Some people think that reading book for pleasure is better for their imagination and language skills than watching TV.
Do you agree or disagree?
Since the beginning of civilization, human beings have joined in the pious hope that books, as a whole, would edify people by sparking their imagination, spurring their creativity, and enhancing their linguistic aptitude. By stark contrast, the ascent of modern media has only goaded on the harangues against arts by mechanical reproduction. TV – as commonly perceived as the epitome of “lowbrow” culture – has become a case in point. However, such sweeping generalization, or rather simplistic dichotomy, is susceptible to further examination.
If books in ancient times or pre-industrial era remained rare commodities or some “food for soul” of scarcity, such trite elitism hardly holds true anymore. It’s commonly acknowledged that the modern publishing industry has thrived in tandem not only with people’s intellectual needs or the authors’ meticulous research and tormenting introspection, but also the economic cycle, the scandals and rumors of celebrities, the life and (probably untimely) death of much glorified politicians and business tycoons, recipes for success, some ephemeral buzzwords in marketing etc. The life cycle publishing industry hence no more than mirrors the myriad of supply and demand curves in the real commercialized world, which only makes it all the more demanding on the readers’ effort to distinguish what is good from what is bad. It thus does not come as surprise when Arthur Rubinstein, the pianist of great theatricality, grieved at his becoming blind at 90 years young: “I simply regret having read so many bad books all my life.” Such compunction will undoubtedly repeat itself on you and me and alike.
If a book is characterized as intellectual fast food or worse by readers, it would be futile and far-fetching to discuss its effect on their cognition or knack for languages. However, if we think of some breath-taking TV documentaries on some of scenic places in some uncharted land or those unraveling the myth of human civilization and the universe, it is hard not to concede that they are indeed more edifying than some of the potboiler books. As Nabokov once wryly has it, “imagination is merely a function of memory”; and memory a multiplication of vision and learning. By the same token, who would deny that Maggie Smith’s impeccable rendering – with those witty twists in her uncanny demeanor - in so many TV series simply outshines the unending clichés in those best-selling books?
To conclude, books, as a traditionally much venerated cultural form, should not be overrated in its importance on transforming one’s intellectual capacity, as manifested by many cautionary tales. Both illuminating books and inspiring TV programs call for one’s discerning capacity.