January 31, 2013

By Michael Soter

There is an ancient myth that states that the act of reading is an enlightening experience.  Supposedly, the printed page expands the mind— whether it’s Socrates, the Bible, Ginsberg, or Stephanie Meyer.  If I were to try to pinpoint the moment in history when anything written on a page was deemed educational, I would guess that it had to be around 1439.  Before then, the written word was reserved for academics, priests, and the nobility. It was a sign of education.  So, when Guttenburg developed a Western mechanism that allowed for the mass-production of printed material, the word spread—common people had instant access to what was once reserved for the elite.

This allowed for the popularization of ancient texts and in part, gave rise to the Renaissance—but what once opened the door to Homer has since opened the door to Us Weekly.  Meanwhile some parents are still living in 1439 and demand that their children read, believing that this will make them intelligent and cultured.

With the advent of television came a new medium that could be brought into the home.  A man named Minow, chairman of the FCC, said in 1961 that television had become a “Vast Wasteland.” Television was defined as a numbing medium.

574 years after Guttenburg and 52 years after Minow, we have an irrational dichotomy that goes something like this: “Books=Good and Television=Bad.”

Instead of looking at the medium, it might be more important to look at the content.  I don’t quite see how 50 Shades of Grey is more educational than 60 Minutes.  I don’t understand how Twilight can be seen as better for your kids than the latest episode of Homeland.  After all, Minow also happened to say, in the very same speech, “When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.”

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