Monday, 25 June 2007

Dumb News, Smart Entertainment

Newsflash: news is getting dumber; entertainment is getting smarter (eg. Lost, Heroes, 24, Prison Break, Jericho, etc.)

Question is: why?

I've already suggested why news is getting dumber in a previous post about the crisis of context where I explained that context is being constantly stripped away from everything in our public (and private) lives, depriving them of meaning. News that consists merely of sound-bites and clips of things blowing up, bleeding, crashing, or wailing carries no meaning, and cannot carry meaning. So why try to make it balanced? How can it be? How can you be objective about a sound-bite?

So news is getting dumber because our society demands it. But why, then, is entertainment getting smarter? We're seeing an explosion in TV shows that have incredibly complex, multi-year plots. They involve numerous characters (both Lost and Heroes have more than ten major characters), numerous twists, and some of them address some very deep metaphysical issues (fate vs. freewill, individual responsibility vs. entitlement, the value of human life, etc.).

Perhaps the old adage, "nature abhors a vacuum" is evident here. Perhaps the lack of meaning and context in reality (the news) is being filled by the meaning in our entertainment? Instead of applying our reasoning to nutting out whose policies are best, and trying to predict how a particular political proposal will affect us and our country, we're spending time puzzling over the latest clue in Lost, or trying to guess which Hero or prison escapee will get killed.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Err. Shouldn't that be obvious? Using our mind's capacity on entertainment, while not a bad thing in itself, should merely be practice for using it on reality. Just as fairytales should present moral issues in a black and white way, training us in understanding core principles so we can apply them in a much more complex world, so should entertainment be preparing us to understand and engage with the real world.

But it clearly is not. People vote unthinkingly. People engage in and encourage behaviours which have clearly detrimental long (and often short) term effects. Our stories are no longer preparing us to better engage with the real world. They are merely feeding our hunger for meaning -- any meaning will do.

We are amusing ourselves to death.

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