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Everything Bad Is Good Again

Filed under  by Amanda Toering — 04/25/2005 @ 7:23 am

The New York Times Magazine has excerpted a piece from the upcoming book “Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter,” by Steven Johnson.

In it, Johnson argues that while it is commonly alleged that pop culture pap makes us dumb and dumberer, today’s pop culture fare actually requires much more analysis and intelligence to digest than, say, “Leave It To Beaver.”

For decades, we’ve worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a path declining steadily toward lowest-common-denominator standards, presumably because the ‘’masses'’ want dumb, simple pleasures and big media companies try to give the masses what they want. But as that ‘’24′’ episode suggests [described in the preceding paragraph], the exact opposite is happening: the culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less. To make sense of an episode of ‘’24,'’ you have to integrate far more information than you would have a few decades ago watching a comparable show. Beneath the violence and the ethnic stereotypes, another trend appears: to keep up with entertainment like ‘’24,'’ you have to pay attention, make inferences, track shifting social relationships. This is what I call the Sleeper Curve: the most debased forms of mass diversion – video games and violent television dramas and juvenile sitcoms – turn out to be nutritional after all.

I believe that the Sleeper Curve is the single most important new force altering the mental development of young people today, and I believe it is largely a force for good: enhancing our cognitive faculties, not dumbing them down.

Fascinating read, at the NYT Magazine.

1 Comment

  1. Personally, I’ve never watched the tv show “24.”

    However, I’ve seen critical praise for it.

    By implying that un-named people regard “24″ as junk, isn’t the author just building a strawman argument to knock down?

    Comment by Eric J in MN — 4/25/2005 @ 10:02 am

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