Appositional Polyvocality

Deborah Tannen writes that we have become an “argument culture in this age of polyvocality. The media seeks out individuals of opposite opinions and puts them in the studio with no intention of finding middle ground. Such media is not educational, but entertains with a range of emotions from laughter to anger, and in the case of Jerry Springer, physical violence.

Such an oppositional culture cries out for the appositional (juxtaposing relevant but usually unrelated elements).

An example would be Thursday’s USA Today in which a FRONT PAGE column bemoans the increase of television viewing of American children, in contrast with a column in the LIFE section which outlines the network’s strategies for INCREASING television viewing of children’s programs.

Read for yourself:

[¢â‚¬¢¢â‚¬¢¢â‚¬¢ FRONT PAGE; Electronic world swallows up kids’ time, study finds Children plugged in about 6‚½ hours a day. By Marilyn Elias
The USA’s children live in an increasingly heavy stew of media, spending about 6‚½ hours a day mostly watching TV, using computers and enjoying other electronic activities. And they are spending relatively little time reading or doing homework, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey reported Wednesday.

Kids watch about the same amount of TV nearly four hours a day as they did based on a Kaiser survey five years ago, but they’re adding newer technology to the mix, such as downloading music and instant-messaging. When multi-tasking is factored in, children are exposed to 8‚½ hours of media a day, up about an hour from five years ago.

A record 68% have TVs in their rooms, and an increasing number own DVD and video-game players, according to the survey of 2,000 children in grades three through 12.

“We have changed our children’s bedrooms into little media arcades,” survey co-director Donald Roberts of Stanford University says. “When I was a child, ¢â‚¬ËœGo to your room’ was punishment. Now it’s ¢â‚¬ËœGo to your room and have a ball.’ ”

Children with TVs in their rooms watch about 90 minutes more a day and do less reading and homework than those without their own TVs. About half say their families have no TV rules; if there are limits, they’re usually not enforced.

“It’s alarming, because parents ¢â‚¬¦ should be setting clear rules and monitoring media use,” says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a self-described conservative public policy group.

The survey results come amid concern about the soaring rate of childhood obesity. The more kids watch TV, the more likely they are to be heavy, other studies have shown.

Glorified violence on TV is another concern, Roberts says. And new research suggests that violent video games might be even more likely than TV to spur aggression.

But even more serious could be changes in still-developing brains from the constant multi-tasking, says psychologist Jane Healy, author of Endangered Minds. “When you divide attention like this, it becomes harder to focus deeply on any one thing. They may develop habits of mind that make it hard to do in-depth thinking.”

The survey underestimates multitasking because kids typically have four screens open on a computer, adds Sherry Turkle, an MIT expert on how technology affects people.

But media psychologist Stuart Fischoff of California State University-Los Angeles says all this concern is “premature hysteria.” He says he has seen no changes in students’ critical thinking during 38 years as a professor, “and TV and the Internet have been around long enough that it would show up by now.”]

[¢â‚¬¢¢â‚¬¢¢â‚¬¢ Then read the LIFE section piece. Kids’ TV aims to attract more girls, preteens. Kids watched more TV last year, but only half their time in front of the tube is spent with kids’ programming. The major networks that cater to them are trying to woo them back, many by broadening their focus from boy- and kiddie-driven toons to include girls and preteens. USA TODAY’s Gary Levin looks at what’s ahead:

The leading children’s network is adding six series next season, a mix of live-action and animation. Its digital-tier all-animation Nicktoons network, in 34 million homes, will air more original programming and begin accepting ads in August.

Among newcomers to the main Nick channel, aimed at all kids but increasingly emphasizing tweens, are Catscratch (September), about a trio of “wealthy fumbling felines,” and Power Strikers (September), a live-action series about a girls’ soccer team.

For the preschool set, there’s The Wonder Pets (due next year), about classroom animals who become superheroes and sing opera after school; and Go, Diego, Go (October), a spinoff of the popular Dora the Explorer.

The 24-hour animation channel is segmenting its programming, adding a preschool block (filled with “humor and optimism”) in August and labeling its popular Adult Swim late-night block as a separate network starting this month, for which Nielsen will report separate ratings. Still, “cartoons at their best talk to more than one audience,” says programming chief Michael Ouweleen.

On tap: Krypto the Superdog (weekdays at 9 a.m. ET/PT starting April 4), a test pilot stranded on Earth when his spaceship built by Superman’s dad malfunctions; The Life and Times of Juniper Lee (Sundays starting June 5), a fantasy series about an 11-year-old girl; and Camp Lazlo (Fridays this summer), about a monkey, an elephant and an “eccentric misfit genius albino pygmy rhino” at camp.

Disney serves all pieces of the kids’ pie. Commercial-free Disney Channel is a success with tween girls, while action-cartoon blocks on Toon Disney and ABC Family (Power Rangers) are nearly all-boy in appeal. ABC’s Saturday-morning lineup features a mix of reruns from other channels.

Among 11 new series to air on one or more of the networks: animated series The Buzz on Maggie (June), a fly; Katbot (fall), a cat robot; and Emperor’s New School (next January), a spinoff of Disney’s modest theatrical hit The Emperor’s New Groove. Preschoolers can look forward to Mickey Mouse’s Clubhouse (March 2006) and Little Einstein (later this year), based on the hit Baby Einstein book and video series.

And live-action series include Naturally Sadie (June), an oddball teen, and The Suite Life of Zack & Cody (Fridays at 7 p.m. ET/PT starting March 18), about twin boys living in a swanky hotel.

The big news is the controversial “reimagining” of classic Warner Bros. cartoon characters as Loonatics Unleashed. Also new is Coconut Fred’s Fruit Salad Island, a whimsical, suspiciously SpongeBob-like series about a “big-hearted optimist” coconut and his “fruity islander” co-horts, and Johnny Test, about an 11-year-old boy, his genetically engineered dog and twin older sisters who use Johnny in their science experiments.

The aim, Kids’ WB chief Betsy McGowen says, is to “add more dual-gender programming” to the boy-centric network by balancing action shows with comedies, in hopes of reversing last fall’s 32% ratings plunge among kids 2-11.]

When oppositional pieces appear without apposition it requires integrative analysis of the reader, an ability one might argue is lost or at least not nurtured in an “ oppositional argument media culture.”

It is my view that oppositional creates “heat but not light” and the light and insight we seek is found in apposition, especially in an age of polyvocality.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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