Posted by olvlzl
Note: I don’t blame the writers, directors, actors, etc. who would certainly be the first to appreciate more production time and a flexible schedule to produce better TV. I’m certain they’d like bigger budgets and more creative control, especially the writers. That’s what they probably went into it for in the first place.
Self-government requires voters to have a rather firm grasp on reality. Voters need to understand important issues to decide what is their most sensible choice when voting. We constantly point out that our media not only keeps voters uninformed but that they spread convenient lies for profit. Or what else are the leftist blogs for. But once people have accurate information how do they use it? People can fit the most obvious facts into a form that will end up with a wrong conclusion. And someone can take the facts and present them in a way their audience can’t understand.
Americans watch a lot of TV. Too many let TV substitute for what previous generations used to consider real life. Those non-TV trained people took their models of thought from the continuous experience of life or from books. It was noticed back then when someone got carried away with theatrical conventions and started acting “stagy”. The stage struck were considered unreliable. With a few exceptions, people brought up without TV, the last of those generations is passing away. We are going to have to deal with what it means to have a completely TV-trained electorate and what that requires for democracy to exist.
What does the narrative structure of TV do to peoples’ thinking? Does the half or whole hour with a beginning a middle and an end immediately followed by another program have an effect on people for whom that may be their primary view of life?* How couldn’t it have an effect? By the time they reach eighteen they’ve seen hundreds of TV programs, some repeated often enough to be recited verbatim.
Even documentary and news stories are fitted into a form it is assumed will satisfy viewers. A lot of people seem to think that problems in real life follow a similar narrative. They think problems have a linear form with a beginning a middle and an end coming within the attention span they’ve grown to expect. There might be what is presented typically as an ironic aside but that’s optional. When a problem of real life doesn’t come to a happy ending on cue, various forms of “fatigue”** are declared to have set in. Even if the majority of people can break out of these delusions a sizable minority of people thinking like this could be enough to throw elections in an irrational way.
If this speculation is at all close to reality it could help explain a lot of the trouble we are in. Conservatives generally don’t believe in representative democracy, scratch one you’ll find an oligarch or, in the younger generation with no pretense of noblesse oblige, a plutocrat. They don’t mind telling well crafted lies to deceive the public. They don’t intend for the public to rule anyway. Read the decision in Bush vs. Gore if you want conclusive evidence.
Those of us who believe that democracy is the only chance we have to save the species don’t have that luxury. Our governing structure can’t be three artificial branches suspended from a corporate crane dangling over all. Our most fundamental structure of government is the People. Without a functioning trunk nothing else matters. Trees dead from the roots rot in place. If the People, for whatever reason, don’t have a sufficient grasp of reality then democracy can’t exist, it can’t happen. But how can that be done today with a population that has had their ability to think impaired by too much TV?
We don’t have any choice but to take all of these things into account. The raw material of democracy is the People as they really are, not in some ideal form. Civic education will take a generation or more and we don’t have that time. For those who have a story line method of thought, they will have to have our issues presented to them in that fashion. We have to use as familiar a form of information as we can devise. If those forms can be filled with lies they can be filled with truth, maybe not all of it at once but as much of the truth as can fit.
My guess is that the half-hour format is the longest form we can use for most arguments, attention span has also been impaired. One main theme with one sub-theme. Start at the beginning and on straight to the end with little if any back tracking. That, dear friends, is it. Any more than that will not be digested it will be left untouched. And even that is too long except on special occasions. The late night opening monologue is a better model of time and structure for our arguments and the thirty second commercial perhaps the optimal one. There isn’t any choice but to use these forms instead of the traditional ones. The traditional ones won’t reach the mass audience required for democracy to win today.
I do have one request, if we take a more realistic view of our methods, can we get better writers? The condescending, greeting card style of Peggy Noonan is an insult to a free People. It makes me want to throw up especially when I hear it from Democrats who should know better than to try it. We need something as fresh and new as reality. We won’t get that from the people who have produced losing media campaigns. One failed campaign is one too many.
* I’d speculate on the political effect of serial and continuing dramas but don’t want to scare you away until you’ve read this. If you mention the movies, they are copying the forms of TV, so they would tend to support the argument.
** Declarations of “fatigue” and their use to absolve an incompetent and negligent government are an interesting question that won’t fit into this piece.