Tuesday, March 30, 2010

WHY? Because We Are Dumb

(double click to see the comics in full size)

Bart Simpson: "I can't believe it, but it looks as though television has betrayed me."

Once in a while, somebody will publish something that is very close to what I have been saying for sometime. I saw this article in our local newspaper. I used to read this Nestor Torre before but when his reviews always revealed the climax of a movie, I figured my reading time is best spent elsewhere. I agree with his starting point. He concludes that regulators and TV stations should get together to "undumb" the audience. At best I think it's a two way street. Like a chicken and egg question. At worst, this culture wants dumb, this culture will not appreciate anything that is not dumb so give them dumb. A lot of what I want to say on the topic is here. http://cornholiogogs.multiply.com/journal/item/1017/Hypocrisy_of_the_Recognition_and_Admiration_of_Efren_Penaflorida

This culture does not value intellect, learning or dignity .
TV stations are only answerable to one group . Sponsors. Sponsors want a large audience . They don't want a discriminating audience but a large audience .I don't care about the mandate of the KBP. Because who really is serving the public good? By providing shows that will enlighten? None as far as main stream consumption . Media does not shape the audience. The audience is attracted based on what the programmers perceive will attract that audience.The dumb shows, dumb audience and the high ratings are both a vicious circle and a self fulfilling prophecy. Make a long story short. If programming is based on perception of audience and programing is dumb then the audience is perceived as dumb. And the proof of that is the size of the audience attracted. Dumb sells. Something that requires brain cells does not sell to the extent that dumb does. If you think my critique is solely on TV guess again. Filipino newspapers have not escaped my gaze. http://cornholiogogs.multiply.com/journal/item/688/Why_Are_Our_Filipino_Newspapers_So_Dumb

You want proof, we are dumb? These shows appeal abroad only to Pinoys who are abroad. Other cultures do not find any hidden worth in them. You know why? There is nothing of value there for them to find.
Calvin and Hobbes (The comic strip above) has resonated for so long because it is such a mirror to our reality. Another excellent parallel to the state of dumb TV is the film The Running Man. If you never saw the film you might describe it as some dumb muscle film with Arnold Schwarzenegger sprouting corny one liners. I actually saw this movie the day it came out 23 years ago. I had no idea that 23 years later I would be calling it genius for what it predicted.

Read one imdb user's breakdown of the film.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093894/usercomments Prophetic, 3 November 2004 8/10 Author: obiwan-27 (lckrause@gmail.com) from New England *** This review may contain spoilers *** I entered my first comment on this film almost five years ago. Then, the ideas presented in the movie still seemed mostly fictional, if indeed they could ever transpire at all. Not any longer. Now, the politics, society, and media in The Running Man seem very close to home indeed. Consider the following factors, which were mostly absent in 1987 (the year The Running Man came out) that are present today: Concern with, as Richard Dawson's character Damon Killian puts it, "traditional morality." CHECK Entertainment in the form of extreme reality, including pain, fear, and discomfort on the part of contestants. CHECK Cameras everywhere. CHECK Restricted travel for citizens at the whim of the government, controlled by a centralized computer system complete with barcoded passports ("travel passes" in the movie) and sanctioned under the guise of national security. CHECK An increased intermingling, bordering on incestuous, of government and media. CHECK Computer-generated graphics that are advanced enough to manipulate real film footage (such as the "digital matting" of Ben Richards' image onto the stunt double). CHECK Jailing of conscientious objectors or detractors of the current administration. CHECK Flagging economy further widening the gulf between the wealthy and not-so-wealthy; increasing numbers of fringe groups reacting to the tightening noose of big government; civil unrest brewing just under or at the surface of nearly every sizable public event regardless of its origin or intent. CHECK, CHECK, CHECK Then again, maybe it's just a movie based on a Stephen King novella. But just to be safe, I'm moving to Switzerland. If I can leave you with one thing, just remember, if TV is dumb or if media is dumb it's because we are dumb. TV is so much part of our lives that who really analyzes it's effect on a society? Well I will leave you with yet another quote from Running Man which says it all. Video provided in Multiply version of this post.

Damon Killian: This is television, that's all it is. It has nothing to do with people, it's to do with ratings! For fifty years, we've told them what to eat, what to drink, what to wear... for Christ's sake, Ben, don't you understand? Americans love television. They wean their kids on it. Listen. They love game shows, they love wrestling, they love sports and violence. So what do we do? We give 'em *what they want*! We're number one, Ben, that's all that counts, believe me. I've been in the business for thirty years.
Ben Richards: Well, I may not have been in show business for as long as you have. But I'm a quick learner. And right now, I'm going to give the audience what *I* think they want.









‘Least common denominator’ TV programming

By Nestor Torre
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:46:00 03/25/2010

Filed Under:

Television, Entertainment (general)

MANILA, Philippines—The unprecedented popularity of television is both a boon and a bane. That the biggest TV networks now command an audience of millions is a testament to the medium’s utter viewability and vitality.

On the other hand, that very viewability and 24/7 accessibility have often resulted in a stultifyingly "least common denominator" kind of programming, with many popular shows providing the video equivalent of popcorn—momentarily yummy, but offering little in terms of substance and sustenance.

The industry mantra seems to be: "Keep it simple, stupid; that’s all the simpletons out there want, need—or deserve."

For this reason, some TV shows attract similarly "stupid" or "stupid-making" workers, and lack of depth and sensitivity is in fact preferred, because the simpletons "know" what viewers go for. The dumb leading the dumber? You bet—and, as the "stupid" shows’ robust ratings reveal, they’re pretty smart and savvy, after all.

Of course, some viewers find them really shallow and, in fact, downright demeaning to watch. Unfortunately, they’re in the distinct and churlish minority, so the channels can do spectacularly well without them and their stuffy, snitty ilk. And the situation remains as "hopeless" as ever.

Is there any way out of this desultory conundrum and downward spiral of ever diminishing returns? Well-meaning do-gooders and reformists mistakenly believe that errant or irresponsible TV workers can be "shamed" into more responsible behavior. They forget that TV is a game of numbers, and thus far, the least-common-denominator guys are winning the battle by a mile. They have the numbers, because their "stupid" shows appeal to the many simpletons out there. So, dumb yourself down and join the fun!

But that can’t be the way to go, because therein lies perdition and retardation. That’s why TV is supposed to be a public trust that’s protected by all sorts of pledges of responsible and balanced programming—except that, the rules aren’t followed or enforced, and the pledges remain unfulfilled.

One way out of this quagmire of pap is for government regulators and industry self-regulators to do their job. But, if they fall short, who can compel them? The country’s more concerned, demanding and enlightened viewers—only, there aren’t enough of them to make a big difference.

Which is why media education is so important, but who will teach it? Our teachers? Not likely, because they too are watching those least-common-denominator shows and enjoying them.

The real solution can be arrived at only if both concerned TV workers and viewers join forces to produce and support more substantial TV programs. And work together they must, because young Filipinos’ mental and moral prospects hang in the balance.

That’s the common denominator that should motivate and inform their concerted efforts to reform and redeem what is now the viewing nation’s most popular, persuasive and powerful medium of expression, communication and entertainment.

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