Monday, May 16, 2005

Video Games and TV Shows

Steven Johnson has a new book called Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter. His thesis is that video games are getting increasingly complex and interactive in new and interesting ways, and that this in turn affects other popular culture resources, such as television, which grows more complex to keep up. He debates the vigorousness of this thesis with critic Dana Stevens at Slate and manages to whoop her:
How about the substance of the shows—the question, as you put it, of what we're learning when we watch these shows? Perhaps we disagree here, but when I look back at the television lineups from the 1970s, I don't see a lot of psychological depth or complex social analysis. I see CHiPs. At the high end of the spectrum, I don't see anything from 30 years ago that rivals the genuinely novelistic scale and originality of The Sopranos and Six Feet Under, the dark satire of Arrested Development or Curb Your Enthusiasm, or even the cinematic dread and general creepiness of Lost (though I admit I am only a few episodes into the latter, so please—no spoilers.) I like Soap and M*A*S*H as much as the next person, but I'll happily take the more formulaic sitcoms today—Everybody Loves Raymond or King Of Queens—over the generally awfully Garry Marshall sitcoms that dominated the ratings back then. But perhaps your mileage varies—these are aesthetic judgments, after all. I can point only to another review of my book—this one from Salon—where my argument about the positive trends in TV quality was critiqued for being too obvious: "What I wonder, though, is, Doesn't everyone know that today's TV is better than yesterday's TV? It's here that I think Johnson's too focused on straw men. … Is there anyone who prefers 'Hill Street Blues,' which as Johnson points out was one of the best dramas of the 1980s, to 'The West Wing' or 'ER' or 'The Sopranos'? I imagine only the very nostalgic would say they do."

Link. So I think this gives me a sound argument for blowing off Admin reading to play GTA and watch Lost.

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