Suspending my suspended skepticism

As I've said repeatedly, I don't like television. In fact, I really hate the medium. Not so much because of media bias (which is of course there), but because it occupies too much of my brain space. It's as if it wants to take over my thinking for me, and leave nothing up to my imagination. Yeah, there's even an anti-TV slogan that goes "leaves nothing to the imagination." But it's more annoying than merely leaving nothing up to the imagination. The process is inherently dishonest, because it depicts an edited slice of a moving segment of living reality and the nature of medium inclines us to think that this is the same as reality. It's an "as if" medium which tricks us into dropping the "as if" and thinking in terms of "is." Because I do not trust the process which is occurring in my brain, I have to expend a lot of mental energy trying to counter it. So, television leaves my poor brain cells feeling exhausted and depleted -- unless of course I do what I am supposed to do and surrender my mind to stuff that's been prepared for me.

The thing is, even when I'm watching straight, unedited video footage, I never forget that there is still a bias because of the medium. It is not the same as being there, because there is no way to get the overall picture, the feel, the totality. I could go out in my yard now with my camera, and film the trees swaying in the breeze, a painful-looking dead stump, the clouds moving across the sky, birds building nests or fighting over territory, cars roaring past -- no, not cars, SUVs driven by angry-at-the-world women hauling their kids to school so they can still make it to work. Or I could zoom in on a neighbor doing something totally innocuous like unpeeling last year's registration from his license plate. All of these things would be "true depictions." But of what? And why? Any one of them might influence people to think one way or another, yet in reality none of them mean anything, any more than it's just another day. There is no such thing as unbiased video, but unlike writing, the bias is not self-apparent and obvious. Even the most objective video possible tends to ask us to accept that it is reality, and not a depiction of reality.

Because it's not easy for me to suspend skepticism and my feelings of distrust, it's hard to relax and enjoy it. (Unless I am truly depressed and I "submit," which is another, more disturbing issue.) Added to this is the fact that when I do relax and enjoy something, I'll suddenly be aware that some bastard is trying to manipulate me -- or worse, trying to manipulate stupid people or children.

As I say this, I recognize that even if video is not real reality, it is nonetheless speech. And as speech, it is fully protected by the First Amendment. As the saying goes, the remedy for speech you don't like is more speech. Which is why I love YouTube.

Wait! Let me qualify that. I love the idea of YouTube. I support YouTube. I am 100% in favor of democratizing the playing field, opening up as much bandwidth as possible, and every man being his own television station! True, it might be impossible to figure out what to watch, but what the heck. That problem will be addressed by the emergence of ratings, critics, and commentators, all of which will tell us what's really fun or cool or subversive or morbid or irritating or titillating or whatever the hell your special interest might want.

But as the technology emerges, I find my biggest practical problem is a lack of patience. I just don't want to watch video to begin with. Now, this problem could be overcome if I knew in advance that the video came from a source I trusted, and dealt with a subject in which I was interested. That part is analogous to clicking on a link to a blog post, and then reading it.

However, this leads to another problem which drives me bananas. Unlike clicking on a link to a post, opening a video link does not allow you to glance at the overall picture of the text, or zero in on what might be the most interesting part. Usually, you have to watch the whole thing. What if it's an hour long? Who has an hour? I don't. I'd rather read a transcript. (When there's a transcript, I tend to say "Thank God!," and when there isn't, I tend to invoke the deity in a different manner.)

Here is what I Absolutely. Cannot. Stand. It's when I'm already impatient, and then the video just plain stops. Then it starts. For maybe ten seconds. Then it stops. Sorry, but that's it for me. Life is too short to suspend skepticism to allow the video maker a shot at your mind, only to put your already-suspended skepticism on hold. It's profoundly unnatural, and almost as annoying being called on the phone, and then as soon as you answer, the voice says "Please hold."

This has happened so many times that I am increasingly hesitant to stream these videos.

Doubtless I am not alone.

Consenting to having your mind invaded is bad enough. But there's something about having to stop and wait -- repeatedly -- for the invaders which I find downright creepy.

posted by Eric on 04.02.07 at 08:36 AM


As a constant denizen of 'Short Attention Span Theater', and not by choice, mind you, I know that feeling... I once could actually keep my mind focused on things for more than a few minutes to actually watch a program, but that is difficult to do. A good movie with high 'suspension of disbelief' factor I can try to get through, but one minor thing and that is broken for me now.

'Compelling television' is pretty much an oxymoron, and I have treated most of it as purely entertainment, with the 'news' going into that category years ago. That is when I can sit still to watch... mostly its 'Mythbusters', 'Dirty Jobs', 'Future Weapons' and the 'Modern Marvel' du jour at the History Channel. At least they don't get most of the historical work too badly off... and it has improved slightly. Still, a bit of fluff now and again does not hurt.

But Youtube?

Transcripts are a huge plus, as I can still *read quickly* and even if my surface attention doesn't get much, that non-conscious portion still does the heavy lifting on the cognitive connectivity... getting that portion to actually communicate with the rest... a problem... which is why I post stuff. Mostly it is just to connect that portion with the conscious portion and get the synthesis to happen.

ajacksonian   ·  April 2, 2007 8:40 PM

Ah, but Star Trek reruns? Bullwinkle reruns?

Bleepless   ·  April 2, 2007 9:33 PM

New season of Mail Call is starting soon, with everyone's favorite Gunnery Sergeant, R. Lee Ermey. Also, M. Simon has pointed out the wonderful world of Bullshit!

Beyond those two, and Mythbusters, I can't stomach television, for entertainment or enlightenment.

As to the pain of being put on hold, I've been called about a dozen times in the last month and put on hold by a machine. The trouble is, I can't hang up-it could be the city or something, telling me they haven't received my water payments or some other nonsense. So, I am called and put on hold by anonymous sources, over and over again... Honestly, quite rude.

Jon Thompson   ·  April 2, 2007 10:20 PM

I must speak up for Turner Classic Movies, and the black and white films of days gone by. This evening, Francis The Talking Mule (1949){yes, a dumb movie, but popular and beloved at the time and by me in the 60s in afternoon TV for kids-- and Ray Collins plays a perfect straight man}; and as Bleepless says, ST(TOS) and Bullwinkle (alas, not where I can pick up). Emergency weather. That's about it for TV.
Video on the Web? Ptahhh. Worse than the intensive graphics that are becoming the norm. Give me TEXT! Information in chunks I can scan for usefulness, entertainment or facts. Life is too short, I concur with Eric, for start-and-stop web video. If you want to influence me, make your case in pithy prose.

Stewart   ·  April 2, 2007 10:21 PM

I'll be sure to pay no attention to any comments on movies you may write.

Brett   ·  April 4, 2007 8:08 AM

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