Watching Tv Makes You Smarter -Steven Johnson Essay

4824 WordsNov 8, 201120 Pages
Watching TV Makes You Smarter By STEVEN JOHNSON The Sleeper Curve SCIENTIST A: Has he asked for anything special? SCIENTIST B: Yes, this morning for breakfast . . . he requested something called ''wheat germ, organic honey and tiger's milk.'' SCIENTIST A: Oh, yes. Those were the charmed substances that some years ago were felt to contain life-preserving properties. SCIENTIST B: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or . . . hot fudge? SCIENTIST A: Those were thought to be unhealthy. — From Woody Allen's ''Sleeper'' n Jan. 24, the Fox network showed an episode of its hit drama ''24,'' the real-time thriller known for its cliffhanger tension and often- gruesome violence. Over the preceding weeks, a number…show more content…
I happen to be sympathetic to that argument, but it's not the one I want to make here. I think there is another way to assess the social virtue of pop culture, one that looks at media as a kind of cognitive workout, not as a series of life lessons. There may indeed be more ''negative messages'' in the mediasphere today. But that's not the only way to evaluate whether our television shows or video games are having a positive impact. Just as important -- if not more important -- is the kind of thinking you have to do to make sense of a cultural experience. That is where the Sleeper Curve becomes visible. Televised Intelligence Consider the cognitive demands that televised narratives place on their viewers. With many shows that we associate with ''quality'' entertainment -- ''The Mary Tyler Moore Show,'' ''Murphy Brown,'' ''Frasier'' -- the intelligence arrives fully formed in the words and actions of the characters on-screen. They say witty things to one another and avoid lapsing into tired sitcom cliches, and we smile along in our living rooms, enjoying the company of these smart people. But assuming we're bright enough to understand the sentences they're saying, there's no intellectual labor involved in enjoying the show as a viewer. You no more challenge your mind by watching these intelligent shows than you challenge your body watching ''Monday Night Football.'' The intellectual work is
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