Friday, February 23, 2007

"Thinking is entertainment"...sometimes

The other day I met a kindred spirit who works at Oregon Public Broadcasting, and she handed me her business card.

The front carried the requisite information (name, title, phone, e-mail), but the back was devoted to a neatly printed one-line come-on:

Thinking is entertainment

It got me thinking, and my thinking wasn't all that entertaining. Still, bear with me if you can stand an entertainment-free moment.

OPB’s message carries a lot of subtext, as we say in the Media Literacy community.

The notion that “thinking is entertainment” may be necessary to get an entertainment-obsessed, thinking-averse audience to think, or at least to consider thinking.

Heck, it may even get them to watch public broadcasting, though the Lehrer News Hour isn't exactly my idea of fun.

Let’s face it, a lot of thinking isn’t entertaining at all. It’s just head-scratchingly hard work. Rewarding, perhaps, even challenging, but no romp in the park.

Thinking is not something many folks would choose to do during prime-time, say as a replacement for “Survivor,” “Grey’s Anatomy” or “CSI.”

Something else needs to be said about this little OPB aphorism. While some, but not all, thinking is entertainment, most popular entertainment—unlike art—doesn’t entail thinking. (I know, there's something snooty about that "popular" and "art" bit , but I don't have the space to deal with it here. Another time....)

The fact is most mass media entertainment today requires no thinking at all. “Feeling” (sex, fear, revulsion, greed, envy) perhaps, but not thinking.

I'll go further: mass media entertainment (think about commercials, for instance) requires that you not think. There’s a term for this: Suspension of Disbelief.

Flick on the TV, go to the movie, play a video game. All require you to suspend disbelief. For advertisers (and, in one form or another, advertisers pay for nearly all media these days), such mental vacuity is pay dirt: an audience of media-numbed consumers no longer able to think critically.

Now imagine political advertising. It goes a long way to explaining the state we are in.

So my response to the OPB business card's “Thinking is entertainment” is two whispered words…

Let’s talk.

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Blogger Unknown said...

As a researcher for the PBS series History Detectives I get to do a lot of thinking that is both entertaining and brain stretching. I'd like to invite you and your readers to submit ideas for stories. Each story focuses on an object with a mystery and the investigation of it reveals a slice of American history. From your profile I'm betting you and your bloggers might have some good ideas.

4:16 PM  

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