T.V: A better cooked book.

June 16, 2008
By andrew cho, Potomac, MD

As one among a preponderance of doomsayers, Ernie Kovacs once said this about television: “A medium - so called because it is neither rare nor well done. “ Though I do find Ernie’s preoccupation with meat somewhat troubling, this, only in the slightest, contributes to an increasingly popular myth: That T.V is some sort of harbinger foretelling a dismal future of illiteracy.

Now, a myth implies several things, foremost of which is that it is false. As critics fanatically denounce T.V, citing it as the cause for a decline in literacy, they simply cannot see that this medium merely reflects a paradigm shift in the way we attain, or retain, literacy.

Indeed, as mankind has ever innovated and adapted, there have always been skeptics and persecutors; unfortunately, television is no exception to this fate. Now, these T.V detractors have turned their attention to the subject of literacy, discussing SAT scores in relation to a supposedly declining level of literacy. In a 2006 press release, The College Board tells us that, “the average score on the test's critical reading section was down five points.” Unsurprisingly, T.V critics jumped on this opportunity to reveal new “evils”, and as our highly esteemed President George Bush duly reminds us, “We cannot blame the schools alone for the dismal decline in SAT verbal scores. When our kids come home from school do they pick up a book or do they sit glued to the tube, watching music videos?”

At any rate, I might as well answer Mr. Bush’s question.

T.V reflects a change in how we, as a society, have come to form a new type of ”literacy.” T.V has become now, a new variation on a common theme: Rising above the tedium of daily life by vicariously taking delight in well-spun narratives. This “common theme” has, for centuries, been related through what we like to call today, a book. T.V then, represents the progression of the book to a form readily and rapidly disseminated over great distances and numerous cultures. While not all T.V can be great, the most popular shows are, according to staunch T.V advocate Stephen Johnson, author of the well-known book ''Everything Bad Is Good for You,” characterized by a heightened complexity requiring deeper insight due to “multiple threading” and “social networks.” Johnson notes that T.V shows now have, “a quality that can only be described as subtlety and discretion,” as layered plots (multiple threading) and intricate relationships and conflicts (social networks) require viewers to think, analyze, and form corresponding assumptions, opinions, and queries. Watching T.V, if anything, has become a mental exercise, and even more so, a new method to facilitate learning. Literacy, as defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, is, “the state of being educated and cultured,” and as T.V seems to demand more on the behalf of the viewer, “literacy” seems to be in anything but decline.

As succeeding generations face new challenges, innovation arises, and in the case of literacy, T.V is naught but another representation of man’s desire to achieve an intellectual perfection. Critics or not, the human need to adapt and aspire, to learn in whatever way best suits the times, is a noble cause indeed; a cause well-done.

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This article has 1 comment.

rolzzz said...
on Aug. 11 2008 at 4:58 am
great style!

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