Television and video games are the most popular forms of pop culture in America. It has gotten so bad that in 2004, according to Back Seat Writer, more people voted for American Idol than they did for the United States President. That is only one example of how pop culture has become a growing issue in America. However, not everyone agrees with this statement. Steven Johnson, author of “Watching TV Makes You Smarter”, and Tom Bissell, author of “Extra Lives, argue that pop culture is actually good for you. Johnson believes that TV makes you smarter because of the complexity and multiple threads of the shows, whereas Bissell believes video games are a masterpiece of art and deserve to be treated as such. In my opinion, pop culture is not good for you because it distracts from what is actually important versus alternate realities.
In Steven Johnsons “Watching TV Makes You Smarter”, he states two reasons as to why TV actually makes you smarter. The first of these two reasons is what he calls the sleeper curve. The sleeper curve “alters the mental development of young people today, and I believe it is largely a force for good: enhancing our cognitive faculties, not dumbing them down.” This states that TV challenges the mind to stay active while watching it and enhancing their cognitive skills. Johnson says that this is the single most important aspect of television and why it’s an important learning tool for the younger generation.
The second reason that Johnson states is multiple threads. In new television episodes are much more complex than old TV shows. The example that Johnson uses is The Sopranos. The Sopranos routinely followed up to a dozen distinct threads over the course of an episode, with more than 20 recurring characters. This multiple thread is known as one of the most engaging in TV history. The multiple threads are so important because it challenges the intellect of the viewer. Rather than passively watching the show, the viewer has to follow different strands of the story line and put them together to make sense of the story.
Johnson says that some of the TV shows intentionally try to confuse the audience with such complicated story lines. However, these shows give the viewers a few clues that tie everything together, that at the end of the show, makes everything make sense. Johnson uses an example from the show West Wing. “ A contemporary Drama like the West Wing… Constantly embeds mysteries into the present-tense events…” Embedding clues into the storyline further engages the intellect by causing the viewer to reflect on earlier episodes and scenes from earlier on in that episode to identify clues that they may have missed. This creates an interesting show for the viewer and keeps them interested for the whole show, not just action packed scenes. Therefore, multiple threads keep the audience more involved in the show so that they stay hooked week after week and invest many hours watching the show.
He also argues that even the bad TV shows are not quite as bad as the critics claim. They still have a level of complexity that challenges viewers to think which keeps the viewers watching. He uses reality TV as an example. “Many reality shows borrow a subtler device from gaming culture as well: the rules aren’t fully established at the outset. You learn as you play.” Using this device makes it more likely that young adults will become engaged in these reality shows because they are already comfortable with the “learn as you play” approach from years of playing video games. Johnson uses The Survivor and The Apprentice where each episode poses new challenges that have not been revealed ahead of time. He believes that the younger generation can be taught how to handle tough situations by watching how shows like Survivor plays out. Shows like survivor also force us to make opinions about the characters, like who should be kicked off the island. “What I am arguing for is a change in the criteria we use to determine what really is cognitive junk and what is genuinely nourishing. Instead…the true test should be whether a given show engages or sedates the mind.” Shows like Survivor and The Apprentice do engage the mind of viewers by putting them at the edge of their seats every week, wondering who will be voted off and for what reasons.
Television has its place in society, but I disagree with Johnson who says that it is beneficial for the younger generation. In my opinion, television only has one place in society and that is for entertainment, not education. The only programming that is somewhat educational is the news, but even that isn’t benefiting the youth development that Johnson is talking about
His argument that reality TV shows are beneficial for the youth to see how to deal with real life situations is not entirely accurate. An example of a reality TV show that is a bad influence is Jersey Shores. This show has constant drug and alcohol abuse as well as constant fighting and swearing. This show is a horrible example for what people should model their lives around. . Unfortunately, the irresponsible role models on Jersey Shores can influence the behavior of impressionable young viewers.
Not only is reality TV a bad example, but regular programming also has shows that have a negative influence on younger generations. Fox’s hit show, the Following, is a dark and twisted show about a serial killer who has a cult following his commands killing people. It is a very interesting show and creates a great story line that keeps the audience hooked the whole time. However, the killers on the show get away with murder too easily and can create a false sense of invincibility for the villain in the show. The problem with this is that some of the more easily influenced audiences may think that they can kill with no regard as well. Even though this show is a bad influence on children, Fox puts a quick notice in before each commercial break ends saying “viewer discretion is advised.” This show does not need to be censored or banned because of this notice before the show resumes. Although TV shows like The Following are quality shows that keep the audience hooked, they can provide a distorted sense of what is right and wrong and what is acceptable behavior in society.
In Tom Bissell’s article, “Extra Lives” he argues that video games are a sophisticated work of art and they are underappreciated. He uses examples from games, such as Fallout 3 and Oblivion, to support his viewpoint about how masterful these video games really are. “Viewed as a whole, Fallout 3 is a game of profound stylishness, sophistication and intelligence.” To Bissell, these games are a part of his life in more ways than just entertainment; he has become obsessed with them.
Yet, Bissell talks about video games as if they were masterpieces of art like the Sistine Chapel in Italy. He mostly talks about two video games, Fallout 3 and Oblivion. Aspects of Fallout 3s tutorial are brilliant: when you learn to walk as a baby, you are actually learning how to move within the game…” Bissell explains how Fallout 3 is so brilliant that even the tutorial has its own storyline to teach the user how to play the game. Just as Johnson argues that TV shows can challenge the minds of the viewers, Bissell thinks that video games can be intellectually stimulating as well.
He also talks quite a bit about Oblivion. He states that he logged in over 200 hours playing Oblivion. “Completing the games narrative missions took a fraction of that time, but in the world of Oblivion you can also pick flowers, explore caves, dive for treasure, buy houses, bet on gladiatorial arena fights, hunt bear and read books. Oblivion is less a game than a world that best rewards full citizenship, and for a while I lived there and claimed it.” To Bissell, Oblivion was more than just a game; it was an alternate reality that he could get lost in. The point here is that for some people, video games are not merely just games; they are part of their lives.
Some people would argue that when they look to engage in an alternate reality that books and movies are the best way to do so. Bissell thinks the exact opposite. “ I am uninterested in whether games are better or worse than movie or novels or any other form of entertainment. More interesting to me is what games can do and how they make me feel while they are doing it.” It’s not just the storyline or graphics that appeal to Bissell; it is what he can do in the games that makes this alternate reality the most appealing to him. The kind of games that Bissell describes as “pieces of art” are certainly more worth while spending hours watching TV shows that are mindless and predictable.
To me, video games are a waste of time and no matter how hard my friends try, I just cannot get into the popular shooting games, such as Fallout 3. The games are boring, hard, uninteresting, gory, and predictable and a waste of time. All of the video games have the same story line: either all the characters family died and you’re getting revenge, you’re in the middle of a war or it’s a zombie apocalypse. To some people, red-vines, a large two-liter of cherry coke, cheesy puffs and those games is the perfect way to spend a weekend.
I’ve always been an outdoors person. Sitting inside and playing videogames for seven hours straight seems like a complete waste of time and creates a zombie of a person. My friends don’t sleep, they don’t really eat or if they do they eat disgusting fake foods and they are very anti-social while playing these games. The 200 hours that Bissell spent on Oblivion is ridiculous.
The way that Bissell describes the video games is different than how I view it. He views these games as a masterpiece of art. He spent 200 hours on a game called Oblivion. That to me sounds like a nightmare but to him, it is an alternate life. He said that “completing the games narrative missions took a fraction of that time, but in the world of Oblivion you can also pick flowers, explore caves, dive for treasure, buy houses, bet on gladiatorial arena fights, hunt bear and read books. Oblivion is less a game than a world that best rewards full citizenship, and for a while I lived there and claimed it. “ To Bissell this sounded normal. He was living a life in the video game that he couldn’t in the real world. Is this so wrong?
My answer is yes. We do not live in a world where one can just live inside a video game. That is how people are influenced so much by the game that they start acting like they do in the game. For example, according to BlogCritics.org, a group of kids were playing Grand Theft Auto and were so into the game that they went out and started car jacking and beating people on the street because they saw in this video game that it was ok. In my opinion, this game needs to be banned because of all the negative influences it has on the younger generation of gamers.
Pop culture has its place in society, but is not a positive influence and teaching point for the youth of the world. Bissell and Johnson bring up valid points in their article; however, TV and video games are not good forms of education and as a whole are not good for us. The responsibility of shielding children from these violent games falls primarily on the parents. They need to be more vigilant about monitoring which games their children are allowed to play and which TV shows they watch. There is not much more the government can do beyond the measures that are already in place, including warning labels on the games and restricting the violent games to buyers age 17 and older.x