Sophisticated Stupidity

From what you’ve read, is Popular culture (games, tv, film) just a method to “sophisticatedly deliver stupidity”?

The ideas that Johnson presents in his book “Everything Bad is Good for You” are indeed interesting, and help to relieve some of the guilt that I expereince every time I get lost in yet another episode of A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila (yes, I did watch most of that show’s first season, and, yes, it was entertaining to watch 15 idiots run around screaming. Made me feel like a good person, in comparison). Arguing that contemporary audiences not only tolerate but crave complicated and “textured” narratives in their popular culture consumption is a warming, if somewhat problematic, thought.

Sometimes, and this is particularly noticeable with the never ending list of “reality” television programs, it does seem like a true glut of ridiculous stupidity, and moreover their delivery hardly ever even seems to be “sophisticated.” And so it is comforting to find a savior in Johnson, who argues that there is in fact a silver lining behind the reality show cloud. Or at the very least, can offer us support to spend the extra money on HBO just to get that Sunday night drama.

However, one issue that Johnson brings up is multiple threading. He argues that many threads in the story lines of television series like the Sopranos, are complicated and are a unique way of presenting content that enhances viewer engagement with the storyline and characters. However, I am tempted to argue, or at least mention, that this may also be a product of internet age’s effect on how much attention focus we as a culture can muster.

There was an article last summer in the Atlantic Monthly entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?“, the premise of which is that the quick bite- (byte-) sized information content that we are accustomed to on the internet is actually changing our brains, and affecting our ability to process long and in-depth information. We seem to be shrinking away from the lengthy newspaper article, and instead digesting many articles in quick snippets (take, for example,’s bulleted “Story Highlights” present at the top of their already brief articles).

Perhaps the multiple threading that we encounter in more complex TV shows these days is not a boon to our grey matter, but rather the only way that television producers can handle presenting complex content to a nation of bite-size information eaters and so-called “horizontal” Google searchers. They can’t keep us focused any other way.

I should clarify that this is just speculation, and I do agree with Johnson that modern media is providing an intellectual stimulus in many ways, and that shows like the Sopranos are head and shoulders above some trite TV of the past. But it is worth being a little more critical of the nature of that information, and how we as a culture process it. After all, somebody once thought (or still does) that those things were bad for us for a reason, and it is worth it to keep that in mind, at least until you click on the tube.


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