September 16, 2008

Discrimination of Entertainment:The Elitism of the Literary Community

It's common knowledge to the average person that the literary community is one of elegant superiority and devotion to the works which they analyze so excessively. But what value does literature really hold in today's society? We hear several viewpoints on the importance of literature and the dangers of other facets of entertainment, but unknowingly we accept the assumptions and claims put forth by those that study and teach literature. What causes this phenomenon to occur so subtly but so completely? Perhaps many forget that those who study rhetoric are the best at it, able to persuade the population based on their beliefs rather then on solid facts.
One of the most dangerous and fictitious assumptions proponents of literature have led us to believe is the common stereotype that books are knowledge, TV kills brain cells, and video games turn children into demonic little monsters. Whether or not everyone agrees, everyone makes assumptions based on these principles. But what exactly is literature, and why would anyone believe it to be superior to other facets of entertainment and/or education? Literature is stereotyped as educational, deep, and intellectual, while TV programs are stereotyped as violent and superficial. But do these stereotypes represent reality? Channels such as National Geographic and The Discovery Channel teach and entertain simultaniously, while many highly regarded works of literature contain graphic sexual scenes with debatable importance to the plot or message of the book. These scenes are often masked as having literarly value in the same fashion pornography is masked as "artistic expression". Let's be honest here.. entertainment is a dominating force in our society, and learning is a very difficult process unless accompanyed by some degree of entertainment. The key difference between knowledge from books and knowledge from TV or other facets of entertainment is that books tend to teach vague concepts and ideas, while TV often teaches more practical knowledge. Its suprising that the practical knowledge gained from a TV program is often looked down upon as unnessecary, when we all so firmly claim that actions speak louder then words (Or practice accomplishes more then ideas, in this case).
But I wouldn't want to rely on only educational TV channels to prove my point, so lets explore the opposite end of the spectrum. The epitome of vulgarity and violence on television..South Park for example. Though I very rarely find myself watching the show, it would be ignorant to claim the educational value of the show is any less then that of a book like To Kill a Mockingbird, the most famous example of a coming-of-age novel in the literary community. In To Kill A Mockingbird, readers learn about what it is like to grow up, from the perspective of Harper Lee. We often forget that Harper Lee wrote the book as an adult, that we all know what growing up is like, and that no knowledge is gained from speculating about what some fictional character's past is like. An English teacher would be infuriated by this analysis, arguing that Harper Lee is a brilliant writer who wrote a fascinating and deep story about growing up in the 30s, and anyone who doesn't read it is missing out. I fail to see how this is anything but entertainment, read for pleasure rather then knowledge and enlightenment. Even if Lee was trying to educate readers on life in the 30s, it'd be foolish to base your knowledge of a decade on the fictional story of a single writer. South Park, on the other hand, is interlaced with social commentary and current events. I won't go as far as to say that watching the show will enrich your daily life, but it is most certainly an alternate way to keep up to date with cultural events, and see controversial issues in a different light then the watered down nonoffensive way we're used to seeing them. Just as Harper Lee aims to entertain with a story about an era, the writers of South Park entertain with comedy about current events. As far as I can tell, literature and television are pretty equal in educational value, despite what elite book club members and literature professors would claim.
To touch on one final point before my conclusion, lets look at the controversial issue of video games. Many seek to blame them for violence in children, saying kids need to just read books like the "old days". If video games have such a negative effect, wouldn't we have seen a rise in violence around the time of their invention? Wouldn't it be scientifically proven based on the majority, rather then a few nutcases who claim they killed a man after playing too much Grand Theft Auto? In making these accusations, people fail to even consider positive effects of video games. The most common benefit is increased reflexes, proven by the fact that most popular video games have been implemented into rehabilitation. A gamer could also explain social and leadership skills gained through emerging gaming communities, clans, and the virtual world known as Second Life. Many gamers admire the music and art of a game in a similar way one would admire a famous painting or a beautiful sonnet. Game designers come from a multitude of disciplines and bring numerous talents into the project, is it fair to discredit them just because their product is interactive?
Perhaps literature is a great source of knowledge and entertainment, but lets not narrow our minds and throw out all of the other great things in society today. Discrediting forms of entertainment other then literature because of reasons the literature elitists give us is hardly fair, and doing so excludes thousands upon thousands of beautiful, brilliant, and admirable works of art. I think the fabled time where teens read books in their spare time will come as soon as English professors sit down for a game of Halo.


Todd said...

Everything Bad is Good for You
by steve johnson, his arguments are stronger.

Also, you don't need to knock literature to support the idea that video games are good for you.

Literature, like To Kill a Mockingbird, will do you well in the long run. Cogent thought and strong language skills will make you a better thinker and a clearer communicator.

Game designers would do well to have more lit majors amongst them... perhaps then every story wouldn't be overly derivative and hackneyed. And many an English prof plays games... you young whipper snapper.


Cody said...

My argument is necessarily that literature is a bad thing, but that it isn't necessarily more sophisticated or important then popular entertainment. And of course a famous author would state the point better then me. Video games were merely an example, along with TV, to show that the educational value of literature is mostly equal to that of other forms of entertainment, and many popular books are written more for entertainment then for education.

English 282 said...

Your thesis, as I have read it, is that literature should not be valued as a higher cultural or artistic product than television or video games. Further, you suggest that it is an "elitist" value system that raises literature above other forms of art and expression.

If this read is incorrect, then all that follows is void.

Though I could write for hours, it's late and I've got some more reading to do before bed.

First, I think "literature" is worth reading because it provides access to great minds. As with a painting, a photograph, or a song, literature, when done well, is the labored product of human genius.

Second, "literature" requires hard thinking; and hard thinking is something we should do. Literature stimulates the brain and the imagination in ways that television cannot.

Third, "literature" has no commercials.

Forth, "literature" teaches us. How else could we know the Napoleonic Wars in Russia if Tolstoy had not written "War and Peace"? Historians give us "facts," but literature gives us the pulse.

Fifth, language is as powerful as it can be beautiful, and we don't get a hold on it, it will take a hold of us.


Martin Walker 217594 said...

As much as I agree with you on this one I do think it's fair to mention what specifically those who bash television and video games are referring to. I would argue that many of them are not quite trying to invalidate TV, but simply notice that because of it, we are becoming a more visual culture in terms of information.

Take the instructions on the side of a package, for example. At one point in history they were filled with text explaining how to prepare the food in detail. That was back when more people read for pleasure. Nowadays, since we've become more visual, most of what you see on the sides of packages are little pictures explaining every step. Some people would interpret this as our culture becoming less intelligent, others disagree (as a visual storyteller myself, I can't help but disagree)

In any event, as more and more information is conveyed through pictures rather than text I would imagine that the literary world simply feels threatened. Most of their attacks on TV and such are just a mix of nostalgia and neophobia.

Of course, all of this is beside the point. The stereotypes will always be there, no matter how many examples you have against them.