Johnson - David Lavery

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Johnson - David Lavery Powered By Docstoc
					ENGL 6310/7310
Popular Culture
     Fall 2011
      PH 300
    M 240-540
 Dr. David Lavery
George Will
The Sleeper Curve
1. System Thinking
2. Telescoping
3. Mapping Social Networks
Dallas   xxxxxx
24   xxxxxx
4. Distributive Collaboration
Lost Mysteries & Enigmas: Ben’s Secret Door
Lost Mysteries & Enigmas:
   The Blast Door Map
Lost Mysteries & Enigmas:
     The Hatch Mural
”To follow the narrative” of a contemporary television series, Johnson argues,
“you aren't just asked to remember. You're asked to analyze. This is the
difference between intelligent shows, and shows that force you to be
With many television classics that we associate with "quality"
entertainment—Mary Tyler Moore, Murphy Brown, Frasier—the intelligence
arrives fully formed in the words and actions of the characters onscreen. They
say witty things to each other, and avoid lapsing into tired sitcom clichés, and
we smile along in our living room, enjoying the company of these smart
people. But assuming we're bright enough to understand the sentences
they're saying—few of which are rocket science, mind you, or any kind of
science, for that matter—there's no intellectual labor involved in enjoying the
show as a viewer. There's no filling in, because the intellectual achievement
exists entirely on the other side of the screen. You no more challenge your
mind by watching these intelligent shows than you challenge your body
watching Monday Night Football. The intellectual work is happening
onscreen, not off. (64)
Now “another kind of televised intelligence is on the rise, demanding the
same kind of “mental faculties normally associated with reading: “attention,
patience, retention, the parsing of narrative threads.” (64)
Flashing Arrows
The clarity of Hill Street comes from the show's subtle integration of flashing
arrows, while West Wing's murkiness comes from Sorkin's cunning refusal to
supply them. The roll call sequence that began every Hill Street episode is
most famous for the catchphrase "Hey, let's be careful out there." But that
opening address from Sergeant Esterhaus (and in later seasons, Sergeant
Jablonski) performed a crucial function, introducing some of the primary
threads and providing helpful contextual explanations for them. Critics at the
time remarked on the disorienting, documentary-style handheld camerawork
used in the opening sequence, but the roll call was ultimately a comforting
device for the show, training wheels for the new complexity of
multithreading. (77)
Viewers of The West Wing or Lost or The Sopranos no longer require those
training wheels, because twenty-five years of increasingly complex television
has honed their analytic skills. Like those video games that force you to learn
the rules while playing, part of the pleasure in these modern television
narratives comes from the cognitive labor you're forced to do filling in the
details. If the writers suddenly dropped a hoard of flashing arrows onto the
set, the show would seem plodding and simplistic. The extra information
would take the fun out of watching (Johnson 77).
“But film has historically confronted a ceiling that has reined in its complexity,
because its narratives are limited to two to three hours. The television dramas
we examined tell stories that unfold over multiple seasons, each with more
than a dozen episodes. The temporal scale for a successful television drama
can be more than a hundred hours, which gives the storylines time to
complexify, and gives the audience time to become familiar with the many
characters and their multiple interactions. Similarly, the average video game
takes about forty hours to play, the complexity of the puzzles and objectives
growing steadily over time as the game progresses. By this standard, "our
average two-hour Hollywood film is the equivalent of a television pilot or the
opening training sequence of a video game: there are only so many threads
and subtleties you can introduce in that time frame. It's no accident that the
most complex blockbuster of our era--the Lord of the Rings trilogy-lasts more
than ten hours in its uncut DVD yersion. In the recipe for the Sleeper Curve,
the most crucial ingredient is also the simplest one: time” (Johnson 131)
                           “U. S. television has
                           devoted increased
                           attention in the past two
                           decades to crafting and
                           maintaining ever more
“Paradoxically, the very   complex narratives, a
serial elements that       form of „world building‟
have been so long          that has allowed for
reviled in soaps, pulps,   wholly new modes of
and other „low‟ genres     narration and that
are now used to            suggests new forms of
increase connotations of   audience engagement.”
„quality‟ . . . In
television drama.”
  From Jeff Sconce,
   “What If? Charting
Television‟s New Textual
Jason Mittell detects evidence in the sort of
narrative moves Lost makes—he speaks of
“narrative pyrotechnics” and “the narrative
special effect”—of a growing tendency to “push
the operational aesthetic to the foreground,
calling attention to the constructed nature of
the narration and asking us to marvel at how
the writers pulled it off; often these instances
forgo realism in exchange for a formally aware
baroque quality in which we watch the process
of narration as a machine rather than engaging
in its diegesis” (Mittell 35).
Certainly, chief among Lost‟s pleasures is the
show‟s ability to create sincere emotional
connections to characters who are immersed in
an outlandish situation that, as of this writing, is
unclassifiable as science fiction, paranormal
mystery, or religious allegory, all constructed by
an elaborate narrational structure far more
complex than anything seen before in American
      Jason Mittell, “Narrative Complexity”