Monday, April 20, 2015

An American Export - Pablum TV

In the early 1980s I made my first trip to Europe.  The main purpose was to attend a conference in Umeå, Sweden.  There I learned that many of the locals had perfected their English speaking and listening by watching American TV.  Particularly popular at the time was the question, Who shot J.R.?   It was interesting to see Swedes infer that American culture was fully reflected in the TV show Dallas.  At that time I had not yet been to Texas and, having grown up in New York City, viewed it as much alien to me as Europe was.  I hoped that the people at the conference didn't see me as just another character from that that TV show, but really it was hard to know.

Now let's fast forward to the present.  In my discussion group where we are trying to find ways for the students to be more creative in their learning we've reached the point in the conversation to consider pathways into creativity.  Last week we talked about daydreaming.  This week and probably next week too we will talk about humor.  It's useful here to know what the students bring to the table before the discussion even starts.  From this I've learned that the TV shows, The Big Bang Theory and Friends are quite popular in China.  It made me ask, does watching sitcoms helps to develop our own sense of humor?

Who knows what indirect influence watching TV has on our behavior?  That said, I don't think my sense of humor has TV as its origin.  Rather, it seems to me that some internal need for spontaneity was cultivated when I was growing up, quite possibly by non-humorous activities.  Being quick at the draw was its own reward.  Then that got channeled into humor, not telling jokes that are in the can, though we did that as kids too, but rather as a kind of mental counter punching, where you develop some intuition both about what little bit that has emerged should be emphasized and how to express that in a way that gets a laugh.  It must be a learned behavior, but it feels so intuitive to me now I don't really understand my own process.

What is not intuitive to me at all, indeed what I'm taken aback by, is that the students' first association with humor is American sitcoms.  As I've posted earlier, they do like to laugh, very much.  Does seeing something that makes you laugh help you to get others to laugh, by your own emoting?  If not, do we actively need to repress sitcom humor in order to make progress with the type of humor that emerges between students at school or between co-workers on the job?

I used to think too much TV rots your brain.  Now I think it simply gives the wrong impression.  In this case the wrong impression is that humor is easy to generate.  It isn't, especially at first.  Let me close with this quote, which seems apt:

Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward.

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