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Friday, September 25, 2009

Art and Life

In comments on one of my recent posts, my son and I joked back and forth about the "flux capacitor". He used it as an illustration of a point. I kidded him, "You know they're not real, right?" He kidded back, "Yes they are! I saw it on TV." All in good fun. But it got me to thinking. How much of my reality is determined by TV (or the media)?

Back in December I wrote a post about the problem of the news media. The news, by its very nature, reports the unusual. (We don't need to be told about the usual.) The unusual is then held up as the prevailing conditions and we begin to make our choices based on ... the unusual. The other day I told my wife, "Don't put the mail to go out in our mailbox. I'll drop it in the mailbox on the corner." She said, "They're breaking into mailboxes." She was concerned about a news item she had heard about some break-ins to those mailboxes on corners. Three of them had been robbed. So I was supposed to be worried that the letters I was sending (not checks, money, personal info, etc.) were in danger because three mailboxes had been vandalized in the past six months. I am not suggesting that my wife was out of bounds. I'm suggesting that, due to our current culture, she reacted perfectly normally. The reports of the unusual determined, in this case, her reality.

We often think that art imitates life, but, as Oscar Wilde said, "Life imitates art far more than art imitates life." I gave an example of the news media creating reality. What about the rest? Let's try some examples. If you've seen Enemy of the State, you likely now think that the U.S. government has secret organizations capable of reading license plates from outer space. For some reason, they are not capable of seeing faces from outer space because apparently faces are at the wrong angle, but license plates are not. (Go figure.) If you've watched any crime shows at all, you're pretty clear that DNA testing takes little more than an hour and crime solving is likely done in a day ... two at most. Certainly the majority of crimes these days are solvable because of modern forensics. Well, at least murders. I would guess, just from the stuff I've seen on commercials, that most people are pretty sure that sex early in any relationship is normal, that kids are much wiser than parents, that the American population is much more entertained by crude and rude humor than clean humor.

And on it goes. Since we tend to absorb rather than evaluate stuff fed to us via video screens, we allow our realities to be shaped rather than mirrored by the media. We assume the values of what we watch rather than questioning them. We assume things of those around us based on what we watch rather than asking those around us. We derive our worldviews and perceptions not from life, but from art. And then, when someone questions it, we are puzzled, confused, even irate.

The whole multimedia phenomenon in the last half of the 20th century has been an interesting experiment. It provides possibilities that were previously outlandish. It offers mass communication, nearly instant news, and vast resources of information and interaction. It is, however, still limited. It is influenced by Man's sin nature, corrupted by evil intentions, twisted by personal views handed off as "good" (or, even better, "neutral") to the masses. There can be valuable uses and useful information, but I begin to wonder if the dangers (which are far more than what I'm referencing here) outweigh the value? It would be impossible, likely, to actually evaluate those dangers and the benefits and do a comparison, but I'm thinking that we've created a system that already has and will continue to do increasingly grievous harm.


Danny Wright said...

I heard a man make the case once that Gutenberg was the most influential man in the second millennium. It so happened, I was thinking about that statement this very morning as I was considering television, and wondering if perhaps it was not Farnsworth, its inventor (or whoever it was) that had make the larger impact. Gutenberg, by inventing the press revolutionized the dissemination of information, while Farnsworth’s invention revolutionized the dissemination of emotion. The latter I believe to be the more powerful of the two, if for no other reason, for the absolute zero intellectual investment required in order to be subjected to its influence.

Stan said...

You're right about "zero intellectual investment", Dan. Indeed, studies show that you're brain is more active when you're asleep than when you're watching TV. Worse, much of what's on the television is designed to bypass the analytical portion of the brain and go straight to the portions that defy analysis. That is, by design there is no intellectual investment. And most people who watch TV simply ingest it without evaluation. Definitely more of an influence than Gutenberg. And that's without considering the effects of the medium itself.