Chuck Klosterman on Film and Television

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Klosterman: Television is already the most dynamic technological experience when it comes to entertainment.

Pop-culture essayist Chuck Klosterman takes a walk on the dark side

The experience of watching television now is drastically different from what it was 20 years ago. Whereas with music or reading, certain elements and aspects change but the experience of hearing a song is — from a physiological standpoint — the same as it was years ago. Reading is a static thing fundamentally. But TV is taken so seriously now, it has really changed the experience completely.


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Joyce Carol Oates wrote an essay for TV Guide about Hill Street Blues in about and it starts with her saying how embarrassed and ashamed she is to admit that she and her smart friends find themselves often talking about this TV show. When something becomes that meaningful, it changes the experience of watching it.

TV used to be relaxing. Now you have to concentrate. Reynolds: Yes, watching the box used to be almost like an opiate or a tranquilizer — idle skimming through the channels. Now you make appointments. You manage your viewing and stockpile it. You binge an entire series. And you have to pay close attention, for fear of missing a key bit of dialogue or a narrative twist.

Klosterman: With TV in the past, there was no expectation you were going to have to concentrate. And if you missed an episode of a TV show, you just missed it — no big deal. Nowadays just about the only thing people watch to unwind still is sports. For most of human history, dreams were considered highly significant — they had oracular meaning, they warranted being interpreted. In the early 20th century you had Freud and Jung analyzing the symbolic language of dreams, and an artistic movement, surrealism, that drew inspiration from dreams.

But even as recently as the s, books about the meaning of dreams were popular.

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As a teenager, I kept a detailed dream diary. Why is that?

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Klosterman: Freud and Jung were the apex of looking at dreams seriously. But more recently you have scientists who map the brain, like these two guys at Harvard who came to the conclusion that dreams are just leftover thoughts from the day. The conclusion of all this neurological research was that the content of dreams is worthless. Those ideas have filtered out to the secular, intelligent public and the general view now is that dreams are a waste of time to think about. In the book, though, I wonder if this is something that we could be wrong about. I understand the rational argument against dreams, but something feels important to me about them.

Reynolds: One thing I wondered was if the downgrading of dreams as a cultural interest had some relation to digital technology: video games, the internet, computers generally. Has the virtual displaced the oneiric?

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Contemporary artists are more stimulated by digital technology and internet culture. Do we no longer pay attention to dreams because we are so involved with digitally enabled zones of make-believe and magic? And does that also affect a different kind of dreaming that we do in our waking hours — daydreaming? Overall, it feels like these interior and reflective mental activities have declined in the scheme of things — and that this must have something to do with the rise of the internet and social media.

Just waiting in line for the bank, nowadays I would always look at my phone. My mind is attached most of the time to something specific. But once, waiting in line, I would have daydreamed — my mind was elsewhere. Perhaps those five or 10 minutes of daydreaming had value. Reynolds: One interesting thing about your writing style, which is unusual in arts and culture writing — perhaps more common in popular science writing — is the way you reason out an argument. You set out a proposition and then logically follow it through, methodically raising the counter-arguments, the evidence that contradicts it.

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News videos. Explainer videos. Sport videos. Money transfers. Health insurance.

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