Ruination of Imagination

If you are 23 years or younger you may be vaguely insulted by this post perhaps without really realizing its point because, through no fault of your own, modern media have mollycoddled you into a false, safe space where, in order to survive, you only need to agree with what has come before.

You need not worry about indecision or creating thoughts of your own because you are no longer required, as a member of your generation, to innovate or create or to abstractly think constructively. For those of us who were raised on radio and not music videos we know one undeniable thing: Music videos have ruined the imagination of our young people. Imagination runs from definition and does not like parameters or settled ideas.

Music videos, as a matter of being, defeat those terms of imagining, and the result is a paralysis of innovative thought. When we listen to songs on the radio or when we watch a band in performance, we bring our own emotional meaning and mental images to the melody and we imprint those experiences as memories. We reflect on previous moments of our lives with those touchstone memories that can change and stretch as we grow older.

Children who have been raised on music videos for the past 23 years have no ability to let their imaginations define the inner meaning of songs because the music video director has done that for them: There is a story, a plot and a series of images that are pre-packaged and pre-defined for consumption and remembering. MTV music videos are the Swanson TV dinners for an entire generation and neither videos nor TV dinners are sustaining or fulfilling. That lack of imagining songs on an individual level has a more frightening and insidious meaning beyond music.

Young people today only know what is told to them. They do not care to understand how one idea can have several meanings depending on experience and inner values and how there must be many paths to one truth. They instead seek to find definition of meaning on a mass level for comfort and for fitting in and the only thinking required of them is the agreement to agree.

These young people are not free-wheeling thinkers; they cannot imagine more than one solution to a problem and for them to even consider the idea that sometimes 2+2=5 is as horrendous and distasteful for them as having to provide their own inner meaning for a song.

Convincing others their personal view can require a wider need beyond the innate is as
foreign to them as a sliver in a newborn’s finger.  How can we encourage our young people to reignite their imagination from the ruins? The answers are easy and impossible: Turn off the television. Read books instead of watching music videos. Listen to the radio. Never take anything at face value. Live a cynical life.

Believe nothing is true until you find out the facts for yourself.  These answers are tall orders for parents who, more and more, give up their parental rights and the welfare of their children to a babysitter that is a television and to a morality that is merely handed down and repeated by rote by the media instead of being taught and lived by example in person.

31 comments

  • David,
    I agree with you more and more.
    Parenting is hard work and the more that we leave it to T.V., the harder it is going to be. There is nothing like good old human interaction to make your children better communicators and there is nothing like a good old fashioned book to get those creative juices flowing.
    It is tempting to set those kids in front of the T.V. and go and do whatever, but those are lost moments.
    I would much rather go to the park with my kids or to a museum than watch T.V., but sometimes the T.V. slips in, but you have to monitor and regulate.
    I remember life before music videos, listening to records and going to the bowling alley to play pin-ball and bowl. Of course nothing was better than the skating rink.
    Kev

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  • Hey Kev!
    Thanks for the cool comment! I love television. I watch a lot of television. I was raised, however, on the radio where your mind is required to paint the images before you. Cable television was not around when I was growing up so if you wanted to have some fun you had to go out and create your own entertainment.
    I, too, had fun with pinball and foosball. The skating rink was a Saturday experience and we used the old four wheelers per foot instead of the inline kind. I wonder how many kids today know the how and why of using a skate key? :)

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  • I’m 18 and I think I know what you mean. My friends don’t get you can do things in lots of ways like drawing a straight line thru a center point. Lines change but the point doesn’t. I paint to draw my own center. I paint what my mind sees not what my eyes tell me. There might be hope for us yet.

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  • Thank you for your note, Yeuli!
    I admire your ability to paint what is inside you and by sharing that vision you are allowing others to follow the pathways of your mind.
    Keep up that honorable challenge to foil the hollow visions around you.
    I am with you!

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  • Our family didn’t even get cable television until I was a junior in college, and I went to college in what appears to be the dark ages now – with no cable and no Internet.
    These days, we watch music videos, but I “watch” them more to hear the song than anything else. In fact, my husband and I both, if we’re hearing the song for the first time through the video, we don’t even look at the screen.
    I’m frustrated by how the music video is the be-all and end-all of one’s music career; however, in the genre of country music, it’s the only way some artists are ever heard. Bluegrass or roots music performers like Alison Krauss and The Del McCoury Band are never played on the radio, but their videos consistently make the country music video channels countdowns.
    And it’s also frustrating to see young people just following the crowd, doing what they’re told and listening to what’s piped into their radios without looking for something deeper and more meaningful.
    But you know, MTV hardly plays videos anymore anyway! :-)

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  • Hi Carla!
    Yes, music videos are a small indicator of giving over control to authority in exchange for hapless, mindless, thinking.
    Figuring out stuff alone is tough work and with the rise of the internet and blogging, the temptation is even greater to let others do the thinking for you as you copy and paste the ideas of others into your own thoughts.
    I know MTV2 plays most of the “music” today and the original MTV is now Reality Show Central. It’s all part of the sorry process, I suppose, as we now need our reality defined for us in addition to our music. :)

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  • If I am to take your point literally, then what is the purpose of going to the Opera? Back in the olden days, to hear music, you had to be present. Has the Opera been outmoded simply because we don’t need to be there to hear it? No – music to me used to be an entirely aural experience, but with the advent of the music video, artists can express themselves in new ways. The cool part is that I can choose not to watch MTV…

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  • Hello Todd —
    Your opera comment is interesting.
    The difference is one of magnitude and persistence of vision. An opera, as a live performance, changes from performance to performance and even minute to minute. You can also choose where you look and how long you look and you can interactively decide to watch a single spot in the sky as the performers do their singing across the stage. You set the parameters of the memorized image, not the director.
    Different directors give operas different meanings over space and time. The opera I see in Berlin on Monday is not the opera you see on Tuesday in Paris even if we see the same exact opera.
    A music video is, by design, eternally persistent over and over and over again on a massive scale of millions of eyes per day. “Hit Me Baby One More Time” is the same video for us and for our grandchildren and we cannot choose what to watch because the images move too quickly and the length of the gazing is not self-determined.
    An opera way back when or right now cannot attempt to cover the same mass of image hypnosis that a music video is made to create. A live eye event always trumps a recorded eye event.

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  • Music videos are a curious thing. I am 20, and have never bothered to watch MTV or such, I don’t usually like the music anyway, but I do watch so called “anime music videos”. If I have had never heard the song before watching the video, I usually associate the auditory with the visuals. In other words, if tomorrow the song is played on the radio, my mind conjures up images of the video which (along with the music itself) then illicit an emotional responce of whatever sort which have an effect on my dealings with the outer world. However, if I have never seen a music video, my mind is more likely to associate the music with a wider window of emotions, perhaps drawing on the sorts of emotions that I felt while I first heard the video.
    At any rate, my point is the video, at least for me, does little to change my impression of the song if the song was first heard without the video. And if the music video was watched first, later experiences with the music are likely to draw up the sorts of emotions and imagery present in the video, but either way, it is simply a mood altering experience – watching a video does fine tune the mood alteration in some specific way, but sometimes thats exactly the sort of thing you’re looking for a song to do.
    Some videos work, they are abstract and full of emotion, open to interpretation, and let your mind’s eye paint a picture of the rest of the world the video might be taking place in. See Bjork’s “Full of Love” video for an illustration. These types of videos do not limit your imagination, but simply give it new ideas to run with, I believe. If you let music videos simply be another tool which your brain uses to draw conceptual ideas towards a full picture – rather than the full picture itself – music videos can be a great way for artists to further express their creative talent.
    Another note, if you don’t believe music is a creative a process for the end-listener as it was in the old days, consider the number of remixes today vs yesteryear. People everywhere are using the power of computers and the medium of the internet to express their reiterations of old ideas in bold interesting new ways, ways that were impossible before the digital era, this points to a generation that may be more creative, at least musically, than its predecessors.
    Justin

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  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Justin!

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  • I have to agree. As a person who commented on my blog said: Those are the thoughts that need to be expressed in this type of society where it’s okay to be whatever you want, just as long as you’re not homeless, gay, or against the majority.

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  • When I was first learning to read books with no pictures, way back countless moons ago, I complained bitterly. Without the pictures I couldn’t ‘see’ the scene … or so I thought. My mother patiently explained that a book with no pictures was better … I could then paint my OWN pictures … set my own scenes. From that day to this … I have found that doing that makes the ‘read’ better for me. When I see a book made into a movie invariably I don’t like the way it ‘looks’ because it is not as I imagined it.
    Music is the same! Wonderful post!

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  • You got it, Mama! :) Books without pictures. Music without images. Let us invent our own mindview! I am so happy your mother taught you how to imagine. What a beautiful and everlasting gift!

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  • Even though I am under 23, I completely agree with you about my peers and I’m a bit horrified! The thing that scares me the most is DVD players in cars. To think we don’t even have children sit quietly for a car ride anymore — we have to keep them constantly stimulated. When I was little my parents would spend hours driving around the French countryside going to wine tastings (my mother is a wine importer) and my sister and I were simply expected to wait in the car. I think it was good training for us and we learned to be entertained with ourselves and our own thoughts. Nowadays, kids take an ipod, a laptop, a DVD player, and a gameboy even if they’re going to wait for twenty minutes! It’s unbelievable.

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  • Hi Blair!
    It’s nice to hear from you again.
    I appreciate your authentic voice and it is obvious you and your family are not ordinary in taste or expectation and that is why people like you are so valuable and vital to the future course of our nation.
    It will take lots of you to make a creative and imaginative path for others to follow.
    The trick for you will be to find a level of communication so your peers and the yet unborn will understand you without breaking you from your intellect and aesthetic.
    Leading with a vision that is liquid and never brittle is a trick few people ever learn and not many can master.

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  • Hey there. I’m 39, don’t watch videos, don’t listen to radio, etc.
    HOWEVER.
    I think this is on par with what we say about kid’s attention spans these days. “They watch tv for 5 seconds, they use the computer while they watch tv while they do their homework”, etc. The interesting response to this is as follows:
    The brain is CHANGING. In concentrating on images and not words, in focusing attention on 2 or 3 or 5 things at once, the brain is being re-wired. Yes, it’s annoying to we adults who find it annoying and who don’t understand it, but I find it simply fascinating to watch, from a sociological and a scientific point of view. They told us Rock & Roll would rot our brain too, remember? We were changed, yes, but we were not destroyed. Our children are (and will continue) changing in ways we may not grasp, but that doesn’t make it wrong. We don’t have to watch or listen to what we hate (and god knows I hate videos) but the process in which such things change our children is simply thrilling. At least to me.

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  • Thanks for the interesting post, Anne! You bring a lot of things to think about to the table.

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  • ahh… I remember the very 1st music video I ever saw.. it was by a band called Adam and the Ant and the song was called Prince Charming. It was on a show called POP SHOP represented by a chap called Karl Kikilus.
    damn we are talking many years ago but prior to that era I just had to close my eyes to enjoy music

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  • Hey Paul!
    Love your blog. :)
    I think the first official music video I saw was the Buggles song MTV played when they first went on the air.
    I also remember “Friday Night Videos” on NBC where they’d play *parts* of popular video music songs each week for an hour. It was funny!

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  • Gosh, thinking back myself. who remembers the Billy Jean and Thriller videos? Thriller was awesome in its day.

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  • Hey vinnie —
    I agree with you that, as cinema, the early Michael Jackson videos were much more than just music! :)

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  • David!!!
    As I mentioned in my “‘a deal is a deal’ is dead” post it is an absolute blessing to have found your site. I am one of the new generation, being only 22, yet I feel so different and out of my time because I have the exact same concerns that you bring up. I myself am an avid reader of books, I love music, and most importantly I believe that any form of artistic expression (cinema/music/writing/painting/sculpture/etc…) should be open to individual interpretation. That is why I have hated it when people have come and asked me what my sculptures and drawings mean. I always say to them it means whatever you think it means, and they then give me flak, as if I am obligated to spoon feed them what I think my artwork means.
    And nowadays when you look at music and music videos all you see is some post-modernist band doing a remake of an old song, and then wrecking that old song; for it was back in times before I was born that musicians really had original ideas and imagination.
    What has happened to my generation???, for if you go into a university classroom and ask students to get creative they all start running scared saying that they’re not creative, it’s just not in their personality, or some schmick like that. What they don’t realise is that they find it hard to be creative because it requires two things:
    1) it requires them to think.
    2) it requires them to imagine.
    The two things that today’s mass media takes away from them. Now in the name of ‘progress’ there is just about a service or gadget to make everything quick and easy. Convenience is the disease of the new millenium.

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  • Hi Tim!
    Thank you for your beautiful and intricate message. You have spoken well for your “generation” and with folks like you there may be hope yet! :)
    Creative imagining takes guts and daring against the system to find success and that is a sad and frightening path that few are willing to plot alone.

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  • Hi David,
    Stumbled across your site while looking for something entirely different. It’s a good read and I can concur with the majority of your opinions and what are let’s face it, well put together rants. Anyway, is there any chance you can do me a favour? The reason I came across your site is that I was searching for a track I heard once in the 90’s – I didn’t get the name of the artist nor it seems the correct title. I had used a search engine and entered – ‘television, the ruination of a nation’ which I remember as being the main body or chorus of the song. It sounds like the kinda song you would appreciate having read the articulate contents of your site! Anyway, can you shed any light as to how I can get my hands on this song (if you know it) through download?
    Thanking you in advance,
    Tyrone, Dublin

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