On writing in a modern televised society…

I’d like to start out by saying that I’m Danish (but living in Sweden), where we have a lot fewer TV channels, and those commercial channels we have, have fewer commercial breaks during the shows than is common in the USA, which means that in many cases the cuts made for commercial breaks stick out like a sore thumb.

Needless to say the opinions expressed here are very subjective.

My wife is currently reading one of the books by Dr. Phil (Philip C. McGraw), and she kept getting sidetracked by the presentation rather than getting involved by the message, but she couldn’t place her finger on what exactly was bothering her.

But when discussing it, we came to the conclusion that the book was basically a written version of one of his shows, i.e.

Introduction = “Welcome, today we’re going to talk about…”
Chapter intro = “Hey, we’ve just talked about…”
Chapter middle = Nugget of useful information
Chapter end = “When we return we’ll talk more about…”
Conclusion = “Today, we’ve talked about … and … and how to deal with”
Repeat ad nauseam.

It just seems that the amount of information has no real correlation to the number of pages, and one almost expects to find glossy ads for dog food and hair care products placed in between chapters as an analogy to the commercial breaks in the televised shows.

I’m aware that there’s always a need to adjust the message to the recipient, but the message should also in my opinion be adjusted to the medium. And how much can you dumb something down without insulting your audience?

Or is it actually that bad in the US today that a popular (i.e. aimed at a large audience) work of non-fiction needs this kind of repetition in order to sell?

Or is it just that the type of message (self-help, improve your life etc.) lends itself better to hammering rather than persuasion?

In any case, I get the impression that my wife feels almost bullied by this approach rather than motivated. I’ve watched enough of his shows with my wife to know that part of his work method is the forging on in the face of adversity, and it has without a doubt merits, but it may not be the most effective in all situations.

I’d like to add a couple of caveats here. First of all, I’ve not read the book myself, and I’m unlikely to do so as the subject matter holds little interest for me, but I do trust the opinion of my wife enough to comment on it in this matter. Secondly, I’m not attempting to bash Dr. Phil or Oprah and whoever may be out there doing similar shows (Dr. Phil and Oprah are the only ones I know of as they are the only ones shown in Sweden), though I feel that they me be symptomatic of a society with perhaps too great a fascination for mental health issues – which I’ve also commented on in another thread.

4 thoughts on “On writing in a modern televised society…

  1. Laage, welcome, and thanks for a very literate post. grin

    I don’t know whether that writing style you describe is a result of commercial breaks in the American psyche, but I certainly am familiar with it.  It’s a constant reviewing, much in the same way that Germans tend to want to start a discussion with the complete history of the subject as groundwork.  grin 

    Oddly enough, the practice of reviewing material over and over again got me into trouble in school.  The start of each school year was a couple of months of review of the previous year’s curriculum, and since I had already retained it from the first time, I was dreadfully bored.  I complained, and the school’s solution was to move me up a grade.  In retrospect, I find it hard to believe that all the other kids in my class really needed that review.  Maybe the pedagogues in the SEB studio audience can weigh in on this …

    And it just came to light again when my five-year-old, who just started learning to read this year in kindergarten, came home with mid-year reading assessment scores that placed her in the early part of FIRST GRADE.  Now, we haven’t been making a special effort to tutor her at home, letting her school do most of the active teaching.  And as I said, she only just started it this last September. So either the teacher has been teaching her up to that level, or the simple fact that she’s retained everything she’s been taught in her grade is causing her to be classified in the beginning of the next grade, when presumably they’d be reviewing the previous year (if they’re still doing that).  I don’t know which it is, and the teacher isn’t able to help me pin it down.

    So, in review …

    (Just kidding.  grin)

  2. Geekmom, Consider yourself (and your daughter) to be doing fine while ahead of the school game. 
    Our oldest son was reading at a late First Grade level when he began Kindergarten. 
    At a Parent conference, the teacher told me that I never should have taught him to read, he was showing signs of boredom in class.  I said that would have been like stopping Niagra Falls, he just soaked up Information and kept going with it.  When I sent extra work from home, the other children got jealous and wouldn’t pay attention to the lessons.  Compromise was difficult, it was a long year for all of us.
    As for the book by Dr. Phil, the message above describes very nicely what so many people around me are reading and have come to expect to see at the bookstores. 
    This is one of the reasons Oprah decided to promote classic literature for her latest venture into book promotion.  One smart lady, and quite savvy when it comes to marketing.

  3. MrsDOF, thanks.  I can, sadly, believe that there is such a thing as a teacher who does NOT want a child to be taught something basic like reading, just because not being on The Schedule is “disruptive.” 

    Amusingly enough, there has been a parents’ seminar touted in the school newsletter about “dealing with your gifted child and boredom in school.”  I wonder which parents go to it—the ones who have decided their child is gifted?  Does the school send home a little ribbon sometime saying “your child is gifted, you may start the problems … NOW” ? 

    The only disruptions we have these days stem from the fact that our darling daughter will NOT shut up asking questions from morning till night and will NOT keep her nose out of anything in the house—and insists on morphing into Attitude Girl when she comes home from school.  Well, at least she’s not lighting fires or giving the boys wedgies …

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