TV Smarter Or Escape Essay 2

Submitted By Chelsea-Scoggins
Words: 756
Pages: 4

Television: An Educational Tool or Simply an Escape from Society?

“If you sit that close to the television you’ll go blind.” This is a statement I’m sure many people have heard at least once in their lifetime. Since the 1950’s, television has been a huge part of American culture, and now you see them everywhere. With so many televisions within easy access, the least we can hope for as a society is that they are doing some kind of good. This is the argument that Steven Johnson makes in his article “Watching TV Makes You Smarter.” Johnson argues the point that TV has dramatically changed since the beginning of primetime programming, with much more complicated plots and characters, which requires more cognitive activity than ever before. In a response to this statement, Dana Stevens, a television critic for Slate, writes “Thinking Outside the Idiot Box.” In Steven’s article she disputes Johnson’s argument in favor of her position that regardless of how complex television has become, it still isn’t “good” for viewers.
The form of television today is much more complex than it has been in previous years. According to Johnson, over the last fifty years, television has increased the demands it places on cognitive skills such as attention, retention, and patience (Johnson 280). His use of graphs to compare the “narrative-threading” of one television show to another, displays exactly how much more complicated television stories have gotten. Johnsons idea is that audiences have been taught to like and appreciate these complex shows because of years of advancing television (Johnson 284). Stevens argues this point strongly by stating that maybe television shows do get you thinking, but it’s probably not about something important but rather, which character is going to show up next and which issues they are going to face. She states “TV shows challenge its audience’s cognitive faculties with intricate plotlines and rapid-fire information while actively discouraging them from thinking about the vigilante ethic it portrays. It’s really good at teaching you to think… about future episodes” (Stevens 296). Just as there is complicated form to television there is also complicated content. With television shows having multiple characters, even sometimes more than one main character, Stevens says the watcher gets more caught up on what is going to happen in the next episode, rather than the real life issues that could be brought up (Stevens 296). Johnson makes a point about the television show 24 and how even though the show is more complex than what the “masses” presumably want, he states “as that 24 episode suggests, the exact opposite is happening: the culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less.” (Johnson 278). Stevens appeals this statement by stating that “he [Johnson] breezily dismisses recent controversies about the program’s representation of Muslim terrorists or its implicit enforcement of torture, preferring to concentrate on how the shows formal structure teaches us to ‘pay attention, make inferences, track shifting social relationships.’”…