Out of Sight…

I was listening to a podcast today. Nothing really enormously newsworthy in that, I guess, but I want to make the point that was listening to the podcast. I listen to a lot of podcasts during the week. I used to watch several podcasts, as well, but I really don’t do anything with video podcasts lately. I think the main issue is time. Audio podcasts, or audiobooks, afford me some level of multi-tasking, even if it’s only listening while I’m driving. It’s like free new stories every week. I have certain days “assigned” to certain podcasts. I really like podcasts. But I don’t like making time to watch them.

During the podcast to which I was listening today, the interviewers used a video clip of some breaking news coverage. Now, there are two versions of this particular podcast, and, of course, I could have watched the video had I chosen the video version. In this case, I only had the audio of the interview. My brain filled in the blanks, however. I could imagine the scene very well, see the interview taking place in my head. It happened automatically, really, in a similar way to which my imagination fills in the blanks when I’m reading. I can see the version of what I think it looks like as clearly as if I were watching the actual video.

Sometimes, after listening to a certain correspondent for some time, I’ll have an image in my head of what they look like, and I’m surprised when I actually see a picture, because they look nothing like what I imagined.

I like imaging these sorts of things, because I think it’s sort of like a muscle that needs to receive periodic exercise. I’m listening to an audiobook this week, in which, at the end of Part I, a homicide is committed (it’s a mystery novel). The author wrote just enough detail that I imagined the scene perfectly. I’m sort of scared to see the movie, because I think they’ll mess that up.

Something I’ve always admired about British television and film is that they tend to be much closer to stage productions. In theatre, we design sets and stage action so that there’s just enough seen on the stage to permit the audience to fill in what’s missing with their imaginations. If the scene I had just finished in the audiobook were staged in a play, for example, the gunshots might happen offstage. The actor might rush to a door, the other side of which is invisible to the audience, gasp, and stumble backward. The point is, the audience didn’t need to see the violence, and they don’t need to see the bloody scene that follows (which the author of the novel describes in great detail). They can imagine what it looks like, and staging the action that way encourages them to do so.

In British television and films, there is frequently a similar staging with violence and sexual activity, for example. We see enough to know what’s happening, without being explicitly shown every detail.  American film and television bothers me because it wants to show, in as graphic a detail as possible, everything, from the facial expressions of the actors (a good thing) to all of the violent and sexual details of the story (not a good thing). More than gratuitous shock value, I think what bothers me the most is that it leaves nothing to the imagination.

I wonder if this contributes to the horribly unimaginative state of our society. It’s as though we must have everything shown to us. We can’t imagine anything for ourselves. Certainly, this must be a contributing factor to the illiterate nature of our culture. Many people, youth and adults alike, have lost the mental energy to read a story and imagine it visually in their heads, choosing instead to see it the way a different person envisioned the scene. Why choose to imagine events in war-torn nations when news media will show us all of the bloody details we can handle? Why imgaine sex when anyone can see other people engaging in the activity with a few mouse clicks to the “red light” district of the Internet?

We’re overloaded with images. Even setting the extreme examples I’ve just mentioned aside, we’re so addicted to seeing things through the eyes of others, that we forget that we have the ability to see those things on our own volition, as well. I’m not arguing that film-making is somehow less valid as a form of artistic expression, not at all. I just wonder what the effect would be if all visual media found creative ways to do what a stage production does: show us just enough that we can imagine the rest for ourselves?

I think we would find the muscles of our imaginations receiving a great workout. And I think that would be a good thing.

Photo Attribution: wmbreedveld 

Out With The Old…Sometimes…

I like toys.

I know, I know, that’s not really a huge surprise. I’m an early adopter of new technologies (sometimes to my chagrin), and I am in a perpetual difference of opinion with my wife over the most effective tools with which to make life more productive and fun. These differences of opinion happen when I recommend the latest app or device that I’ve found, or occasionally set her up with a free account for a great new service, only to discover that she still uses a paper-and-pen planner to schedule her week and to make her to-do lists. She integrates them into iCal as an afterthought, and essentially only so that I will have a copy of her schedule in electronic form.

Both she and my friend and fellow-blogger, Katherine, scoffed and shook their heads disdainfully at me over dinner one night when discussing my preference for ebooks to paperbacks. Yet, my wife still bought an e-reader for me for last year’s birthday.

As high-tech as I am, however, I discover myself preferring amazingly low-tech methods in certain aspects of life. Years ago, I eschewed electric razors in favor of a Gillette Mach 3 that I received as a Christmas gift. The reason for the choice was simple: I get a better shave with the latter. I still use the same razor that I received years ago, in fact. It’s become sort of sentimental.

More recently, I let go of the programmable coffee pot that had coffee hot and waiting for me each morning in favor of a French press. The reason was because I’m a complete snob about having perfect coffee, and this is the best taste I’ve been able to achieve. The choice required an alteration to my lifestyle: I have less time in the morning because I boil the water and grind the coffee fresh as soon as I wake up. It’s a low-tech sacrifice with great results.

Of course, the waking up occurs after the alert from an alarm clock that sets itself and remembers that the times I wake on weekends are different than weekdays, as well as understanding Daylight Savings Time changes. High-tech to low-tech.

Some family members prefer tea to coffee when they wake up. They have a nifty little device that boils the water for them in the mornings. I boil mine in a tea pot. I’m not sure why. Something about it just feels right. Yet, as right as it feels to work on something around the house with a traditional screwdriver, I’ll break out the battery-powered screw gun to sink a screw whenever and wherever I have the option. Working smarter, not harder, and all that. My wrist thanks me.

We have various high-tech appliances in the kitchen to assist in Karen’s creations of culinary masterpieces, as well as my fumbling through basic assemblies of meals when it’s my turn to cook. Yet we favor the low-tech in surprising ways (cast iron skillets flavor your breakfast sausage so much better that something with a non-stick coating!).

I even lament the decline of physical books on my shelves occasionally.

As much as I like my toys, there are times when the latest advancements in technology, while making life easier and more convenient for scheduling purposes, simply do not achieve the same level of quality as the low-tech, dare I say traditional, tools. I think that the thing to look for is functionality, not trends.  And, I think, the thresh-hold of what we’re willing to experiment with is different for each of us in different circumstances. Even beyond that, sometimes the low-tech options have more character.  Having choices is great…except when it’s not.

But I’ll take the battery-powered screw gun to a traditional screwdriver any day. Insert Tim Allen noise here.

Photo Attribution: Living in Monrovia

Shades of Red and Blue

Virginia is equipped state-wide with a warning light system at most major intersections. Essentially, when a fire or EMS vehicle is nearing the intersection, a flood light begins pulsing to warn traffic that the emergency vehicle is approaching, and the light turns red in the direction opposite of that of the approaching first responder. Karen and I were driving somewhere a few days ago…I can’t remember where…and I saw the pulsing floodlight. Quite handy, because it causes you to begin scanning forward and backward to see whether or not you need to move to the right and stop to permit the passage of the lights and sirens.

Over the weekend, it happened again…Karen didn’t hear the siren, and asked why I was stopping and moving to the side of the street. During a recent road trip, we had just pulled back onto the highway from getting a snack, and I had to move over and stop to permit a police cruiser to shoot past me. In fact, the afternoon that I write this, I was cut off in traffic by a suddenly illuminating police cruiser executing a traffic stop on an SUV.

It seems that, wherever Karen and I have lived since we’ve been married, it’s always close to a major source of lights and sirens. Major fire precincts have been within earshot of both of the apartments in which we’ve lived together, and most recently we’re just off of a major artery of traffic, as well. Thus, emergency vehicles of all sorts go blowing by on a regular basis, their lights briefly visible from our sun room window.

I’m not sure if I should read something into this fact, or not. It seems to me I would be over-spiritualizing to do so. A little over a year ago, the building across the street in our apartment complex was evacuated due to a kitchen fire. The parking lots were instantly filled with ladder trucks, rescue trucks, fire engines, ambulances, and a battalion chief. They descended in a matter of minutes. I was comforted by this, that they could respond that quickly should the need arise. It’s certainly not the only time I’ve seen fire vehicles in our parking lot; apparently the building next door has a tenant that experiences frequent medical crises, because an ambulance frequently arrives late at night, red and white strobes piercing through our bedroom window.

It causes me to wonder at times. Have Karen and I just coincidentally lived in apartments nearby emergency responders? Does this sort of stuff gravitate toward me? Does my guilty fascination with police reality television make me hyper-aware of a normal amount of activity? Or is there really that much trouble occurring around us, that many lives in trouble, that many conflicts? Do that many people have to cry for help so frequently?

The tiny apartment that I lived in during grad school…what would be my last “bachelor pad”…was situated in a quiet neighborhood which saw almost no trouble. One night, though, soon after I moved in, about five police cruisers sailed by at blinding speed, lights flaring and sirens wailing. A few months later, a police cruiser was quietly parked on the corner as I filled out a complaint because someone had vandalized my car. I’ve had to stop and call for help after witnessing numerous accidents while driving here or there in my life. Perhaps it really does follow me. Or perhaps I just notice it a great deal.

We all really cry out for help that much, don’t we? And we all feel more comfortable with the thought that there are those who are willing to come to our aid when we do. The allure of super-hero mythologies is that we all want a hero, and we all desire to be one at some point.

All of us. Every one.

Second Photo Attribution: khawkins04 

In Absentia

As a writer, I understand the need for a good cliffhanger ending as much as the next guy…especially when writing a serial that requires an ongoing story arc. The beauty of these ongoing story arcs is the room that they give to develop characters, and myriads of plots and subplots that can run their course and segue easily into new twists and turns. This is an advantage inherent to all serial story lines, television programming and comic books alike. With television programming, the cliffhanger ending becomes a bit more important at the end of the season. The viewer has to be on the edge of their seat, crying out with the cruelty of being left without resolution to what they have just seen, and knowing that they will be thinking about the potential outcomes of the situation constantly over the next few months until they finally discover what happens next.

The writers for Bones attempted this at the end of last season, and failed miserably. The writers of Haven have very recently succeeded for me (in moments of quiet, my thoughts frequently drift back to the two main characters, weapons drawn, staring down Audrey’s doppelganger, and I wonder, “now what?”).

In the last week, I was left hanging by the ending of Stargate: SGU. This is the only installment of the Stargate series that’s ever been worth a consideration as serious television, in my humble opinion. While I understand that fans of the other Stargate series have been mostly disappointed with SGU, I’ve been riveted by its dark explorations of interpersonal dynamics, ethics, and social governance. I’m aching to find out what will happen to Chloe, and I’m simultaneously disturbed and fascinated by Rush. And, I’ve been left hanging at a critical plot juncture for (wait for it) four months!

That’s right, four months. Much longer than the average break between seasons, and this wasn’t even the season finale. This is a mid-season break that occurs with programming on the SyFy network. This is because a shift from it’s regular programming occurred when, for some reason I can’t explain, SyFy apparently acquired WWE Smackdown. Apparently this occurred after a channel with programming known for great writing that inspired thinking stopped thinking itself about the English language, and began pandering for how much money it could shamelessly make.

And, of course, that same pandering for money has led to the cancellation of SGU, because Nielson ratings aren’t yet intelligent enough to track anything other than the dinosaur that is cable television.

Really? WWE Smackdown???

I’m just disturbed, because there’s precious little intelligent programming left on American screens to begin with. So, when a well-written and thought-provoking program (read: unpopular, because the average viewer has no desire to actually think) is put up against a wrestling program that requires nothing more of the viewer than drooling and shoving corn ships into his mouth, then well-written and thought-provoking loses.

And, we’re one step closer to the world envisioned in Idiocracy. Because that’s what happens when quality art is subjected to the whim of corporations interested only in their profits: Another amazing  story dies an ignoble death.

Ironically, that’s exactly what we couldn’t afford to have happen.