On narrative, attention spans, and aliens

After last week’s class sessions, I found myself thinking a lot about how our attention spans might be changing, and whether or not the media takes this into account when they produce products for our consumption. As we saw with the halftime show, it seems as though pop culture nowadays just feeds the audience simple narratives and/or an overpowering number of visual stimuli to take in. I’m not sure if t his is a positive or negative phenomenon, and I am not sure I can decide to place judgement on such a huge topic.

I’ve been watching the somewhat “old” tv series Battlestar Galactica lately. I’m not normally a science fiction fan, but too many people told me that I “had to watch it ASAP.” To oversimplify the show’s premise: There was a big war between the humans and the “cylons” (robots) and now it is over, but new adventures abound. I’ve noticed that it takes a lot of my attention to really watch this show, even though I love it. Ron Silliman describes the “narrative style” of it as:

“Battlestar was a show that, as a rule, took no prisoners. Whereas virtually every other television series with an overarching narrative structure has been forced into episodic structures of self-contained plots that enabled the show to build its audience from scratch regardless of where in the overall story line one came in – something that had a disastrous effect on West Wing post Aaron Sorkin – BSG took the opposite route, choosing to come to a conclusion after four seasons, more or less.”

So, what Silliman points to, is the idea that a tv show can be created that privileges the art of the show instead of the seduction of a fan base. He also hints at the idea that the plot is not easy and not episode contained. For me, that means that the plot is a bit more complex (and more interesting) than House or Star Trek even. But, could a show like that exist today, in 2012?

In Chapter 5, Nicholas Carr raises a lot of interesting questions about the difference between mass media and the Net–mainly that “it’s bidirectional. we can send messages through the network as well as receive them” (85). But, I am not quite sure how to make sense of the fact that despite how much time we spend on the Internet nowadays, we also spend just as much time in front of the TV…does this mean that we’re on the Net and “watching” tv at the same time? Does this mean that we don’t know what to do with silence? Or, how to sit still and really focus on one thing at a time?


About EKaufman

English Adjunct
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