Tuesday, July 10, 2012

We ARE Kings of the Forest

Over at TIME.com, James Poniewozik has written a wonderful essay on the changing ways we consume media, thanks to the prevalence of cable TV networks, the internet, DVRs, and other such technology. Providing TIME doesn’t suddenly yank Poniewozik’s essay from the interwebs and make us travel back in time to read it, it’s worth your time.

Here’s the best of Poniewozik’s essay:
The surest sign that a medium is changing is that people start to romanticize the very features of it that used to be condemned. Back when there were only three TV networks with massive audiences, for instance, they were bemoaned for homogenizing the culture and playing to the lowest common denominator; now they’re recalled fondly as a “shared cultural experience” that we no longer have in the digital-cable era.

Likewise, the episodic structure of TV exists because of commercial considerations, not storytelling ones. Episodes end on cliffhangers to bring you back the next week. Subplots are resolved in an hour to give you a sense of completion as you wait for the next installment. “Acts” end on dramatic notes to keep you from channel-flipping through the commercials.

TV, in other words, takes its form from the conditions of its creation—which makes it no different from any other art form, such as the novel. Narratives changed when they went from lyrics, meant to be remembered and recited orally, to devices printed mechanically. Their subjects changed as more people became literate and had access to print. All of that matters–but it doesn’t mean that I’m spoiling The Iliad by reading it rather than having it recited to me by an old Greek man, or that if I’m not going to read Dickens once a week in the newspaper as he meant me to, I may as well not read him at all.
I see that romanticism a lot. I’ve participated in some of it. But there is a lot of truth in what he says. We have the right to consume content as we see fit, as it fits into our schedules and how it fits into our budgets – far more than those who manufacture our media could ever imagine we would, sometimes to their chagrin.

Used to be for our family watching The Wizard of Oz on TV was a big event because, well, it was on TV, man. We didn’t have to go to the video store to rent it, or sit around waiting until VHS tapes and VCRs were invented and available to rent to the unwashed masses such as ourselves. If, for example, the scouts were fooling about in the snow making snow caves to camp out in when Oz was on TV, we simply missed it on TV that year.

No more. Now I can watch it any time I want, because I have a DVD copy at home.

We’ve broken free of predetermined schedules. We’ve broken free of television – we haven’t had paid TV services in the house since we were married in 1997 – and we didn’t have it in the house I grew up in either. Four channels. All romanticized now. Ebooks mean we don’t necessarily have to go to the book store or the library to get books to read (though I’m cheap and still get most of my books, in physical form, from thrift stores). We don’t have to subscribe (generally) to magazines or newspapers any more because we have the internet. I don’t even have to have an unsightly antenna on my house to get our local TV stations, because their websites, well, they put everything they produce on them now.

I can still watch the news. Just when I want to. How I want to. And I can skip the stupid sports reports. That’s liberation right there.

As is this:

No comments: