24 Makes You Smarter

Not what you'd expect from the New York Times:

For decades, we've worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a path declining steadily toward lowest-common-denominator standards, presumably because the ''masses'' want dumb, simple pleasures and big media companies try to give the masses what they want. But as that ''24'' episode suggests, the exact opposite is happening: the culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less. To make sense of an episode of ''24,'' you have to integrate far more information than you would have a few decades ago watching a comparable show. Beneath the violence and the ethnic stereotypes, another trend appears: to keep up with entertainment like ''24,'' you have to pay attention, make inferences, track shifting social relationships. This is what I call the Sleeper Curve: the most debased forms of mass diversion -- video games and violent television dramas and juvenile sitcoms -- turn out to be nutritional after all.

24 just keeps getting better and better. Now in its fourth season, at a point when shows like it have already lost their edge (see: Alias), 24 is ambitious enough to to target the President of The United States - while he is inflight on Air Force One. And though the subsequent plot involving a stolen nuclear "football" taken from the plane's wreckage strains credulity -- how could the terrorists possibly plan for this to happen? -- this season's emphasis on torture and the myriad of ethical dilemmas which follow make for some enjoyable noodling.

The most recent episode I have seen involves a terrorist mastermind calling Amnesty International in order to stall CTU's interrogation efforts. Do you side with human rights, the rule of law, and constitutional principles? Then you side with the terrorists. The President, freshly sworn in from Vice President after the real President was injured in a terrorist attack, is more concerned with his public image than with what is best for the country, and does not grant an exception to CTU to allow them to torture the suspect. So Jack Bauer must resign his government position (which he seems to do multiple times each season) to take on the suspect mano a mano.

All of this is to say, despite its far-fetched scenarios, its somewhat repetitive plot elements, and its decidedly pro-torture stance, it's still one of the best shows on television, at a time when television is the best it's ever been. Hurray for the culture of capitalism!

Update: I can't believe I missed the last few paragraphs of the Times article. The rest of it is well worth reading too, but this part is especially quotable:

Of course, the entertainment industry isn't increasing the cognitive complexity of its products for charitable reasons. The Sleeper Curve exists because there's money to be made by making culture smarter. The economics of television syndication and DVD sales mean that there's a tremendous financial pressure to make programs that can be watched multiple times, revealing new nuances and shadings on the third viewing. Meanwhile, the Web has created a forum for annotation and commentary that allows more complicated shows to prosper, thanks to the fan sites where each episode of shows like ''Lost'' or ''Alias'' is dissected with an intensity usually reserved for Talmud scholars. Finally, interactive games have trained a new generation of media consumers to probe complex environments and to think on their feet, and that gamer audience has now come to expect the same challenges from their television shows. In the end, the Sleeper Curve tells us something about the human mind. It may be drawn toward the sensational where content is concerned -- sex does sell, after all. But the mind also likes to be challenged; there's real pleasure to be found in solving puzzles, detecting patterns or unpacking a complex narrative system.

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I find 24 to be rather

I find 24 to be rather boring. :razz:

24 is a fantastic serial.

24 is a fantastic serial. I’ve seen all of the episodes of the previous seasons and I‘m of the opinion that it’s getting better. The funny thing is that, on the whole, it's more plausible than the so called “reality shows”. After seeing the one from a few hours (weeks) ago, I tackled this issue.

I stopped watching this

I stopped watching this season of 24 after the major storyline seemed to conclude itself fairly early in the season. It was the same huge flaw season 2 suffered from -- 18 hours into the 24 hour season, they had reached the climax of the primary storyline, and filled the rest of the season up with an arbitrary and meaningless deadline that made no sense whatsoever ("Mr. President, you must retaliate by 8am!" "Why?" "Because that is the end of the season!"). I put up with that once, I wasn't willing to devote the time to watch the same thing happen again.

Writing of entertainment,

Writing of entertainment, did anyone else notice the DVD ruling out of France?

Very Smart Micha

Very Smart
Micha Ghertner:... stolen nuclear “football” ... terrorists ... myriad of ethical dilemmas ... side with the terrorists ... pro-torture ...