Saturday, February 20, 2010

Watching TV Makes You Smarter

Millions of people turn on their television every night and watch a few moments of reality TV. In doing so, they might not know it but they are bettering themselves on a personal level. Based on the ideas of Steven Johnson the average person could learn a thing or two form reality TV. In his article called, “Watching TV Makes You Smarter” Johnson states that; "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, the exact opposite is happening: culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less."( 214). Johnson talks explicitly about what a scholar might call the “dumbing down of America”, which in his mind is completely false. Watching reality television in his mind makes a person more aware of the everyday occurrences that happen.

The major point first made in Johnsons article is based on his theory called, “The Sleeper Curve”. This theory is about how: “television alters the mental development of young people for the better” (215). Johnson talks about reality TV affecting younger generations in a positive light and helping with personal development. Another major topic discussed is how; “multiple threads in new television episodes are much more complex than old television shows.” In talking about this Johnson refers to the Mary Tyler More show being cookie cutter whereas reality TV today has real life issues. Through this kind of television our younger generation can be taught how to handle tough situations. The third major topic that is brought up in Johnson’s article is about how younger generations are given mindless television that they can not apply to their everyday life to watch and then expected to go out in the real world of high school and college and deal with tough, harsh situations. Through harder, more intense television our younger generations could have a bit better idea on how to handle these situations, while knowing the different outcomes that could occur. Quoting from his article Johnson says, “What I am arguing for is a change in the criteria we use to determine what really is cognitive junk food and what is genuinely nourishing. Instead of a show’s violent or tawdry content, instead if wardrobe malfunctions or the F-word, the true test should be whether a given show engages or sedates the mind.”

In a statement made by Graff in “Hidden Intellectualism”; “What doesn’t occur to us, though, is that schools and colleges might be at fault for missing the opportunity to tap into such street smarts and channel them into good academic work. Nor do we consider one of the major reasons why school and colleges overlook the intellectual potential of street smarts with anti-intellectual concerns.” I think that Johnson would completely agree with Graff’s statement and would back it up with research of his own. He would agree that society can be formed into great people with street smarts and books smarts, followed by a dose of reality.

As Duglas Rushkoff suggests in Bart Simpson: Prince of Irreverence, The Simpsons has a complex structure and, "Rather than drawing us into the hypnotic spell of the traditional story teller, the program [The Simpsons] invites us to make active and conscious comparisons of its own scenes with those of other, less transparent, media forms" (Rushkoff 248). What Rushkoff is saying here is that not all televisions shows are mindless entertainment, rather they can challenge our intellect by allowing us to find patterns of recognition. I agree that even shows like The Simpsons make us smarter because they depict political and social situations.

Johnson, Steven. “Watching TV Makes You Smarter.” They Say I Say. Comp. Gerald Greff, Cathy Berkenstein, Russel Durst. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2009. Print

Greff, Gerald. “Hidden Intellectualism.” They Say I Say. Comp. Gerald Greff, Cathy Berkenstein, Russel Durst. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2009. Print

Rushkoff, Douglas. "Bart Simpson: Prince of Irreverance." They Say I Say. Comp. Gerald Greff, Cathy Berkenstein, Russel Durst. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2009. Print


  1. You were very clear in stating the thesis, points and your authors response to others. There are a lot of details to back up what you are saying. Your blog was well written and it even got me thinking. Perhaps it's not the t.v. that should be criticized but rather the viewer. For instance, you can learn something from anywhere- maybe if we don't want television to be mind-numbing we have to focus on being an active audience without the aids for subtleties presented in show like The Simpsons. Sorry, it was just a thought that came to mind when I read your blog. You did a great job!

  2. Nicely written group! I think that while reality TV is quite self-indulgent at times, it actually helps us to get rid of some of our inner phobias about how we are supposed to act. I also think it helps us to realize that we are not all as crazy as we think we are! :-) Also, smart shows are really broadening our thought process and demanding we think outside the box. Anyway, nice post!

  3. I like the way your presented your topic and thesis, it is very well written and thought about. It is almost as you are stating two sides to television as the authors main point as it is good for people to watch some reality television and then you also show a side of the author agree that it can be bad as well. This can be confusing but the main focus you do have is that the author agrees with watching some reality television. I also agree that it would be best for teenagers who do watch television to watch something that they can get something out of it that will help them in the real world.

  4. This posting did a good job touching on the main points of your selected writing. The introduction is strong and the rest of the posting follows along with what you set out in the intro. The part about “The Sleeper Curve” is described well as is the point about more complex television shows and their apparent benefit. Good job, I like the conclusion and the reference to the Simpsons TV show, I think this was a good way to end the posting.

  5. This is a great post. You did an excellent job writing it. You did a great job stating the thesis and the author's response to other arguments. I will be the first to admit that I watch way too much reality tv, so I enjoyed reading your post. I enjoyed the conclusion and and part about the Simpsons. I can see how people can gain a bit of knowledge from watching shows like the Simpsons. Even though it's goal itself to provide knowledge people can pick up bits and pieces from the jokes about current events. Great post!

  6. I thought your group did a great job summarizing Steven Johnson’s argument. I also thought your group did a good job explaining how Johnson would respond to the viewpoints of Gerald Graff and Douglas Rushkoff. Also I just want to mention that I thought Heidi brought up a good point in her comment. I do not regularly view reality television shows and it is interesting to think of them as a relief from our social phobias. Overall, I think your group did an excellent job presenting Johnson’s thoughts and viewpoint.

  7. I like what you said about Graff and what he believes about street smarts and blending educational work to move more towards what the student is good at and bring them together. I also believe schools and colleges might be missing out on helping the non conventional student. If they would tap into a more creative way of educating a student it would be beneficial for the school and student both. Kathy

  8. Your blog was great. It had a clear thesis, nice transitions throughout the explanation of Johnson's article. The transitions into what he thought about Graff and Rushkoff could have been smoother but your explanations of what he would have thought were perfect. I do find it strange though that Johnson would think that even reality tv can be a positive influence on young people.

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