Monday, December 13, 2010

TV: It's just another way to tell a story, right?

Oh my goodness. How many times in my life have I heard someone tell young people (or me!) to "turn off the TV and open a book?" Or, you know, something similar?

How many times have you heard that television rots your brain? And then wanted to charge at the person making this claim like a velociraptor at a cocky paleontologist?

Oh, don't get me wrong. I love books. I mean, well, duh, I write books! I have a house full of books! Books are sort of my life. But you know what else I love?


I love TV on DVD. I love that I can use my DVR to record shows that are on at the same time. I love that there are funny shows and serious shows and documentary shows and sci fi shows. I love that there are all these stories that I can watch.

So why does TV get a bad rap? Why do so many of us think of it as a "low" art form, or as a hobby for the feeble-minded? Like, okay, The Jersey Shore exists. I'll admit it. But so does The X Files. So does House. So does Scrubs.

And, yeah, books might be easy to pin as a high art, because you have to read them. But, come on, not to lay the smack down on anyone, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that GOSSIP GIRL isn't particularly literary. (And I'm putting this out there because I'm like 99.9% sure that creator Cecily von Ziegesar would agree with me. I hope.) Does this fact stop jillions of readers from being entertained by the books? No.

Books are a form of entertainment, too. Sure, sometimes books are going to be what I like to call "meat and potatoes" books. SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green's LOOKING FOR ALASKA -- you know, award-winny types. Entertaining and also enriching. Then there are what I like to call "candy bar books" -- the books we read for funsies and sometimes consider guilty pleasures. Books without many SAT words but with superfluous kissing scenes or maybe epic gun fights. Do these books change your world? Probably not. And that's cool.

So what makes books better than TV? What makes them sacred? Like, okay, there are lots of reasons that books are different, ways that without seeing the pictures on your screen you might have to use your imagination more while you're reading. But have you ever watched an episode of your favorite show and felt just so inspired? Just wowed? The same way you feel after you finish a good book?

TV and books are different ways to tell a story. But when it comes down to it, a story is a story. Why can't we love both, treat them equally, and call it a day? Why do we think certain things can go on TV but "don't belong" in books? Why are books on a pedestal, guys? I want to know.


Justina! said...

I love TV. When people talk bad about it I smile and nod, then start talking about this hilarious episode of How I Met Your Mother that they probably didn't watch.

And I think there is crap television and crap books. People like reading and/or watching things that appeal to our baser instincts. Who cares? As long as no one is being hurt to produce it (you know, if you're really into kitten baiting) then go for it.

Cholisose said...

American prime time television generally isn't very good because most shows are extremely formulaic when compared to books. The average TV show is not written by an author, but rather is thrown together by large groups of people all collaborating with elements from pre-established successful shows. Everything comes off as pretty bland and uninspired, in my opinion.
Movies are the same way. Not that every movie needs to be something mind-blowing--sometimes it's nice to watch something that feels familiar of course. But I find it amusing to watch movie trailers for example, and see how the vast majority of them play out with the exact same pieces.
Of course there's exceptions to everything, but I don't think I've willingly turned on a TV to watch something for at least five years now. At least, it's been a very long time since a TV show has impressed me. But that's just my opinion and what suits me best. It leaves me a lot more time for reading and writing books. =]
At any rate the vast majority of people (at least in the society I'm from) absolutely love television, so I don't think there's much to worry about there.

Miranda Kenneally said...

Great post!

Yes, books are just another form of entertainment. There's EMPIRE FALLS and THE CORRECTIONS, and then there's Snooki's new book.

Movies: There's Schindler's List, and then there's Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.

TV: There's Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld and STAR TREK, and then there's that strange Kardashian show and what is up with that Kendra lady?

That is all.

E. Kristin Anderson said...

I don't think all of American primetime is bad! And I don't think there's anything wrong with the multiple-writer approach. TV's been done like that for ages!

If you haven't turned on a TV for 5 years, how do you know if it's good or bad anyway? ;)

TV has just as much crap as the library does. And also just as much smart, awesome, funny, exciting stuff.

Alex said...

I have to agree with Cholisose on prime time TV, and most basic cable and network shows. However there are an excellent variety of non formulaic shows out there.

Show's to be streamed off of Le internet that is.

Show's like Dexter and Trueblood which are based off books. Show's like Californication, Weeds, and Dead Like Me which have a continuation of plot development and character building strung through each show in the season.

These are on payper view channels and do not have to pander to the lowest common dominator to stay on the air. They are well thought out and carefully plotted shows do to the fact that they generally only run 12 episodes in a season.

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