In Everything Bad Is Good For You, Steven Johnson uses many scientific methods and presents point of view stating that popular culture does not only have negative impacts on us. In the introduction of the television section, he briefly tells us the truth that the complexity of modern TV shows is rising and it also makes people more intelligent. To support his ideas, Johnson divides the content into three parts: Multiple threading, Flashing Arrows, and Social Networks. Multiple threading is very common in modern television shows but not in past shows.
Johnson uses four graphs which clearly show the amount of plot content in relation to the running time of four episodes from different shows, to depict changes of complexity in TV dramas. In one drama, Dragnet, the narrative only focuses on one plotline; a few years later, the numbers of plotline have been increased in another drama called The Sopranos. The evidence strongly supports Johnson’s statement: Multiple threading becomes more complex and abundant in modern television dramas. However, it is not the only reason that makes TV shows more complicated.
Flashing Arrows, which had allowed viewers to follow the plot more easily television shows of the past, disappeared and were transformed in modern soap dramas and sitcoms. TV shows stopped using flashing arrows because audiences have been learned to find the hidden answers in the shows for many years. In soap operas, flashing arrows have been transformed to “texture” and “substance” (p. 78), which are used for building up a realistic dramatic situation in the drama. In sitcoms, flashing arrows become a reward of knowing the “in-joke” by attaining extra information outside the shows.
Although sitcoms become more complex, they are not the only shows that have changed. Social networks are mainly used in reality programming and political debates. When audiences watch The Apprentice or Survivor, a reality show, they will use “social intelligence” (p. 96) to judge participants’ personalities. Each facial expression and action from the participants provides clues to audiences for the judgment. In political debates, audiences will judge the politicians’ appearances, speech, skin color or actions to decide the votes. Social intelligence” is a brain activity that people will do it automatically when they try to make decisions. Johnson’s evidence has shown “social intelligence” has been improved by reality shows. However, social networks do not only represent the network among participants and audiences, but also the social relationships of characters in the TV dramas. The social mapping of 24 clearly shows the complex relationships among all the characters. There are four families being involved in the show, but the relationships are not obvious to the audience.
Audiences need to build up the social connections by watching the show. The process is difficult and challenging, but the audience has already gotten used to it by training from the past thirty years. Social networks are also a part of making audiences become smarter. Basically, Johnson thinks television has become more complex because of multithreading, flashing arrows and social network. These three elements are also important to people’s brain activity which has made them smarter.
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