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All right, a real post - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
All right, a real post
So, I'm reading a book by Robert Bly called The Sibling Society, which is not as useful as I thought it would be on the difference between horizontal (peer-based) social expectations vs. vertical (heirarchy-based) social expectations, because Bly keeps interrupting himself to rant about television, movies, video games, and the internet.

All of which, you know, deplete imaginative capacity, because they are passive.

I go online every day, many times--update my journal, do my websites, hang out on a couple of forums, and so on. While I don't think I remember and retain as much of what I read on a computer screen (it's missing sensory input beyond the visual), I certainly don't feel that I'm not interacting with it. I don't play a lot of video games, but I see kids come in every day to play Runescape, and they are very, very definitely not being passive about it. And as to movies and TV... er, Mr. Bly, have you ever been in a fan community?

Yes, it's true that there are a lot of people out there who take movies and TV (and sports and the internet and so on) passively, but that's not the fault of the thing being taken passively. These same folks, as far as I can tell, will also be passive about oral storytelling (Bly's favorite alternative), books, the news, whatever. The problem of apathy isn't caused by television, which has many engaging shows that people interact with. Problematic television (say, anything starring Paris Hilton) isn't a cause of apathetic viewing; it's a result of it. Producers go where the money is, and if everyone behaved the way fandom behaves, you'd have a lot more meaty stuff on there (though I will note that it creates a feedback loop, and takes something extraordinary, like Harry Potter, to break through what's become the industry expectation... and they don't get why HP works, imho).

I am more sociable now than I have been at any point in my life, because I interact in the media available to me, and heaven knows I'm quicker about writing than I am about speaking. And I've never, for one minute in my life, been especially inclined to take a text passively. It's just no fun if you don't dive in and see what's there. That's why I love sf/f--there's always more of the world to discover, and a lot of places to ask, "Why did he do that? What did he mean to accomplish?" But if people aren't doing that, it's not the fault of whatever medium the text happens to appear in. I could take producers to task for lowest-common-denominator, totally literalist programming, in that they're catering to something that's not very good for us, but they're not creating the problem, 'kay? It was pre-existing.


It's too hot to work up a proper rant, I think.
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buongiornodaisy From: buongiornodaisy Date: June 12th, 2005 11:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
I wonder about that, too, although I have to wonder if the cause/effect of passivity is circular, in that TV could have caused it. Then again, it's not as if all of the earliest television shows were the most groundbreaking, thought-provoking works out there. But, yes, it does depend on the viewer. I sure as heck don't watch television passively.

Also, it might have a lot to do with education. People who don't have as high an education as others might not be able to view television critically. This also depends on the intellectual level of the viewer, as we know there are people out there who don't have a high college education who can watch television very critically, just as there are college students who can stare at the television for six hours and not bother themselves with critical thought. *shrugs* Just a theory.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 12th, 2005 11:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
People who don't have as high an education as others might not be able to view television critically.

Or people who don't view interactively might not be inclined to get a higher education (though you're right about the passive college student, who also exists).

I'm not even sure it's intellectual acumen or critical thinking that I've got in mind here, just the interactive aspect, which seems to be Bly's bugaboo.
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dreagoddess From: dreagoddess Date: June 13th, 2005 12:16 am (UTC) (Link)


Joan was cancelled??!?!?! I don't know how I missed hearing about that. *cries* That was a GREAT show!
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amelia_eve From: amelia_eve Date: June 13th, 2005 12:16 am (UTC) (Link)
Robert Bly is nearly 80. I suspect that his analysis of television culture is based mostly on Marshall McLuhan. Compared to the dozen or fewer broadcast channels available during McLuhan's heyday, the mere act of choosing a program from among the hundred or so on offer constitutes viewer engagement, IMHO.

In a culture of oral storytelling, there are usually relatively few content providers (bards) and they offer choice only in as much as you can lobby them to tell your favorite tale. I have a lot of trouble with the romanticization of traditional village culture; choice is not a community value in most such groups.
sprite6 From: sprite6 Date: June 13th, 2005 01:01 am (UTC) (Link)
You're completely right. I think that was also a factor in the early days of radio and television. People could only listen to three networks - if they had reception to all three.

But the fact that there were few choices meant there was a common experience for millions of people, which is a little like the village's collective experience of the storyteller. I imagine that with a storyteller, the audience could interact somewhat - ask questions, collectively gasp, etc. - which also brought the group together. I think people have a desire for that community appreciation of art and entertainment. A lot of people are overwhelmed by the number of choices out there now.

OTOH, a member of the community whose tastes are outside the mainstream could feel unbelievably isolated. In a way, I think the Internet lets us have our cake and eat it too, because we can find communities to share our appreciation of things, even if there are no other fans close to home.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 13th, 2005 01:04 am (UTC) (Link)
This is why I love midnight showings--that's a real sense of community, even if it's an oddball community. When I went to RotS at midnight, I heard a guy trying to summarize the whole saga for his girlfriend, and I randomly talked to a couple of total strangers, because, hey, whatever else we were, we were all Star Warsians, and that means... well, not all that much, but there's that mysterious community feeling. It was the same at the PoA opening.
sprite6 From: sprite6 Date: June 13th, 2005 04:57 am (UTC) (Link)
I know what you mean - I saw PoA at the TLC/FA IMAX meet-up. I remember when Snape told Sirius and Remus, "You quarrel like an old married couple," the Wolfstar fans went wild. The whole crowd was like that. It was brilliant - the best movie-going experience I've ever had.
awaywithpixie From: awaywithpixie Date: June 13th, 2005 12:23 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, aye.

It's much easier to make television where you stick 15 members of the public in a house for 3 months, put cameras on them 24/7, give them all a car at the end and the winner $1million, when the 'viewers' are raking in millions of dollars each week on the voting lines. This is now the fifth year of Big Bother, and it doesn't look like going away soon.

Much cheaper than a half hour sitcom where all the stars demand $1million per episode, with high production costs and values.

They are definitely in it for the money. The guy who brought 'Australian Idol' to this country was one of the judges, and he produced the first winner. He alone made $20million from that show alone.

I'm utterly terrified of this INXS reality show. I grew up with INXS and I actually cried when I learned of what happened to Michael Hutchence. INXS were an important part of my teenage years and I accepted their previous replacement singers with graciousness.

I can't condone this idea of theirs. They should just get Constantine Maroulis and be done with it.

I never thought I would see the day, but I've actually made the choice to switch off. There are one or two shows I truly enjoy watching, but with everything out on DVD within 6 months, (or five minutes on the net if I really want to see it), I can't see why I would even want to watch television much. BSG has been the only thing to capture my interest this year, and only because Starbuck and Apollo confirmed for me that men in space were a hot entity (coming so close after Luke and Han at such an impressionable age).

In a country where sci-fi television is always relegated to the post 10pm timeslot, I am used to the tactics of money making tv producers. All I do manage to see these days is a diet of reality/reality/reality/cop show/reality/cop show/reality. I used to watch TV to escape, dammit. What is there now?

All there is for me is the choice to switch off, or become the responsible adult I always avoided - and sit in front of the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) and sit through a diet of mature documentaries about the state of the nation. urgh.

Sorry, didn't mean to rant, but the fingers would not stop.
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 13th, 2005 01:00 am (UTC) (Link)

My thoughts

Just some points I want to make:

-The apathetic problem is pre-existing, I agree. However, I'm still searching for the source of this problem.

-It seems like you are implying that apathetic people are 100% indifferent. That is not necessarily true, for people tend to be more actively involved in subjects of interest to them.

-What about human interaction? No one lives in a hermitage, so for the majority of our lives we speak to a person, face to face; as a result of conversation, we engage ourselves and are seldom characterized as "passive."

-Look around you and learn that you are mortal. This pretty much translates to, "Hey, I'm tired of thinking and I just want to watch tv, nothing more."

-Temporary lapses into apathetic mode isn't a bad thing. It's when one stays at that level for an extended period of time that the indifference becomes an issue. It risks becoming permanent, or at least dominates the though process of the person.

-As for education, remember that there are age-specific shows. My sister couldn't care less for CNN, but she practically jumps into the television screen when Dora the Explorer is playing.

-"It's not our job to appeal to the lowest-common-denominator. It's our job to raise it." We realize that our society has a problem rooted in apathy. This is probably the only time that we don't want to prove our point of society sitting on it's butt saying, "I don't care." Let's care. Encourage those fence-sitters... the first step is to tell them they should care. The second step is to show them how.

Anyways, Aarthi encouraged me to post, if that makes any difference in establishing my credibility.

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mincot From: mincot Date: June 13th, 2005 01:50 am (UTC) (Link)
Apathy is not limited to television. I have mentioned subtext and the problems that can arise when one does not read fiction critically *cough* Dan Brown *cough*, and been told, rather smugly, and by a smart person, "Well, *I* just read fiction for fun. I don;t read fiction to think about it."
kizmet_42 From: kizmet_42 Date: June 13th, 2005 03:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have a passing familiarity (mostly through other books referring to Bly) to Bly's work and I think his point is, in fact, when you're watching tv/movie/internet, you're only receiving, you're not connecting with reality or a live person in your presence. Your interactivity with others who are sharing the activity might not be passive, but your focus isn't on the activity, it's on the screen. Your activity is incidental to your passivity.

Then again, I could be over-analyzing.

If you watch someone watching a movie/internet or playing a video game, that person might think that they're active, but in fact, they haven't moved their backside from a chair. That's inactivity and could also be construed as passive.

erised1810 From: erised1810 Date: June 13th, 2005 11:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yo umean this wasnt' a proper rant/ Well yo uahve moreenergy then I'd have ona hot/humid dayto get two rant posts within a handfull of hours.
And word again on this. I shold perhaps think soe more abouthe critics I heard that palyi ngames or goig nonline is isolating yourself from the real world etc. There's adifeence between hanging around in chat boxes 24/7, or playig naround on lj and treat that liek hanging otu with friends. Still I sometimes feel abittoo safe here, specially sicne I don't have many real frieds nearby. It's easy to inteact wit peple here but it's soetimes also scary hwo much oen sometimes seems to depend oo it.
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