to turn it off, but I have felt that stress they explain. I think it occurs because you are instantly snapped back to reality – which is definitely not anything like the “reality TV” portrayed.

The negative effects are apparent but just like with all good things – it is about moderation. I know that when I have surpassed that justifiable amount of time for staring blankly at the screen, I force myself to turn it off and to do something more productive. With that balance I have found much more satisfaction in the shows I do watch and the life I get to live in my own reality and not through the TV screen.

PS: I wouldn’t consider it trash TV in any way but I do have to confess my biggest TV addiction to Dancing With The Stars, seriously I would never ever miss an episode. Season 24 just premiered this Monday and I just found myself completely giddy with excitement. It is incredibly well produced with the right amount of entertainment and drama. I am consistently trying to find my way onto the show, only one minor roadblock I am not technically a “Star” but I could be ABC, just give me a shot!


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

Do you have a TV addiction like me? How many hours a week do you spend watching Television?

Do you agree that when watching television it has the same effect on our minds and bodies as habit-forming drugs or alcohol do?

What is your secret guilty pleasure TV show?

TV didn't make us dumb.

We were always dumb.







When it comes to my viewpoint on strong versus weak affects in mass media on society as a whole I don't think it is any mystery from the comments that I make that I lean heavily to the weak affects side of the spectrum.  We've talked heavily about the negative affect that mass media has on society and indeed it seems like a lot of the discipline of communications is focused on how our media consumption may be affecting us negatively.

We have examples that really stand out, such as the Columbine shooters predilection for violence in their preferred media or Ted Bundy's infamous interview where he laid the blame for his killing spree on pornography. Taken at face value, this interview SCREAMS in support of powerful affect theories.





That dude still creeps me out.


However, I think it's important to note that Ted Bundy wasn't an oracle of truth, in fact, he was far from it.  In my opinion this interview does little to prove that consumption of pornography churns out serial killers in alarming rates, but rather that serial killers will seek to lay the blame and guilt of their crimes at anyone's feet but their own.  Plus, if he was right about pornography, we would literally all be dead by now.

When asked whether he thought that music caused the youth to commit acts of violence, Frank Zappa replied:

"90% of songs are love songs, so, if music really programmed the brain, everybody would be in love"


Out of the two, I find the venerable Mr. Zappa the more believable.

Which brings me to my critique of Postman in "Amusing Ourselves to Death", although I really like his writing style and I very much agree with his assertions as it has to do with particular segments of society; I diverge on the over arching notion that TV is leading to the cultural downfall of western society.  For the majority of his time on earth mankind has been mostly arrogant, uncultured, illiterate, violent, mean spirited and devoid of empathy.  Only a very small segment of society possessed the wealth to participate in high culture at all and participation wasn't so much an indicator of your I.Q. but more a declaration of your status in society.

It was only recently that the miracle that was mass media (and I would include the printing press in this declaration) overcame this boundary and made culture available to the masses.  Whether he participates in high culture or not, the life of the work a day man is vastly improved by giving him access to the same levels of entertainment as are available to his wealthier counterparts.

Rulers of nations and cleaners of sewers are both given access to the same actors in the same shows and, thanks to free market economics, they may very well both be viewing them on the same sized screen.

The bottom line is who cares if people choose to entertain themselves with low brow entertainment?  The reality is that even without television, the masses would probably seek out whatever was low brow anyhow.

I think that the point I am meandering toward is that I believe that we are better off as a society, not worse, as a result of the shared culture we participate in as a result of mass media, even when the more negative aspects of media are taken into consideration.

Questions for discussion:

What's one show that you are embarrassed to admit you love watching?

(My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  My 3 year old was watching it on Netflix and then left the room.  I didn't notice that he was gone and watched 3 full episodes before I realized that I was all by myself, deeply engaged in the plot and anxious to know what was going to happen to Princess Twighlight Sparkle. )

Do you feel we are better off or worse off as a result of mass media?

Flaunt It, Floss It, Fleek It

In the 2005 rendition of The Producers a lot of time is spent on the side of show business, which fits right in with Postman's viewpoints on "Amusing Ourselves to Death". Within it Postman states, "For the message of television as metaphor is not only that all the world is a stage but that the stage is located in Las Vegas, Nevada...Our priests and presidents, our surgeons and lawyers, our educators and newscasters need worry less about satisfying the demands of their discipline than the demands of good showmanship." 


Good showmanship indeed, while at first the performance does not seem special in any way and lyrics are simple at best, the showmanship given on Ulla's part (Uma Thurman) once taking off her rain coat, captivates the "producers" attention in this greatly sexualized performance. However, the message is as clear as the lyrics: 

People tell you modesty's a wirtue
But in the theatre modesty can hurt you 
Ven you got it, flaunt it
Show your assets, let them know you're proud
Your goodies you must push
Stick out your chest, shake your tush
Ven you got it, shout it out loud 

In order to get where you want to be, it's all about flaunting what you've got. Another example on how looks have come into the entertainment business is greatly shown by none other than Austin Powers. When Austin Powers is unfrozen in the future without his mojo, he has to learn general hygiene about his teeth. Back in his day it wasn't a requirement to have good teeth in order to be sexy, but now in the new age, he did.


With women wearing more makeup than in the past in movies, now it's overtly displayed in movies that one needs great hygiene in order to be taken seriously. In 1987, when Jennifer Grey played  Baby, she wore very minimal makeup throughout this film as leading actress. 

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Fast forward to the 2016 movie release of Hidden Figures, which is based in 1926 and see the difference of females clad with lipstick and eyebrows that are "fleek" and "on point," right down to the now popular contouring makeup style. 


I believe this further ties into Postman's belief that television evolves to meet its audiences expectations. That nowadays, we expect to be movies, even historical ones, to be shown in the modern, idealized way. The danger of this is something we've talked about in class before. That if movies are used by viewers as accurate historical references, this could potentially rewrite the way people are educated about historical events. Which then begs the question:

Do you think movies catering to the expectations of movie goers helps or hinders the overall movie takeaways and is it something we should worry about?

Nostalgia: The Proven Entertainment

As part of the twenty-somethings age group, I asked some friends where they wanted to go on a vacation. "We're adults now, most with passports; should we go to Cabo or Canada, New Zealand or New Delhi?" "Disneyland just got a Harry Potter land; we should go there!" Well, to each their own when it comes to the enticements of Disneyland, but I would argue that there is one driving force behind them all, nostalgia. As Dr. Whitbourne puts it in What's So Nice about Nostalgia, "emotionally connecting with your younger self helps you maintain a sense of continuity over time". Nostalgia is just reflecting back on the key parts or what was memorable. Obviously, if we had such strong, positive feelings towards something, we would be more likely to become nostalgic of it. In the entertainment world, nostalgia is just the vehicle to cash in on what's already proven to work!

Speaking of Disney being the king of nostalgia: (spoiler alerts--If you've seen Star Wars 4, Episode 7 is already spoiled)

AsStar Wars (7): The Force Awakens being the third highest grossing film of all time peddling to that nostalgic fandom, the model for success (from success) is an easy and business savvy one. Although we see it more and more common in movies as part of television types, it is also becoming very prevalent in primetime television shows taking on two separate forms: longing for a past time and longing for times from the past.

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Dr. Whitbourne further explains that it isn't just in the older generations that reminisce to certain eras but also the younger generations who "long for times that were simpler". We see this in TV examples such as Madmen set in the 1960's, The Americans set in the 80's, etc. It is that emotion of longing that is the selling point. In our readings, Neil Postman (Entertaining Ourselves to Death) writes about how entertainment is the sole purpose of television--the business model of it. Playing to those positive emotions and memories starts off a new show to a positive tone, whereas a non-nostalgic show has to earn those positive emotions.

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The second type of nostalgia in television frequent to today is actually bringing back "hits" from the past. Sure, as twenty-somethings, we are familiar with the name Macgyver and have probably used it as a verb to get out of/fix something. We know who Mel Gibson is and have heard of his hits from his younger days (maybe even seen them). If Lethal Weapon was good enough to get another three sequels, sure enough it could get its own television show thirty years later. See more (10 TV Shows Being Remade--bonus points for being the Entertainment section of BusinessInsider). At first I was just disappointed in today's television writers that they would just put a new face to 70's/80's hits, but their sole purpose is to entertain us, and why not try what has already worked before?

Bonus: Stranger Things (2016) as it both reflects an older time (80's) while giving viewers tidbits of the most 80's nostalgic things.


Discussion Questions:

Why or why not would you be interested in television shows being redone such as Macgyver and Lethal Weapon?

Postman explains how modern inventions are merely bettering a previous method such as a car being a faster horse. Is redoing a show/movie just taking something and bettering it (like Star Wars adding extra effects and converting to HD for all of their old movies)?

Is nostalgia a viable business model for entertainment? And do you think that it is an endless supply of material, or is there a point where you can have too much?