Quora Question: What do you learn from watching TV series?

April 1, 2015

You learn that a TV series viewed on a laptop without commercials is a highly enjoyable form of entertainment/addiction which rather reminds me of the scifi image of brain implants connected to an electric charge leading to isolated individuals plugging in and wasting away until death.

Seriously, mainlining TV rots one’s brain.  In moments of lucidity I have thought about this.  First and foremost, the sensory barrage, the all-at-once-ness of the program reduces the need for imagination, so the brain can slide into neutral.  But the seditious part is that you can’t go to sleep.  Sleep is the natural protection against brain overload.  So there you are, force-fed.
If you watch a video of the force-feeding of geese you’ll notice the “abused” birds line up for the privilege of having their crops distended grotesquely by the pumped grain concoction.  Geese clearly like the force-feeding procedure.  Human brains enjoy the television equivalent.
That small disclaimer aside, I’d suggest that many television series writers are very good at what they do, and when it comes to imaginative content, in general I find modern movies pale by comparison.  But think about it:  a movie is basically an expensive adaptation of a short story.  A television series like Downton Abbey is a big, honking Victorian novel by comparison, creating a believable world with an open invitation to explore many of its nooks and crannies as the series develops.
Gray’s Anatomy is another solid escapist page-turner, though it pivots on quite a narrow focus, the love lives of its changing characters.  Thin gruel, rather like the personality of its protagonist, but still an attractive fantasy world far from mundane reality.
But where my TV addiction really became interesting was at the point when I ran out of Downton Abbey episodes and began Sons of Anarchy.  I was curious to see how such a morally repugnant group could have held the narrative together for seven seasons.  It didn’t take long to realize that the writer was stealing from the classics in order to craft a tale which, while unbelievable, nevertheless had the feel of something good.  If someone wants to write an undergraduate essay on the subject, look at parallels between Sons of Anarchy and Hamlet.  Look for a ghost.  Jax’s father’s journal.  Villain like Claudius?  Try Clay.  Clod?  Clay.  Queen Gertrude?  Jax’s mother around whom the series revolves.  Good grief, Jax even sends her back to Clay’s bed in order to deceive him.  Even the comic figures are straight off Shakespeare’s stage, as is the bawdy humour.
O.K.  Sons of Anarchy was way better than I expected.  But could it compare to a Tom Stoppard treatment of the same material in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead?  No, but Stoppard didn’t have to provide new material twenty-four times a year for seven years.
To conclude, the big problem with watching TV series is the difficulty in returning to reading as a source of one’s literature.  The sleep reaction interferes greatly, so reading sessions tend to be short and unsatisfying.  Some discipline will be required to re-start the reading habits of a lifetime.
I still find I have no time for mindless pulp fiction.  If the book is fresh and offers a new or interesting perspective I’ll dive right in, but it had better be good if it is to hold my attention.  Television is a formidable medium for the transmission of literature, and like the black walnut tree in my garden, it drops tanin from its leaves to inhibit competing growth.
*Wordpress clearly doesn’t like the format of the text I imported from Quora.  Repeated attempts to repair the paragraphing haven’t worked.  Sorry.  RC.
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