Sunday, April 24, 2005

What If He Is Right, Too? 

For decades, we've worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a path declining steadily toward lowest-common-denominator standards, presumably because the ''masses'' want dumb, simple pleasures and big media companies try to give the masses what they want. But...the exact opposite is happening: the culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less. To make sense of an episode of (for example) ''24,'' you have to integrate far more information than you would have a few decades ago watching a comparable show. Beneath the violence and the ethnic stereotypes, another trend appears: to keep up with entertainment like ''24,'' you have to pay attention, make inferences, track shifting social relationships. This is what I call the Sleeper Curve: the most debased forms of mass diversion -- video games and violent television dramas and juvenile sitcoms -- turn out to be nutritional after all.

From Steven Johnson's new book of essays Everything Bad Is Good For You. Originally in today's New York Times Magazine and subsequently picked up by BoingBoing, with a redirect to additional mediacult rantage on Johnson's blog, including a seminal piece imagining the sociocritical response to the book had video games arrived first (and subsequent discussion/criticism via comments):
But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a fixed linear path. You can't control their narratives in any fashion—you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you. For those of us raised on interactive narratives, this property may seem astonishing. Why would anyone want to embark on an adventure utterly choreographed by another person? But today’s generation embarks on such adventures millions of times a day. This risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though they’re powerless to change their circumstances. Reading is not an active, participatory process; it’s a submissive one. The book readers of the younger generation are learning to 'follow the plot' instead of learning to lead."

The excerpts alone simultaneously challenge and speak to the work of the greats from Postman to Paglia, and, as such, dovetail with and justify my own work (including that course analyzing Beavis and Butthead, The Simpsons, and South Park). Either, taken alone, is perhaps the most tantalizing riff I've ever read. Note to self: finally, a must-read.

Metathought: Okay, maybe the Postman/Paglia thing is a bit obscure; for those who actually want to follow-up, this Wired article is probably a decent enough summary, albeit in Paglia's own words. And speaking of academic field-specificity, total mega-bonus points to anyone who recognized the reference to a four decade old Tom Wolfe essay about Marshall McLuhan in the blogtitle.

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Or wouldn't of it been great if we had the internet before we had books?

What would that have looked like? Then, we would have never had to be in the dark ages of this "submissive reading". ONe of the things I like best about the internet, is that I don't feel alone. When I become a little bit more enlightened from the internet, I feel like our whole society becomes a little more enlightened.

Which is exactly why I am here. Sort of.

I remember in your Modern American Culture class we read Tom Wolfe. In "The Pump House Gang" he said that the "We" Generation was the sixties, while the "Me" generation was the sixties.

With this current net neutrality debate, I've begun to try to think what our generation is like. The past few months, it has just come up in my face as "I".

I want to start a business. So I will, I'll set up my own website and sell rats or records or whatever.

I want to tell the world to hear my thoughts. So I'll post a blog with all my thoughts.

I want to be a rock star. So I'll get a MySpace account and network with artists and get a record deal with some guy states away.

I want to move to be a superstar. I'll start my own video blog. (This is off topic, but check out for a really sweet vlog.)

Especially when I read this letter, addressed to the U.S. Energy and Commerce Committee about the net neutrality issue, from some dude at Google:

"Telephone companies cannot tell consumers who they can call; network operators should not dictate what people can do online."

I want to see the information I want to see.

There is no way this law will pass. If it does, I truly believe the human race is headed to be a land of void, sad dead pieces of clay, sitting, waiting to die, and punching to clock to go home. A culture cannot thrive without passion, inspiration, and creativity, all things that the internet has given us.

We have become so " I " now, not even our own governmental bodies can stop us.

God bless America.


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