PBS Idea Channel: A Conversation Starter

by criticalhit009

I’ve recently realized that not only is a vast amount of information and art is available on the internet, the lamentable truth is that vast amounts also go underutilized or unseen. You could probably teach yourself basic trigonometry or 20th century Venezuelan political history with the plethora of information that is available. And let’s not even forget libraries, which hold large stores of information and art as well, with paid research experts to help you gather what you need for whatever project you could envision.

Now, relatively cheap access to this wealth of content does not limit the need for experts or schools. But it does mean that those with stable access to an internet connection and/or library card can radically improve their scope of knowledge and understanding significantly, if they have a balance of critical thinking, research skills, interest, time, and commitment.

So how does one react when presented with a channel solely devoted to widening the breadth of typically higher concept educational material on PBS Idea Channel? A project focused on exploring the current cultural landscape through often disparately-applied theory, the videos cover a broad swath of topics, from the masculinity of bronies, to whether Super Mario Bros. is a surrealist masterpiece.

You’d think I’d love this right? … Right?

Kayne West No

In brief, I appreciate the attempt, but find the execution often desperately lacking nuance, making the final assertions misleading or overly broad.

Many of the ideas this channel tinkers with aren’t too revolutionary, at least to those familiar with media theory and analysis. They sometimes have a limited scope in approaching a subject (see their thoughts on music performance), leading to conclusions I believe are somewhat inaccurate or could be more clear and concise . I particularly find their over reliance on binary questions in their titles frustrating, because they present and imply a yes/no dichotomy. No partial answers, no other plethora of options and opinions directly available. If I’ve learned anything from Derrida, it’s that binaries are full of deception. Now, this isn’t to say the viewers of the show won’t think outside of the binary situation presented, but it’s an inhibition that needs to be overcome. For instance: see my post on whether is nostalgia the reason for Adventure Time‘s success? (In short, no.) The question implies a yes/no response, and any response that seeks to answer differently will likely not have enough room in the youtube comments character limits.

While I don’t like the reliance on binary questions to provoke response (not to mention the inhibiting nature of youtube towards thoughtful written comments – i.e. character limit,) I do appreciate the convergence of all sorts of theory and media. Even if I do not agree with the final conclusions of each video, they at least create discussion and typically churn up resources about the topic to look into. But if they want to increase the breadth of quasi-academic discourse on youtube, they need to stop with the yes/no binaries and emphasize the plethora of opinions, theoretical constructs, and conclusions available.

I recommend the video series, if only to explore more about intersections of theory and pop culture. They work best as starting points of a conversation, and the creators are intentional about this, always ending with “What do you guys think?” at the end of ever video. In the spirit of this, I plan to analyze and dissect each video, both to bring a long-form voice into the conversation and exercise my own analytical skills.