Professor Benjamin Villarreal
16 January 2014
The more TV you watch, the smarter you are.
Reading ,Watching TV Makes You Smarter by Steven Johnson was troubling at first. What really doesn’t help is the fact that I read the essay and analyzed it a couple of hours before midnight, staying up to at least four in the morning to finish it. As I flipped through the pages of Reading Pop Culture, trying to find the most interesting article, this essay seemed to catch my eye because it talked about something we all find interesting, entertainment, especially when it came to the fact that it talked about television in a positive way. While reading the essay, I sat on my bed, shutting off any electronics or forms of communications that would distract me. Especially my IPad , where before I started reading the article , I was watching all three seasons of Teen Wolf , which had led to me to start my essay later than I expected. While sitting on my bed and reading the first couple of paragraphs, I started underlining any key information, the many examples that were given by the author and any key points that the author concluded. Eventually I fell asleep reading, halfway through the article, waking up an hour later to read the rest of the text. I also knew that if I read the essay again for the second time that I would find things and see things that I didn’t see before.
In Watching TV Makes You Smarter, Steven Johnson argues against common opinions in regard to “dumbing down” this generation’s culture, specifically opinions about the entertainment industry (television). In this text Johnson develops a theory, which argues that the pop culture we soak in daily (TV shows), has been getting more sophisticated as the years go on, which makes it far from “dumbing down” today’s generation. Johnson specifies that television now is actually offering new cognitive challenges that are actually making our minds sharper.
Johnson constantly refers to and compares certain shows on television throughout the text. One main example includes the show 24. 24 is a thriller (show) known for its gruesome violence and cliffhangers, where the events of the story are influenced by recent occurrences (etc. post 9/11). The show however is different from any other show, it somehow connects the lives of various characters and different threads that are going on. Johnson states ,“For decades we’ve worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a path of declining steadily toward lowest common denominator standards, presumably because the masses want dumb, simple pleasures and big media companies try to give the masses what they want”( 276), meaning that we always determined that the vast majority of society wanted shows that were simple, not complex. In reality, society is getting “cognitively demanding” and wants more shows that are complex because it appeals to them. People like 24 because the action and detail capture the eye of the viewer , but with watching the show you also have to pay attention ,make inferences and keep track of every characters relationship in order to understand what’s going on . This is where Johnson comes up with the term “Sleeper Curve”, which is where the things that seem most corrupted forms of mass diversion, turn out to be beneficial, because it’s mentally alters the development of the brain and it forces good.
Johnson constantly challenges the “idea” that pop culture has deteriorated. The term Sleeper Curve is from the Woody Allen film Sleeper, where the scientists in the movie are astonished that society failed to grasp the nutritional worth of cream pies and hot fudge ( themes are connected). He uses this term to argue against the opinions that promote the deteriorating standards of pop culture. However, Johnson is quick to say that the Sleeper Curve doesn’t imply that popular culture has become superior to traditional culture.
Johnson defends the values of modern pop culture; he argues that television is a "brilliant medium" for telling how skilled people are at understanding social connections. According to Johnson earlier television simplified narratives, while todays trends/shows consist of "multiple threading”. An example of this kind of show would be The Sopranos. Shows like this help improve the audience's cognitive skills by challenging them with so many details .Johnson says that modern television have decreased the number of "flashing arrows", and require their audiences to do more work(cognitive) like paying attention to background detail and information.
Johnson, Steven.Watching TV Makes You Smarter.Boston:Bedford/St.Martin, 2013.Print.