April 29, 2005

Blogging, not slogging.

"Movies encourage passive titillation; videogames encourage active involvement, and often present consequences as well."


Now, substitute "journalism" for "movies" and "blogging" for "videogames." That seems true to me. I mean, other than that "titilliation" makes reading the newspaper sound like more fun than it is.

Personally, I've nearly entirely stopped watching movies, though a few years ago, I went out to the movies three times a week, and I watched many movies at home. My old weekly total is more like my annual total, and my avoidance is almost entirely a result of enhanced awareness and consequent dislike of the passivity of sitting, trapped in the theater for two hours. I don't play videogames, but for a viewing experience, I'd rather watch something on TV that I can blog. In that sense, for me, "American Idol" or a political debate is like a videogame. I have an active role, through writing. As for the newspaper, I can hardly imagine just sitting and reading it through. It's so much more entrancing to read to write.

Blogging has transformed the way I read. Before blogging, I was slogging -- reading, frustrated by the slowness of my own reading. Now, my old vice is a virtue. That draggy slogging from sentence to sentence was the pull of my own thoughts, which are liberated by blogging. In blogging, you focus on the little phrases that hang you up. What used to slow me down is now a portal into my own writing -- the active, not the passive engagement with words.


Mark Daniels said...

I understand your point, I think. I find it increasingly difficult to set aside the time to watch a movie, especially when I could be more productive. And that only refers to watching one at home because I haven't been to a theater since the Christmas day a few years back when my family and I went to see the forgettable 'Cold Mountain.'

Years ago in 'Rolling Stone,' Hunter Thompson did a column on Bob Dylan. He focused on Dylan's lyrics, rich enough to evoke ideas, feelings, and memories in his hearers and vague enough to invite such responses from us. Thompson concluded that Dylan was the practitioner of a "democratic art," allowing the listener to move beyond passive consumption to a kind of dialog with the artist.

That's high-fallutin' stuff, but it rings true to me and I think that blogging, with its immediacy and lack of middle people, allows for that as well.

Blogging is, or can be, dialogical. In that sense, it isn't passive, as most other forms of art or communication are.

On the other hand, ultimately, all media are passive. After all, reading a blog isn't like a brisk walk or time spent on the elliptical trainer. We can rifle through the millions of "channels" on the web--or, more likely, revisit the same blog haunts day after day--with the same disengagement that we bring to our TV remotes. (I heard the other day that the average person will change channels on their remote 350,000 times in an average lifetime. I don't know who studies these things, but there you go.)

If we define a lack of passivity as having and exercising options, doing so in the more rapid style that the internet makes possible, you're probably right.

But in a way, and this will seem like cyber-heresy, I think that we lost something when cable, satellite, DVDs and VCRs, iPods, the Internet, and all the rest came down the techno-pike. In the old days when there were three major TV networks and the fledgling PBS, if your set was equipped for it, there were more shared experiences. Revolted or not, Mom and Dad sat semi-patiently through the scream-punctured performances of the Beatles on 'The Ed Sullivan Show,' knowing full well that Topo Giggio, Victor Borge, Russian circus bears, or the guy who spun the plates on sticks would be on next. Broad-casting was more than a technical term, it meant presenting omnibus and block programming to a broad audience. If we were to watch TV, we generally were exposed to lots of different things and who knows, might actually have our horizons expanded.

Blogging, at least in the sense of reading blogs, is not usually like that. Unless a blog-reader is an extraordinarily voracious net-cruiser like Glenn Reynolds, my guess is that most of us settle in to reading just the sites that please us or worse, the ones with which we usually agree. Under those conditions, blog consumption becomes a bit like listening to the narrowcasting offered by local and satellite radio these days. You don't have to suffer through anything new or different. And that, it seems to me, is the worst kind of passivity.

Mark Daniels said...

By the way, I linked to your interesting post and of course, couldn't resist duplicating the pearls of wisdom I left here in your comments section.

Simon Kenton said...

"InWhat used to slow me down is now a portal into my own writing -- the active, not the passive engagement with words."

I think, your best sentence so far.

Ron said...

Even though I own hundreds of board games, and have designed a few games, I'm no longer interested in the gaming experience, as I find it far, far more constrictive than movies. I have to play the way the designer intended me to play; I don't that experience "active." It seems more a habitrail for us techno-gerbils. Movies engage me in far more complex ways than any game ever has.

Ann Althouse said...

Ron: I agree about video games. Also I have too much trouble getting characters to move properly, so I can't play anything where you have to fight something. I do enjoy the art sometimes. I tried playing some game -- I forget what it was called -- where I was wandering around in some creepy abandoned mall. It looked great, but I was so bad at fighting anything that it really didn't work for me. I've played Sims. With Sims, I want it to be more like a movie, with an engaging story, so I start trying to pick fights and get them in trouble. Which seems so wrong.

Movies are best when you have interesting people to talk with them about afterwards. Some people just say, "That was great" or "Eh" and there's not much more to say. And it can be the movie's fault too. What is there to talk about? Often very little.

Ron said...


Not playing a video game where you have to fight something removes about 80% of all video games from contention right there!

I find the Sims just as constrictive as any other game, and loath their little "simlish" language...after a while all your sim seems to do is piss themselves and lie on the floor in a fetal ball. Wow, am I having fun with that concept!

Ron said...

Ann again:

One of the best experiences I've had is when I got a group of friends to watch Entertainment Weekly's "Hundred greatest movies," which they published a couple of years ago. (We didn't like the AFI list!)
There was no particular rush; it took us a couple of years. We watched these in a random order, and we had an informal rule about each person having to give their views of the film where it fits in their life now. Thus, for new films, peoples reactions were pretty fresh! For all-too-familar films, people let their current reactions comment on their past feelings!

The best part was watching the film neophytes grow in knowledge and sophistication. It made you really think through long-held opinions...

Ann Althouse said...

I used to have a group of lawprofs who watched law related movies and then talked about them, but then people seemed to just forget how to talk about movies. The crushing blow for me was the time I picked "Witness for the Prosecution" and some people left before the end, and of the two who stayed, one just said, "Well, what can you say about Agatha Christie?" As if I'd subjected him to a pointless movie and now he was telling me off. I must have sputtered something about Wilder and Dietrich and silently cursed the whole lawprof/lawmovie project. If only there had been blogging back then!

Ron said...


Citing a Marine I know, it sounds like your lawprofs "need to be guests of honor at a boot butt banquet!"

Perhaps you can explain to us great unwashed sometime why so many academics seem proud to be boorish.

Don't hold these feebs against having another "film festival." I find these things fun.

Mark Daniels said...

The AFI Top 100 Group is a great idea! I hate watching a terrific or thought-provoking movie and not talking about it with someone.

It would be particularly interesting to hear the comments of people who haven't seen classic movies that are on the AFI list.

A few years ago, a family approached me after worship. They had gone to one of those restaurant/movie theaters and seen a showing of 'It's a Wonderful Life.' They knew it was (and remains) my favorite movie, but had never seen it before. They were bubbling with enthusiasm to say how much they had loved it...and why.

It seems to me that the very least we owe ourselves and others after we've spent two hours watching a film is to talk about it. Otherwise, we really are passive slugs...intellectually, spiritually, and physically.

Ann Althouse said...

Halo: I could play Super Mario Brothers. The newer games are much more elaborate though--three dimensions, lots of distractions...

James said...

I love movies! I hate reality TV! I usually see more reality in movies than I do in reality TV. I like going to the movies for two hours and coming and thinking "what was I doing before I went in there and forgot about everything else". Movies are a great escape. I have a bunch at home but I rarely watch them. I suppose that comes down to the wife and 5 kids and most of my movies are "R" for violence.

I've been hooked on video games several times in life. These days I find it hard to sit and play a whole game. You know, the ones that keep going and going. I prefer the quick, arcade type games. Where one games lasts a few minutes and then it's something else. Not the ones where I have to remember what was I doing last time I played and where was I and what was I trying to find or kill or discover.

Before I got married a year ago, I watched about 1 hour of TV a week. "24", that was it. Now I tend to watch a lot more, that's what we do. Before I was on the computer constant, now I'm not.

Mark Daniels said...

Halo: I've got to confess that I've never seen 'The Life of Brian,' although my son loves it and has exposed me to the hysterically funny song about looking at the bright side of life!


Ron said...


If you can still find the EW top 100 list, I think that's a better list to go to than the AFI one. Let me know if you would want the EW list.

I, on the other hand, can't stand Frank Capra movies in general...I want to shoot the sequel to "It's A Wonderful Life," about Mr. Stewart's fantasy vision of Bedford Falls...and I'd call it "Potters Way." (I think something like this was in Slate awhile back)