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The main inspiration behind the making of TV programs can be considered to a very small extent to be in the best interests of the viewers.
The fact that Stephen Johnson does not even account for the sixteen minutes of commercial breaks per every episode of ‘24’ is a clear indication that his article is basically aimed at luring more and more people to watch TV for the benefit of the producers and the broadcasters. It is only the millions that are made through the adverts that interrupt highly rated shows like ‘24’, which matter to the producers and nothing like improving the minds of the viewers.
To me there is no way that dedicating a number of hours to sit and watch TV is going to be of any intellectual benefit to an individual. In this paper, I will give provide impeccable evidence as to why watching TV as argued by Johnson will not improve anyone’s thinking capacity or knowledge for that matter.
Why Watching TV Cannot Make You Smarter
Johnson takes time to clear the controversies that arose after a given episode of the ‘24’ show, which brought heated debates on how Muslims were portrayed as terrorists. After this he proceeds to try and show us how the show helps in improving our thinking through being able to conceptualize the many story threads that are intertwined in the plot.
This is a clear indication that Johnson makes an assumption that the content that makes the story is not as important as the manner in which the story is told. To me, fiction makes sense if it has a clear connection with reality. Johnson tends to assume that the world as portrayed in the ‘24’ has no connection with the real world.
What kind of knowledge then are we compelled to consume if the content we see on prime time TV highlights the endorsement of immoral practices such as the use of torture? With most of the content on television being majorly violence and obscenity, I beg to disagree with Johnson’s arguments.
As in the case of the ‘24’ in relation to how it can make me smarter, I believe that the complexities of plot lines and the quick paced action is an effort to make viewers concentrate less on the content of the show. To me, it is like comparing of worded music and no-worded music in passing some information.
As Dana Stephens puts it, “Johnson’s claim for television as a tool for brain enhancement is deeply, hilariously bogus” (296). There is no way that by watching the numerous confusions presented in most highly rated TV shows you will increase your thinking capacity.
If anything, what watching a lot of TV can do to you is implanting the confusions into your mind. The confusing explanations that Stephen Johnson give about the intertwined story lines in TV shows reflect just how confused you can end up while trying to enhance your brain by watching shows such as the ‘24’ or even ‘The sopranos.’
Johnson (280), talks of there being a pleasure in solving the puzzles, detecting patterns or even unpacking a complex narrative system. I completely disagree with this assumption for a number of reasons. First, it is a mere assumption that has not been backed with any empirical evidence or research.
Secondly, I believe that the reason why a person would want to watch TV is mainly because they need some pleasure as a result of the entertainment they get. One will not watch a show such as ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ to get any medical related knowledge, but to find it entertaining how the seemingly serious medical environment can provide comic relief while the same time addressing serious concerns.
Johnson posits the TV show that does not compel the viewer into thinking a lot about what is happening is relatively uninteresting. He actually states that “not having to think is boring” as effectively follow the plot of the “interesting show he/she has to focus on exercising the parts of the brain that map social networks, that fill in missing information, that connect multiple narrative threads…”(281).
Considering the nature of the audience that watches a show like the ‘24’, what percentage will get anything out of the show if all those requirements as put forth by Johnson hold? As a matter of fact, most of the people are lost in the process of trying to figure out what is happening and the level of knowledge they had in their brains goes down as most of the substantial information they had is replaced by uncertainty and confusion.
Only a small number of viewers are capable of substantiating the happenings and as far as I am concerned, this does not add any new information to them as they already had enough to enable them make meaning out of such shows. As far as the fact that different people perceive meaning s out of a particular TV show differently holds, a particular show can engage the mind s of some people and sedates those of others.
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Johnson’s argument that audiences happily embrace the complexity posed by shows such as ‘24’because they have been trained by two decades of multi- threaded drama (279) is unrealistic to me. In fact he should see me watching some of these shows. It is torturous to try and follow the stories that are structured in this manner.
The twists are okay to maintain the suspense but if overdone it makes it hard to achieve any intended meaning if it is there. It is therefore true to conclude from this that such TV shows are generally watched by many people not because they appeal to them intellectually, but because they are trending at a given time.
Some people in certain age groups such as teenagers are easily carried by multitudes into wanting to attach themselves to particular things that are trending not because they are learning anything new but because it is the in thing at the given time.
Watching television just fills the mind with irrelevant things that could otherwise be avoided by engaging the brain with relevant things such as reading appropriate literature. As a matter of fact, relying on the TV to improve your mind can only make one lazier, dumper and confused.
This explains why kids end up performing poorly in academics after dedicating a lot of their time to watch TV rather than reading their books. Johnson’s arguments in support of watching TV be smarter do not put into consideration what kind of smartness a nine year old gets after being exposed to obscene materials on TV.
As a result I totally disagree with them since he pays no concern to explaining the content of the shows and instead chooses to bluff on the structure and form. If the content is at times controversial, then the structure and form in which it is conveyed cannot be a way of adding knowledge.
Johnson, Steven. “Watching TV Makes You Smarter.” In Graff, Gerald, Cathy
Birkenstein, and Russell Durst. They Say-I Say. New York: Norton Publishers. 2008. Print.