The Love of Reading: How Books Differ from Television and Movies

For so long, we’ve heard about the foretold “death of books”.  Books as a medium have indeed seen a decline in readership for a long time, but last year there was a strange rebound.  According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks the books that readers are buying, found that paper book sales went up by about 2.4% last year.  It’s not much, but it is a sign that books are not on the out.  I’ve been around for a little while, and I’ve noticed that plenty of people still like to read.  So why is that?  Why in this age of fast-moving television and movies would people take the time to read a novel?  Well let’s take a look at some ways books are different from movies and television.

 

Books allow you to set your own pace

A book can be read over a substantial period of time.  Some people take months to read just one book, and that’s perfectly fine.  Comparatively, movies and television are very tightly paced.  This is especially true of television shows, which are edited and modified to fit a rigid time slot.  I know this format very well since I work at a television station helping to produce the morning news broadcast.  We often have to deal with timing issues, taking out stories or adding them in, adjusting the times for the weather segments and so on, all in an effort to make things seamless and ensure that we end at the proper time.  Movies have a little more leeway in this regard, generally clocking in at around ninety minutes to three hours.  There will often be deleted scenes, but scenes are usually pulled out for creative reasons more than timing.

Books are not subject to that same strictness.  I’ve read books over a thousand pages long, and books that are barely over a hundred.  And that’s the beauty of it.  You can embark on a long journey and take your time.  Or, you can decide to speed read and get right through it.  You aren’t held back by a certain time frame, and it’s much easier to put a book down in the middle and come back to it than it is with a movie or television show.

 

Books are a more intimate experience

This is not to say that when you get invested in a character in a television show or movie it’s a superficial attachment.  I’ve seen people bawl their eyes out over fictional characters in television shows before (just ask anyone who’s watched Futurama about the dog episode and you’ll understand).  What I mean is that compared to television shows and movies, reading a book is more of an experience on the personal level.  In a book, it often feels like the author is speaking directly to you, setting things up directly for you.  Things are constructed so that your mind paints an image of the world the author is describing.

With movies and television, you don’t get that personal element.  The world is constructed for you through the lens of a camera.  The people in them are more like actors on a stage, having rehearsed the scenes plenty of times before filming.  You get one concrete image of things before you, whereas with a book people have many different interpretations of how a place or character looks, even though they’re all reading the same descriptions.

This is not to say that movies and television are artificial and therefore bad.  Everything is artificial when you get right down to it.  Books just require a great deal more personal investment on the part of the reader.  Television shows and movies can be absorbed simply through watching.  Another way to put it is that television and movies are a passive experience whereas reading is an active one.

 

Books are good for you

Some people might not like to hear it because they find reading boring, but yes reading is good for you.  It enhances your comprehension skills and oftentimes requires you to engage your brain on an intellectual level.  And I’m specifically talking about reading paper books, not e-books.  There have actually been studies into the differences between e-book reading (such as using a Kindle or so on) and physical book reading, and they found that with e-books the digital back-lit screen actually degrades the experience.  Reading text on an electronic screen affords far more opportunities for distraction and the reader doesn’t comprehend the text as well as they would with a physical book.  In one of the studies, eye tracking software showed that physical books are read line for line.

Television shows and movies don’t have those same benefits, which is probably part of the reason they’re often referred to as “hollow” entertainment.  They’re very enjoyable, sure, but like I said they don’t require a great deal of engagement from your brain most of the time.  In fact, the only other entertainment medium that has these kind of positive effects happens to be video games.  Playing video games tends to improve things like reflexes, memory, reasoning, hand-eye coordination, sight, and problem-solving among other things.  It’s sort of funny isn’t it?  Books are one of the most highly regarded forms of entertainment and video games are one of the lowest.  And yet, both of them have been proven to have positive effects on your general well-being.

 

Conclusion

By no means am I trying to discourage people from watching television or movies.  They’re both very entertaining and can be incredibly thoughtful as well.  But the fact of the matter is that compared to books, they are “hollow” entertainment.  They don’t improve your life in any significant way.  They’re just time wasters.

Reading books is a very special experience that I wish more people would put some time into.  I’ve heard a lot of people say “oh I don’t have the time to read a book”.  But that’s nonsense.  Books are actually far easier to fit time in for reading as compared to a television show or a movie.  Most people would never pause a movie or episode of a TV show halfway through and just come back to it a few days later.  They tend to go through the entire thing in one sitting.  And that’s what they’re designed for.  They’re specifically crafted to be viewed all in one sitting.  It’s better that way.  You get to fully comprehend the movie, whereas if you come back to it some days later chances are you will have forgotten certain details from your previous viewing.

Books however, are easier to remember details about because they require that personal engagement on your part.  It certainly takes more effort to read a book, but I would argue that it’s worth it.

 

But in the end it’s all for personal pleasure.  You just can’t beat a good story right?

 

Well that’s all I have for you this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

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Picking up the Pieces: The Aftermath of the Paris Attacks

Friday November 13th, 2015.

What should have been an evening to enjoy the majesty of the city of lights swiftly descended into a surreal nightmare for hundreds of people.  Radical terrorists carried out several successive attacks on various places in Paris, killing over a hundred people.  And in the aftermath, we struggle to cope with the reality that such an event happened.

Many people have updated their Facebook profile picture to feature an overlay of blue, white, and red, the colors of the French flag, in an effort to show solidarity with the victims of the Paris attacks.  Some have criticized these people, accusing them of engaging in what is known as “slacktivism”, or appearing socially conscious without having to make an actual effort. Others have called attention to other attacks that happened just days before Paris, expressing their frustration that the attacks on the French city have dominated the headlines.  And still others have expressed anger at people who critique anyone who expresses sorrow over Paris, arguing that people can care about multiple tragedies at once.

But this is not what I want to talk about today.  The reaction I most want to talk about has to do with the response and attitude toward Muslims and refugees, specifically those from Syria.

As you may have heard, many state governors (mainly Republican ones by the way) have stated their intended refusal to allow Syrian refugees to settle in their respective states.  Now, legally there is very little they can actually do to further this agenda, but it is indicative of a trend that I find rather alarming.  Instead of showing solidarity with these people, who are fleeing their country because of the terrorists who are making their lives a living hell, many of us seem to want to lump them all into one group.

I saw a comment on Facebook a few days ago that quite literally said (and I regret having to even write this word out) “sandnigger hunting” with a question mark.

There are a lot of conservative, pro-military minded folk who have their hearts set on revenge.  They want retribution for all those who suffered and died at the hands of the terrorists who attacked Paris.  It’s fine to be angry.  It’s a natural reaction to the events that took place on that fateful Friday.  The problem comes with the fact that many of these same people have a tendency to lump all Muslims together.  They’re the same types of people who want to kick anyone with ties to Islam out of the country.  “We can’t let the terrorists win,” they often say.

But see, here’s the thing.  By turning against anyone who looks and thinks differently from us, we are giving the terrorists the victory they seek.

Google defines terrorism as “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”.  It’s vague, but that’s because there is no real concrete definition for the word.  Many governmental agencies across the world have shied away from defining it for one reason or another, and thus this is what we’re stuck with.  But the one thing I can say for sure is that one of the chief aims of terrorism is to spread fear, to destroy confidence and security.

And every time we mutter under our breath and cast a leery eye toward anyone on the street who even looks like they might be Muslim, we only confirm that they are succeeding in that aim.  And by pushing them away from us, we may only be pushing them into the arms of those we abhor.

Let’s break down some numbers real quick.  According to the Pew Research Center the percentage of Muslims in the United States as of 2014 is only roughly about 0.9 percent, which is slightly less than a hundredth of the population in this country.  Not only that, but the percentage of Muslims worldwide who are actually part of the ISIS terror group is roughly around the same number, about one percent or less.  In short, not all Muslims are terrorists.  In fact, very few Muslims are terrorists.  We’re letting the actions of an extreme few dictate our perspective on the whole.

And that’s what really bothers me.  Christians aren’t defined by the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church.  Cops aren’t defined by the actions of a trigger-happy, racist few.  And yet, whenever a radical Muslim commits a violent atrocity, people are all too willing to slap the label of “terrorist” on the entire group.  They stamp their feet and angrily demand that all Muslims be deported out of the country.

Why is this?  The reality is blunt, but simple: we don’t have to look them in the eyes while we do it.

Due to the small percentage of Muslims in the country, your chances of running into someone who is one is very slim.  Because of that, it becomes all too easy to distance yourself from them, to reduce them to something that isn’t quite human.  We don’t have to deal with it, so why should we care?  They’re all over there in that other country that we’ve never been to.  We’re all too comfortable sitting back and judging this entire group of people because we don’t have to deal with the repercussions of it.  Any backlash comes from such a minority group that we can largely just ignore it, using these cases of extremist violence to bolster our xenophobic views.

And it fucking pisses me off.  Yeah, I just dropped an f-bomb.  Deal with it.

These refugees are people, people with families, children, lives and dreams.  They live, think, and breathe just like we do.  They desire similar things.  And yet, we are content to think of them as less than human, because it makes our worldview seem more righteous.  Never mind the fact that the Ku Klux Klan considered itself a Christian group and swore to uphold Christian morality through whatever means necessary.  That doesn’t matter anymore, because it’s in the past right?  That kind of hatred doesn’t exist anymore right?

If you actually believe that while also calling for the deportation of Muslims, then you are an absolute damn fool and an utter hypocrite.

We talk so much about protecting ourselves, about our security…but what about their security?  Where is their right to peace of mind and safety?  Oh but that doesn’t matter right?  Why bother actually caring about a group of human beings when we can just close ourselves off and pretend their plight doesn’t exist.  We can just sit here and debate whether a bunch of coffee cups are offensive or not.  Because coffee cups are serious business.

And to think, just last week I made this big deal about how I think empathy is an innate process that all humans have.  And now I have to sit here lamenting how, in the aftermath of these vicious attacks, we seem to lack it, or at the very least refuse to acknowledge it.  These days, it’s all about us.  What about our problems?  What about our people?  Never mind the fact that despite the problems this country has, we are still far better off than most countries in the world.  How about a little humility?  How about a little sympathy for our fellow human beings for crying out loud?  We are all bound by the same DNA, the same genetic history.  We are all of the same species.  We all live on the same planet.  How about remembering that for a change?

Keep your fellow human beings in your hearts, thoughts, prayers, and so on.  Remember that they are simply that: human beings.  To forget that simple fact is to allow fear and doubt to consume our lives.

And I can’t believe I’m actually about to quote Star Wars in a time like this, but here we go: “fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering”.

It’s far more true than I think we like to admit…

 

Well that’s all I have for this week.  If you or a loved one were directly affected by the events that happened in Paris this Friday, just remember that you are not alone.  In a tragedy like this, the best thing we can do is come together and overcome it.  We have to forget about the differences in country, culture, religion, and so on because in the end they don’t matter.  We are all human, and therefore flawed.  Accepting our flaws is the way to bettering ourselves.  Denying them will only lead to more violence and hatred.  And I feel like the world has enough of that already.

Tune in next Wednesday for another post.  Have a great week and stay safe out there, wherever you are.

Guiding and Influencing: Where Does Morality Come From?

So this past weekend I stumbled upon this article in The Guardian.  For those who just want the short story, it talks about a study that found that children with religious upbringings (specifically Christian and Muslim) tend to be more mean than their non-religious counterparts.  Essentially, religious children tended to be less altruistic and more judgmental of their peers, which seems to fly in the face of the common belief that our morality comes from religion itself.  If this study can be reproduced, it would go a long way toward squashing that myth.

Now why is this important?  Well when I was young, I was often told I was going to hell and that I was a bad person because I didn’t believe in God.  If this study is accurate, it could help other non-religious children growing up to not feel so bad about their beliefs (or lack thereof) and not become bitterly antagonistic toward religion.  We don’t need more hate in the world.  There’s already more than enough.

It got me thinking.  Where does our morality come from exactly?  I think the answer is more complicated than I can probably address in a simple blog post, but I’ll do my best.

A lot of it comes from society in general.  We are raised to think and act a certain way, not just by our parents but by what we see in society at large.  If we see society as being hateful toward a certain group, we tend to grow up with similar feelings.  If a certain thought or belief is praised, we grow up with positive thoughts about it.

This goes in many different directions as well.  If a child is taken to a church and told that this particular school of thought is right and all others are wrong, they tend to grow up not understanding why other people think differently.  The same goes for any non-religious children who are raised the same way.  If you as a parent display hostile feelings toward a particular group, philosophy, religion or so on, then your children will take after that.

Never underestimate the power of the parental and societal influence.  It shapes us in far more ways than we often want to admit.

But I don’t think this is the only source for our morality.  Have you ever seen a child cry over killing a bug?  They play with it because they’re curious or bored, and then when they realize that they killed it they start bawling their eyes out.  Why is this?  Why does a child cry over something as insignificant as that?  A bug is a bug right?  The life of one mosquito doesn’t really matter in the long run.

Maybe.  Maybe not.  It’s all a matter of perspective after all.  And to a child, a bug’s life might mean more than you think.

As human beings, we have something within ourselves that gives us perspective on things that we might not have otherwise.  We are able to put ourselves in another’s shoes, to think as they would think and to feel as they would feel.  We have the capacity to see other points of view, if we just allow ourselves to do it.  It’s an incredibly powerful tool.

And it goes by the name of “empathy”.

Empathy is defined simply as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”  We have all used empathy at some point in our lives, even if we don’t realize it.  Often, our feelings of regret come from our understanding that our actions might have negatively impacted the life of another.

This is, I argue, where a lot of our base morality comes from.

We can create complex systems of thoughts and beliefs.  We can debate over whether or not there is a divine being of some form or another that willed the universe into existence.  We can debate whether or not human beings evolved from apes or whether they were created by that same divine being.  But in the end, I don’t think it all really matters.  Because all we really need is empathy.

Empathy asks us “hey, would you like it if that was done to you?”  It’s the natural version of the Golden Rule, the innate instinctual process by which we weigh our actions.  This is why, I think, a child begins to cry when he/she realizes that they killed another living being, no matter how insignificant it is.  They haven’t matured yet.  They don’t distinguish between lower and higher life forms.  To them, a life is a life.  And when it dawns on them what they did, it brings them sadness.  Because on some fundamental level, they know pain is bad.  And to bring pain unto another creature is a terrible thing to them.

I realize that this might not apply to all children.  Some children actually take joy out of frying an anthill with a magnifying glass (like the stereotypical bully in an animated movie).  But they are usually older kids.  At a certain age, I believe that all children are naively innocent.  They’re just coming into the world and are still trying to understand how it all works.  Empathy is one of the few tools they instinctively know how to use.  And understanding the importance of empathy is crucial (especially in a world where people are getting angry over something as silly as coffee cups).

I may be a little naive myself in believing that this is the way the world works, but honestly?  I want to believe that it works like that.  And in some way, I need to believe that.  Because if I didn’t, if I no longer had any hope for the human race, there would be nothing stopping me from throwing up my hands and saying “I give up completely”.  It keeps me driven.  It keeps me sane.  Hope tells me that someday, things can change for the better.

Because without hope, what’s left that pushes us forward?

 

That’s all I have for you this time.  Thanks for sticking with me on this little philosophical rambling.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

False Progress: Why I Dislike the Idea of the Ocean’s 11 Reboot

Earlier in the year it was announced that a reboot of the classic Ghostbusters movie was in production featuring an all-female cast for the trio of Ghostbusters.  At the time, I didn’t really think a whole lot of it.  Sure it was weird, but free expression and all that.  Well now what were previously rumors have been confirmed.  There is a reboot of Ocean’s 11 in the works featuring yet again an all-female cast, spearheaded by Sandra Bullock herself.

Now I’m starting to take issue with this.

I don’t necessarily have an issue with the fact that this is being done.  Like I said, freedom of expression.  Where I start having problems is with how this kind of thing is treated in the media.  The news latches on to these stories and then these projects are hailed as some kind of progressive icon.  But that just begs the question: are these movies actually being progressive?  Or is there a more insidious undertone going on here, one that even the people spearheading these projects might not be aware of themselves?

Let me put it bluntly.  If we encourage this, the implication becomes that there are no good roles for women.  This isn’t progressiveness.  If anything, it’s regression, taking us back to a time when women’s roles were heavily stereotyped as the caretaker of the house and children.

The problem isn’t necessarily that there aren’t good roles for women in movies.  It’s that people don’t write them.  Instead, they seem to want to take the lazy way out, recasting a role originally written for a man.  And that’s exactly what’s happening with Ocean’s 11.  It’s not a completely new movie.  George Clooney himself opted to help recast his lead role for Sandra Bullock.

I’m not against the idea of an all-female heist movie.  I think that would be great.  But I don’t like the implication going on here.  I hate that it feels like movie studios are trying to capitalize on the popularity of the gender equality and feminist movements.  I hate that these movies are held up as a step forward, when it really feels like all we’re doing is taking a step back.  Instead of recasting roles for women, we should be writing roles for women from the ground up.

And there are great female roles out there.  Does anyone remember Ellen Ripley from Alien?  Her character was credited with helping challenge gender norms, particularly in the science fiction and horror genres, and that was all the way back in the 1970’s.  Here we had a female character who was tough as nails and carried the central action of the movie.

And what about Dana Scully from the X-Files?  She’s another character who proved that she can be a fully fleshed out and tough character (even if she is sometimes obnoxiously skeptical of everything Mulder says).  And continuing with that kind of trend, we have Olivia Dunham from Fringe, who is the only one of the central three characters who works in law enforcement and carries a gun on her nearly at all times.  Fully fleshed out female characters are out there, even if they are admittedly not always as prevalent as male ones.

But that’s just the point.  We shouldn’t be recasting men’s roles for women, because that doesn’t help us further along gender equality.  I mean what’s next, a reboot of Mrs. Doubtfire where instead of a man dressing up as a women, we have a women dressing up as a man?

Besides, no one can replace Robin Williams.  NO ONE.

I won’t automatically assume bad intentions on the part of those making these movies, because that would just be unfair of me, but even so they are responsible for the precedent they may be creating.  There are only these two major examples so far, but if the trend continues, it will become a problem.

Have you ever heard of the Bechdel test, or Bechdel-Wallace test?  It’s a test that asks whether a work of fiction includes at least two women who talk to each other about something that isn’t just another man.  The test has often been criticized because it doesn’t tell us if a film is a good model for gender equality or even if it has well-written, fleshed out female characters.  It’s too limited in that regard.  Walt Hickey from the polling aggregate site FiveThirtyEight observed this about the test, but also wrote that, “it’s the best test on gender equity in film we have — and, perhaps more important …, the only test we have data on”.  This indicates an issue surrounding the discourse on gender equality in movies.

A while back I wrote a post about Gamergate and female characters in video games.  And in it, I remarked on how the issue isn’t always that female characters in video games are overtly sexualized or relegated to background roles, but rather that the criticism surrounding them seems to be a little nitpicky, taking things out of context.  I feel like the same thing happens with the Bechdel test.  It limits itself to such a strict set of criteria that it doesn’t give us a good sense for how well a movie deals with the different genders.  And it doesn’t always take things in their proper context.  Sure, a woman may be relegated to working in the kitchen in a certain movie, but if that movie takes place in the 1950’s then it makes sense for it to be that way because that was the reality of things back then.

So to sum things up, the issue to me isn’t that there aren’t good female roles, it’s that we either don’t know how to write them or we spend too much time trying to find issues where there might not be any.  And if we keep looking in the wrong places, then we miss the problems that are in the right places.

 

And that’s all I have for you this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week!