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Tuesday Musings: Interacting with the Text

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NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

The digital age brought with it increasingly sophisticated ways to interact with our preferred popular cultures, along with a specific niche to find one’s various interests and hobbies. This has become especially true for television, with sites like the A.V. Club writing expansive reviews of each episode and features on shows, and sports, with sites like our’s here.

Television’s place in the digital world seemingly exploded around the show Lost, with all of the various fan-driven websites allowing watchers of the show to have an entirely new way to have a discourse around a show that allows for a less one-sided reaction. Instead of simply watching a show with your friends and family, or rather a sports game with a few friends and extraneous bar patrons, there are now thousands, or even millions, of other people who are watching the same thing as you and there is the ability to communicate our thoughts to each other on the subject and an online gathering place to do so.

This change in viewing practices has also brought with it the significantly easier practice of becoming engaged deeply with the material, the ability to become an “expert” in some sense. It certainly has been an interesting cultural shift around this idea, one became more apparent to me as I have been rewatching the first season of Mad Men and following along with the reviews on the A.V. Club, which were written by the wonderful Todd VanDerWerff (who is about as accomplished as a television reviewer can become).

One of the asides in his review of the first episode of the show gets to the root of this point, “I’ve always thought the series [Mad Men] has been at least slightly successful because it can simply be watched as a piece of escapism by mostly paying attention to the surfaces, even if I find that experience not a terribly rich way to approach the show.” Essentially, he is alluding to the point that it has almost become not enough to simply interact with what we consider our “thing,” whether this is a basketball team or a bastion of the Golden Age of TV on a surface level basis. The true “reward” is to be able to deeply engage in the text, almost in the way that an art critic will be able to speak about a painting or an English major on a poem.

This engagement is also not happening individually, which is the other interesting component, as comment sections for this type of material (such as here at Canis) are typically filled with even deeper dives into the “text.” This is the same type of sentiment that Game of Thrones has built upon, as the series, and fandom around it, would likely not be possible without the groundwork laid by shows like Lost.

Here at Canis, we interact with the “text” in nuanced and sophisticated manners as well. In the NBA, the divide between what is often seen as the surface level enjoyment and the deeper understanding of the game is well represented in the most recent contentious culture shift in the NBA, that being of analytics vs the general “eye-test” as an evaluation tool or even method of watching the game. How different of a root idea is Charles Barkley lamenting on the efficacy of analytics compared to my father chiding me for “only liking what the reviewers tell me to?”

This divide was also comically detailed on NBA Reddit this past weekend with Caleb_Pitts “Talking to Your Dad About Basketball: A Guide,” which provided this gem: “OK, now for the real stuff. Your dad loves basketball, but he’s old and doesn’t understand what makes basketball great these days. At the beginning of the conversation, don’t bring up things like analytics or three-pointers, because your old dumb dad doesn’t know what those things are. Pretend that you’re Charles Barkley and, as far as you know, basketball has stayed exactly the same since 1961. Begin with a slick reference to someone like Doctor J or another dead guy that your dad probably played basketball with. He will appreciate it, and his inferior old brain will be tricked into thinking that you’re also old, because why would a cool young person ever bring up a geezer like Doctor J.”

In essence, how we view and interact with our popular culture has fundamentally changed in the last decade or so as we now have the ability to gather, at least in an online medium, with those that share our interests and allow us to deepen our understanding. We have all become, to some extent, crowdsourced critics. Instead of spending a few years at art school or poring over Shakespeare’s texts our classroom is the message boards and our theses are posted in blogs.