Monday, October 4, 2010

Understanding, Tragedy

Richard Morgan (author of the excellent The Steel Remains, and many other titles)  does some thoughtful musing over here on the tragic arc, and the lack of its complexity:
What’s of most interest to me, though, re-reading this section of Steiner’s book, is the close parallel in didactics between the Romantics as he describes them and what seems to have happened to Hollywood movie making in the period since the rise of Reagan and, even more intensely, in the last ten years.
I can see what he's getting at and have been thinking it has to do with a movement toward simplification: some of the people who make stories happen want to reach the widest possible audience (or, less kindly, think the audience is dumb) and so, like a sauce on the boil, they reduce the constituent parts until only the most obvious and binary relationships remain.  (I see it in my own work with the notes I get back from network executives: it appears most of them want to craft their shows for the lowest point on the bell curve.  "Make it so a potted plant could understand it", they seem to be saying.  There's rarely any room for the viewer to get involved in the story because it plays out so simplistically.  We never get ahead of the viewer, or more importantly let them get ahead of us, which is the most effective way to get them hooked into the narrative.)

I think it's a complex issue, and has roots in the anti-liberal arts education sentiment that is so prevalent nowadays (Maths!  Science!  Study something that will be useful! - as if learning how to communicate effectively were not a useful skill ), and the need some people have to draw clear lines between an US and a THEM.   But the less critical thinking is encouraged, the more people will stop thinking altogether.

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