Saturday, January 30, 2010

Media and Mealtime

I've been in the habit of referring to certain media (especially fictional films) as "candy." Upon further reflection (over-analysis), I realized that the term "candy film" is a misnomer. Given that I am normally not referring to mass media, of which I am constructively critical when I do, the use of a junk food analogy is incorrect. Therefore, what I used to call "candy films" will now more accurately be called "snack films."

To continue the mealtime metaphor, media can be constructed for the purpose of snacktime or dinnertime. It is not the volume or density of a given work that ultimately determines its literary significance, but its ability to fit the role for which it was intended. As with food for the body, media provides a full range of nutritional options for the mind. So it follows, in our contemporary fast-food age, that it is also more convenient and cheaper to feed the mind junk than health (same flaw, different industry).

"Dinner media" (or supper, if you prefer) would constitute the densest, most challenging content for regular consumption. It is the meat of a person's intellectual diet. Not only does it showcase images that are difficult to bear, but it offers strong advice for success in life. It deals with the network of twisted justification and manipulation that constitutes the struggles of the higher self. It is hard on both the mind and the spirit, with the aim of strengthening.

Dinner-media is necessary for growth, but I am finding that this seems to be the only form of media acceptable to those who profess the need for Liberal Arts. I agree that all people eventually need this meat in their diets. However, as with physical starvation, one whose mind is starving should be cautioned against launching headlong into regular dinner-media, which would actually have a negative effect despite its level of nutrition. This is a question of capacities, which can be expanded over time through the use of smaller meals. With time, any "savage" can be sophisticated to the high arts—with time.

"Lunch media" probably describes most of the media in circulation. It is not meant to be challenging, but sustaining. Its purpose is to remind people of things they already know and values they already possess. If it ever stirs anger, that anger is directed at the villain, who represents what the viewer hates. It relies on safe, agreeable ethics like not lying, not stealing, and not murdering—or a general sense of honor among criminals. It does not discuss dilemmas of when-and-if exceptions to these ethics might be made, nor does it delve into the spiritual questions of why a person would break these rules despite warning. It is for the mind, but not the spirit.

If I have a concern with media at this level, it would mostly revolve around the fact that it is too prevalent. If one is only presented what he already knows, then no growth is possible. That being said, if non-media factors (from a family tragedy to a great mentor) have the effect of stirring one's soul, then well-developed media which speaks to his purpose can be motivational—a launching pad for great things.

"Breakfast media" is simpler in nature still, mostly serving as children's media. The characters are not complex, but embody either hero or villain with minimal grey areas. While it might deal with political issues, its coverage of any subject is foundational (like breakfast), but not substantial (like lunch). As breakfast of the mind, this media is more about teaching the forms of media than it is about sharpening understanding or growing wisdom about life. Since many people are starved for variety in forms of media, it is important that such foundational media be available to everyone not just children.

Finally, this brings me back to "snack media," which can, in spirit, be like any of the above levels of media. The difference is in its scope and substance, which it is usually lacking. Snack-media can posit a deep question of the soul—but usually only one—and does not provide a path to the answer, merely the question. It can present a thought nugget that clarifies a personal philosophy, but it does not explore it, or provide a path to explore. It can cast light on forms many times revealing flaws, but it is not substantial enough to provide a solution.

Snack-media can be great when it is properly used, but by definition, it is devoid of much depth. It is media to get you through to the next meal, an appetizer before the main course. Without a certain measure of discussion, willingly pulled from other sources in response, snack-media can become junk media. It is very easy to cheat in your intellectual diet with a snack.

Dinner-Media: Schindler's List - Story of Holocaust profiteer, Oscar Schindler.
Lunch-Media: Pirates of the Caribbean - Action film about a pirate curse.
Breakfast-Media: Monster's, Inc. - Children's movie about bureaucracy.
Snack-Media: Sunshine - Sci-fi film about a mission to re-ignite the Sun.

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