In the chapter on television in Everything Bad is Good for You, Johnson argues that television has grown increasing complex over the past few decades and that today’s TV programming provides a rigorous cognitive workout.
Johnson breaks his argument down into two different categories: television dramas and reality shows. His argument about television dramas is that they now have many plot lines that extend beyond a single episode (or even beyond a single season), forcing viewers to pay more attention, remember complex social networks, and speculate about future occurrences on a regular basis.
Reality shows, on the other hand, have gotten more cognitively demanding because of the requirement to pay attention to facial expressions and social cues in order to read the characters. They also differ from game shows of the past because both the audience and the participants are often left in the dark about the rules of the game, which can change at any moment. This element of unpredictability requires a higher level of attention.
This paper asks students to summarize Johnson’s main idea, define at least two of the many terms he gives to explain television complexity for an unfamiliar audience, and then apply those two terms to one of the two shows watched in class (one a single episode of a television drama and one a single episode of a reality TV show).
Image: CC from Daniel Go