I really enjoy a lot of television programs.
Every time I say this, there is something in me that feels like it is a confession. Perhaps the true confession is that when I didn't watch a lot of television in college somehow thought I was better? Gotta love the pride of thinking you know everything at age 20. Granted, living vicariously though television shows is probably not smart either: there are real people out there to talk to, though I do have introverted tendencies. (The same argument could be made about incessant reading-but somehow that makes me smarter? academic looking? Ha.) And I don't schedule my life around television shows...that's what hulu.com and netflix are for. But. I've realized that I watch most television the way I read books. There are different categories:
1. I read for plot. These are the books that are mostly entertainment, pure enjoyment and often suspenseful (Anne of Green Gables, Harry Potter--whose literary value is enormous to me, the Twilight series, whose doesn't). Television shows in this category include: Bones (seasons 1-3 only, people), Law and Order, The Closer
2. I read for brilliant portrayal of or commentary on a time or place. These are enjoyable, yet artistic and thought provoking (Pride and Prejudice, The Book Thief, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Invisible Man). Television shows that fall into this category include: Mad Men, My So Called Life
3. I read to better understand people. Human complexity, heart, struggle and change captivate me (A House of Mango Street, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Anna Karenina). Television shows that fall into this category, among others already mentioned: The OC (don't even get me started, I swear I will write you a treatise on why I love this show), Friday Night Lights, Damages
Now that that's all out of the way. I just finished watching season one of Lie to Me on hulu.com. Today it's description in my mind changed from pretty interesting and entertaining to brilliant. The premise is that Dr. Lightman, the main character, is an expert in reading human emotion through micro-expressions and leads a team of experts who work on various cases involving lie detection. What I realized while watching the season finale today is that one of the reasons I like this show so much is that it is courageous and timely in its subject matter. Lightman and his colleagues face ethical dilemmas concerning the nature of lies and truth, whether withholding information is playing God and the personal repercussions for working toward the greater good. The final episode of the season brilliantly (and without subtlety) challenged methods of FBI interrogation of terrorists, which I thought was incredibly interesting (and correct).
And though I'm not scientifically minded myself (as with music and art, I have to partake in the skills of others), I really walk away from shows like this one, the forensic anthropology in Bones and even the investigations in CSI wishing I knew more about science--and I think that kids who watch these shows might be more inclined to pursue degrees in science...and I also believe that every town needs detective workers with incredibly precise and sophisticated skill sets: a Dr. Temperance Brennan (Bones) and Dr. Cal Lightman, for example. (Aw, and what the heck, everyone needs a David Caruso, er Horatio Caine). The most interesting layer is that both of those characters are based on real life scientists who also write regularly.
Because I am a dork and was so fascinated by the end of Lie to Me tonight, I did some research. Lightman's character is based on Paul Ekman, who i quite prolific and someone I'd love to read more about. He also writes a blog to comment on each episode of Lie to Me.
My point is. [Some] television can make you smarter.
Of course, I can't end it just like that. I taught my students (wait...retaught for the hundredth time) today that at the end of an essay it's a good idea to revisit their thesis statements. I believe that some television shows explore story just as well as books or good films. Story is story is human experience and imagination. And I love that.