Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Television and Imagination

A student wrote an essay about the effects of television on children. At one point, she argued that, because every story on television is presented with already determined images, television "leaves no room for one's imagination."

This is a point I have heard before (mostly with respect to differences between books and movies), but I have never quite believed it. The idea seems to be that when you read, you spontaneously generate images in your head, and that such spontaneous image generation is what imagination is. But surely imagination is much more than just image generation!

Miles and Luisa (and I) have been getting into "Shaun the Sheep." They often start acting out scenes from their favorite episodes. Isn't that imagination, too? (For clips of Shaun, go here.)


Unknown said...

This topic is so interesting to me. The whole argument that television or film doesn't engage the imagination as much as reading because it doesn't allow the viewer to form their own images seems pretty, well, unimaginative to me at this point. It's a totally different medium, and it's capable of engaging the imagination differently. There's plenty of bad TV, but there are also plenty of bad, unimaginative, and formulaic books being published. Then too, not everyone who reads reads with their imagination, and not everyone who watches TV just zones out and vegetates. Different people engage in different ways with what they're reading or seeing. So, yeah--I think it's a very nuanced question!

Andrew Shields said...

Karin, thanks for your note. I especially like your point about how reading can also be a matter of zoning out and vegetating, as much as TV ever is.

Frances said...

I disagree that not everyone reads with their imagination. What other way is there?
Also, the worst, most formulaic book still demands some interpretation from the reader. At the very least reading books - assuming that they have been edited correctly for grammar, punctuation, etc help to fix in the reader's mind the way words ought to be strung together, and particularly spelt. Television adds no value at all in this respect.
I absolve film as many films do make demands on the viewer. But I shall never be able to read LOTR again without seeing Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn!

Andrew Shields said...

Thanks for your comment, Frances. I have a question about this:

"the worst, most formulaic book still demands some interpretation from the reader."

Surely the same can be said for the "worst, most formulaic" TV show.

The wannabe neuroscientist in me says that these questions can be addressed by doing MRIs of people while they read and while they watch TV, to check if there are any differences in how the brain is processing the material, and if so, where the differences are.

Perhaps it could thus be shown that more "imagination activity" is going on while reading than while watching TV or a movie!