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Uploaded on Jan 29, 2008

Cast your eyes back to the golden age of television -- anytime before the last couple years. Think of a sitcom.

Every sitcom is written by a team of genius writers -- the best writers in the world, who individually could lay waste to 99% of their compatriots.

The actors in the sitcom are the most attractive people in the world. Millions go to los angeles to get discovered. Have you ever seen someone who seemed too beautiful to live -- just unbelievably, amazingly beautiful? If you walk around los angeles you'll see one of those people every few minutes.

Every single second of the sitcom -- the color, the framing, the facial expressions and movements -- is laid out on the screen purposefully, by professional cinematographers, people who have devoted their lives to understanding how the television picture moves people.

That's why it's so hard to look at something else in the room when the TV's on. That's why you spent two straight hours staring face-forward on the bed the day your mom got cable.

Television has a peculiar intensity of experience. It has to. Because the goal of any particular second of television is to keep you watching one more second, then one more, until the commercials come on. This is the singular difference between television and movies -- if you're in a movie, you've already paid. This is the type of thing McLoo han was talking about when he said "the medium is the message".

It's also the reason your parents told you TV rots your brain. Told you to go outside. Your parents had to learn this from experience. Television was new in the 1950s, and nobody was saying it rotted your brain -- they viewed it as harmless theater-at-home and only realized you had to steel yourself against its magnetic pull, after watching someone they knew follow the inexorable road toward homesteading on the fow-leather hide-a-bed with a 5-gallon bag of cheetos and a bedpan.

Growing up with television also explains the peculiar intensity of american culture. From the Guardian:

"The Americans have long been aware of the impact of heavy metal music on foreign miscreants. They blared Van Haylen (among other artists) at the Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega when he took refuge in the Vatican embassy in Panama City, and blasted similarly high-decibel music at Afghan caves where al-Qaida fighters were thought to be hiding."

If you grow up constantly exposed to the intensity of TV, the next logical step when you're an adult, when you're creating art, is to push things up to eleven. Sometimes it becomes an end in itself, as with bikini kill.

This is a bit of a problem. The natural ebb and swell of life provides periods of calm, not just stimulation -- times when you're alone in your room, and your brain has to create order from chaos in order to entertain itself.

The internet provides this same unnatural intensity of experience. The sheer compelling volume of dig and red it, where you only see the 0.1% of content that pushes people's awesome button hard enough to reach the front page...

Like TV, it's the strange hyperfiltered essence, the panned gold at the upper edge of the parabolic curve. Like distilled liquor, I'm not sure you should drink too much of it.


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