television

Binge Watching Ordinary Events Playing Out in Real Time

Binge Watching Ordinary Events Playing Out in Real Time

I've shared strategies for using movies to strengthen attention. Just as in ordinary life, what makes tending to the sensory components of a film so challenging is the pull of the narrative. But what would it be like to focus on the changing sights and sounds without having to resist the gravitational pull of story elements? 

Starting today, you can find out. 

Nothing Beside Remains

Ozymandia
by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)

[annotated]

I met a traveler from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Personal Experience

Excerpt from The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman:

Television is a form of one-way entertainment, but that's not how people want to think about it. They want to believe they're somehow involved.

This is why they talk back to the TV. This is why they get upset if certain characters don't behave in a likable fashion.

This is why they complain when the story moves further from their own personal definition of interesting.

This is why they criticize boring episodes on the Internet and expect the show's writers to study their thoughts and care what they think.

This is why they love shows that involve voting. They believe their personal experience with television effects what television is.

But television is the only place where this belief exists. Within their actual life, they feel powerless. They believe voting is frivolous. They think caring is a risk. They assume they have no control over anything, so they don't even try.

They perceive reality backward.

Reality, Without Quotes

Matt, Lake Champlain, August 7, 2011

Excerpt from The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman:

Just watch any husband arguing with his wife about something insignificant; listen to what they say and watch how their residual emotions manifest when the fight is over. It's so formulaic and unsurprising that you woudn't dare re-create it in a movie. All the critics would mock it. They'd all say the screenwriter was a hack who didn't even try. This is why movies have less value than we like to pretend --  movies can't show reality, because honest depictions of reality offend intelligent people. 

The reality I got to see was not "movie reality." The reality I saw was just reality, without quotes. You want to know what I really learned? I learned that most people don't consider time alone as part of their life. Being alone is just a stretch of isolation they want to escape from. I saw a lot of wine-drinking, a lot of compulsive drug use, a lot of sleeping with the television on. It was less festive than I anticipated. My view had always been that I was my most alive when I was totally alone, because that was the only time I could live without fear of how my actions were being scrutinized and interpreted. What I came to realize is that people need their actions to be scrutinized and interpreted in order to feel like what they're doing matters. Singular, solitary moments are like television pilots that never get aired. They don't count. 

Bearing Witness

"Bearing Witness is a trilogy concerned with how we, as a culture, watch ourselves, especially in moments of great emotional significance. With footage culled from mainstream media and television, the single-channel videos (The Eternal Quarter Inch, Somewhere only we know, The Burning Blue) distill moments of sincerity from perhaps insincere sources (televangelists, reality show contestants, screensavers, B-movies). The three single-channel videos each witness interstitial moments of imminence to challenge spectatorship in American televisual culture, continually shifting the role of the viewer between voyeur and participant."

~ Jesse McLean

"Somewhere Only We Know provides a skillfully assembled montage of contestants' faces at the instant when they have been eliminated from the show." ~ The Wexner Center for the Arts

Somewhere only we know from Jesse McLean on Vimeo.

An Impatience with Irresolution

“I am saying there is a different drama which is enacting itself in our country right now and it has to do with a failure to acknowledge the necessary moral and imaginative predicate that has become an entirely virtual existence, which is, you know, people spend more than half their waking hours watching television. Just think about that for a second. That has to shape the neural pathways. It creates an impatience, for example, with irresolution. And I'm doing what I can to tell stories which engage those issues in ways which can engage the imagination so that people don't feel threatened by it.”

~ David Milch, from “Television’s Greatest Writer,” an interview with David Simon, MIT (April 20, 2006)

We Underestimate the Power of Entertainment Narratives

Diane Winston in conversation with Krista Tippett, "TV and
Parables of Our Time
," Speaking of Faith (July 16, 2009):

"...something that really strikes me if I watch both Battlestar
Galactica
and Lost is that you see those characters grow from
victims to survivors. And the interesting thing is, is can we
take this in better as entertainment than as news?

If we read another article in Newsweek about Israeli and
Palestinian children at a summer camp getting along is that
going to make us believe that change is possible? Or maybe you
need that and you need shows like Battlestar Galactica and Lost
to show you that change is possible.

I guess that I think we underestimate the power of entertainment narratives to influence the way we look at the
world and I think storytelling, when it's good storytelling,
you know, orients us to possibilities and helps us structure
the way we look at things. So the power of the narrative is
that it takes on a life of its own for folks. But I don't know.
Maybe if Ronald D. Moore took over the UN we'd all be getting
along better. You think?"