We often hear that TV is geared to the lowest denominator. A common criticism is that mass media not only reduces uniqueness among various cultures, but contributes to numbing the mind and quashing the imagination.
However, well known story consultant, script doctor, and teacher, Robert McKee, has been saying for a long time that some of the best writing today can be seen on TV. (I could say that some of the worst can been seen on TV also, but that’s not the discussion today.)
In an essay Rob Brezsny says:
“. . . an article by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker notes that Americans’ IQ scores have been steadily rising for a long time — so much so that a person whose IQ placed her in the top ten percent of the population in 1920 would be in the bottom third today. One possible explanation: Our “growing stupidity” may better be described as a difficulty keeping up with the ever-growing mass of facts, whereas we are actually becoming better at solving problems.
Gladwell cites the book Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter. Its author, Steven Johnson, argues that pop culture is increasingly expanding our intelligence about social relationships and stretching our ability to sort out complex moral dilemmas. TV shows in the 1970s, like “Starsky and Hutch” and “Dallas,” had linear, easy-to-follow story lines with simple characters who behaved in predictable ways.
Writing for TV shows like Lost, The Sopranos, and Battlestar Galactica
Battlestar Galactica Cast
photo by dark chacal 2010
weave together a number of convoluted narrative threads that require rapt attention and even repeated viewings in order to understand. Characters often wrestle with contradictory motivations that complicate their behavior as they deal with ambiguous dilemmas for which there are no clearly right solutions. Viewers who take in shows like this are in effect attending brain gyms.” (Go to Rob Brezsny’s website for his full article.)
Great stories, intricate plot, and fascinating characters feed our imagination. Imagination might seem stifled by a constant diet of reality shows. However, imagination arises from the psyche and the psyche is difficult to manage. Like our bodies, it is best to feed psyche the highest level of nutrition available. Even though we may lack the best, there is still great potential to function well beyond our current level.
Of course, as a mythologist, I recommend mythology as a place to begin to feed the imagination quality nutrients, and, it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the writers for the shows listed by Brezsny also dine at the mythology banquet.