Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Active vs. Passive Entertainment

Most people really don't understand what's entertaining about challenging work. It doesn't matter if it's a book, a film, or a complex piece of music; they just don't get it. I'm here to tell you that you've been conditioned, mostly by TV, film, and video game studios, into thinking effortless, instant gratification is the best type of experience you can have. But in reality, these things are vapid, fleeting and leave you the exact same person you were before, after.

I'm not saying mindless fun is bad. But we, society, have absolutely no balance. Wouldn't you like to be entertained in a way that betters you as a human being in the process? Wouldn't you like to broaden your horizons and open up an entirely new world of possibilities? And do you really want to through your entire life without ever attempting to create something above yourself?

I honestly don't know what the answer is here. To me this looks rhetorical, but I wouldn't be surprised if the answer was a resounding NO! So, I'll assume the worst and work to convince you to give a shit.

Film:

This is the difference between Transformers and Adaption. Here you have something that's completely passive vs. something that is mostly active. We all know that one of these movies holds box office records, and the other you probably didn't see. And if you did, chances are you hated it or thought the ending was stupid. I don't want to ruin it for anyone, but the real plot and ending can only be viewed by understanding the allegory involved. It's the same thing with 8 1/2 and other postmodernist works. If you shut off your brain, you'll get a completely different movie. But I wouldn't be surprised if the film had more self awareness than the typical viewer — which sort of scares me.

Music:

It's one of my favorite things in the world. I'm a jazz musician, but I grew up playing mostly classical, rock, and metal ... poorly, I may add. I wasn't naturally gifted, at all. I had to really work hard, study, and practice to become competent. And my goal wasn't to learn to appreciate more complex styles of music; it just happened.

There is a lot of music you can't enjoy passively. And upon hearing such sounds, your knee jerk reaction is to say it sucks. I hear it all the time about my favorite bands, musicians, and composers. You can tell me you like Bieber or Burzum over Bartok. But at the end of the day, the little substance you're actually getting is short-lived. And because it's passive, you can be sold clones of the same song over and over without ever figuring it out. Why? Because you aren't really listening and engaging with it like you think you are. Active entertainment involves using both creative and logical sides of your brain.

And this is why you should care. Not because you're not having a good time with what you're listening to. Because you're missing out on one of the greatest experiences the human mind can have. I'm not exaggerating this either. The full emotional and cerebral experience that music has to offer is multitudes more powerful than what you've experienced. So, learn to play an instrument: Any instrument. You don't have to be a virtuoso to get it. Just go at your own pace and unlock a part of your mind. P.S. Doing so will also make you a more intelligent person.

Paintings:

Out of all art forms, these are the ones appreciated the least, in today's culture. Most people's only brush with them come from changing their desktop wallpapers, video game cover art, or a forced field trip to a museum. But there is an untapped well of emotional stimuli here. And while a painter can create a sense of motion to manipulate one's eyes to focus on a certain point, the viewer still has complete control where they want to go. And paintings can take advantage of human instinct to uncover symbolism in the chaos.

There is also complete freedom that you can't get in any other medium as you don't have to tell a complete story. Hell, you don't have to tell anything more than your frozen moment of time. And you can't do this with film or literature because it doesn't work well in the writing. I know people will quote Joyce, but there is method in the madness. And it's not like I haven't read Gertrude Stein: IMO, even if you like the effect, it's not anywhere near the same as a painting.

Unlike music, you don't need to even understand the involved technique to appreciate a painting. You just need to look into it and find out what the artist is trying to say or accomplish. My favorite is the cliche Starry Night by Van Gogh. And I'll reiterate this again: Only amateurs worship technique. And there is no better painter than a camera, but even it still needs a good photographer to capture something interesting.

Literature:

I really blame public education on the decline of good literature. Forcing children and teenagers to read complex works is like forcing a cat to take a bath. We do it because we think they need it, but they really don't. I'll be very honest here. I was in advanced courses throughout my life in the public educational system. And I simply skimmed and memorized key points, on the day of the quiz. I had no interest in these books. And some of them, when I was ready, are some of my favorite works of all time.

And why modernized Shakespeare? When you take away his poetic prose and wordplay, you get some really bland, boring story telling. I have a crazy idea: let's just stick with young adult for young adults. And then we can let people go wherever they need to go, later on.

But why should you push yourself and read more challenging material? I'll let you in on a secret: The more work you need to put into a book, the bigger the payoff is for reading it. Active literature just doesn't entertain you, it makes you a better person afterwards. You also can learn a lot about yourself from them. Just don't jump into the big guys like Pynchon, Joyce, Wallace, right away. Try more manageable works like  anything by Kurt Vonnegut.

Conclusion:

I don't know if I succeeded in convincing you that you're missing out on something huge. And I know there are some people who think they are actually above all of this. I see it with critiques of intelligent works, all the time. It's half the reason I can't read comments sections much. It's the people trying to be smart that offend me more than the guy who was out of his depth. But I'll tell you this right now: If you never think you're an idiot, you're probably a huge one.


5 comments:

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  2. Your entire blog is one giant ego ridden hypocritical mess.

    Well, at least for the most part.

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    1. That pretty much describes all blogs by everyone.

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  3. "And I know there are some people who think they are actually above all of this. I see it with critiques of intelligent works, all the time. It's half the reason I can't read comments sections much. It's the people trying to be smart that offend me more than the guy who was out of his depth. But I'll tell you this right now: If you never think you're an idiot, you're probably a huge one."

    Thank you. I totally agree with you on the point about the comments sections. Being on the internet and reading the arrogant, quasi-intellectual, cynicala opinions of some folk can be an soul draining experience. Somebody once said to me "As soon as you think you know everything, you become like a piece of fruit that is past it's ripeness"...that is, you start to rot spiritually, morally and intellectually. Hiroshi Aramata, a polymath/bibliophile celebrity in Japan, said something to the effect of "Though my brain may be worn down by old books and cigarettes, my heart will always be that of a child." Learning is a lifelong process and the innocent joy associated with learning and discovering/exploring new things is a lifelong experience. Just because you become an adult doesn't mean you are incapable of going any farther with your education, despite what some cultural attitudes may tell us.

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    1. In the end you also realize there is no need to call yourself or another person a negative term like "idiot". If you want to play that game, then we are ALL idiots in one area of life or another. But on the flip side, we are ALL capable of growth and learning as well. Where we choose to focus that growth is tantamount to determining what kind of life we want to live or what kind of person we want to be.

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