Wed 4 Jul 2007
Lest anyone reading this post think that this article is on the miniaturization of TV for your mobile phone (ie, Verizon’s VCAST), it’s not. This article is a more visceral response to the dumbing down of American society. For Myspace has finally hit the apex of our Short Attention Spans: the Minisode.
Here’s how the minisode works: Myspace takes a 22-minute sitcom such as “Facts of Life,” “Diff’rent Strokes,” or “T.J. Hooker,” and they distill the plotline down to six minutes.
The sitcom has always been a part of American history, ever since its inception with Amos ‘n’ Andy on the Radio, to “The Burns and Allen” and “The Abbott and Costello” TV shows. However at its core, the sitcom is a chance for us to establish a comedic link between a series of characters and each week (or if syndicated, daily) pick up where we left off in the ensuing antics and lessons that these characters learn. Sans-commercials, the American sitcom has worked best in the 22-minute format, allowing enough time to setup a episodic plot, sideplot, resolution of plot, and tie-in resolution to the sideplot. My problem here is not with the formula of the sitcom but rather, with the idea that it can now be boiled into 6 minutes.
We always knew that sitcoms were a little pedantic. Look at the Brady Bunch, Full House, or Friends. There’s nothing overly complex about them; the gags are often very corny and although the characters have individual quirks, they are none-the-more-complex. Thus, the sitcom is an adaptation of our own lives, condensed to fit a timeframe within our busy schedules. Additionally, our attention span falls short when we reach a certain time. If not for commercial breaks, American audiences would probably drop off after about 10 minutes.
I suppose this works in favour of the minisode, however it also testifies to the American inability to stay focused on anything for too long. In particular, it demonstrates that our attention spans are getting even shorter than they once were, as the formula of the “sitcom of yore” is now starting to fade away.
Perhaps this is smart of Myspace and of the other TV networks that are cognizant of this pattern of waning attention spans. Perhaps it demonstrates that American lives are too busy to sit through a half-hour of television. Instead, it must be relegated to 6 minutes on the computer.
I would disagree. I think it’s a psychological failure of our society to accommodate 30 minutes out of our day to enjoy some entertainment. If we do not have that much time to submit to entertainment, it doesn’t just mean that we are overworked, but that we don’t care enough to take the time. What little time we have becomes condensed.
I’m sure some psychological studies back me up on this – we’ve always known that Americans have increasingly been suffering from Short Attention Spans. Chalk it up to the Protestant work ethic. However, I’ve already spent too much time on this entry to perform actual research. I should be looking for something else to write about instead.