Continuum hypothesis

It could be argued that TV as a medium for conveying fictional narratives began to grow up in 1971, when Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin introduced “All in the Family”. Within a year, Larry Gelbart had come out with “M*A*S*H”, and there was no looking back: TV was now a medium to engage in a non-trivial way with grown-up issues of the day.

A decade later, Steven Bochco brought us “Hill Street Blues”, which dropped the other shoe. For the first time, a dramatic series on American television was treating its audiences like grown-ups (as film had learned to do a full half a century earlier). There is a direct line from the moral complexity, narrative sophistication and multi-layered characters of “Hill Street Blues” to “The Sopranos”, “The Wire”, and other TV shows that are now replacing what had been the exclusive domain of film with a serious long-form alternative.

Yesterday I spoke of a divide between VR sorts of experiences that take you to another world, and AR sorts of experiences that provide an enhanced view into the world of here and now. Television, with its rapid production cycles, is much more amenable than cinema at being an AR sort of experience, capable of addressing cultural, political and ethical issues in an immediate way, while those issues are still in the headlines.

Yet we now see, with the maturing of television as a narrative medium, that it is also capable of filling the role of serious literature.

I wonder whether we will eventually see this sort of continuum between VR and AR, as both mature into serious media for narrative storytelling. At first, VR will be the continuation of the novel and the movie — a way to take you to other places and times, to tell stories of far-off worlds.

AR will start out as the continuation of the magazine or daily news feed, a way to stay connected and up to the minute with the world around you.

Yet eventually, as new generations of artists gradually learn to master the demands of these future media, VR and AR will merge, and we will see a blurring of the lines between alternate worlds and the one we are in.

Which wouldn’t be that surprising, when you think about it. After all, to be human, with our fabulous brains and our gift for language, is to exist in a world of symbolic meaning and make-believe, superimposed at every moment on the physical world that happens to house our bodies.

Leave a Reply