American pop culture has come a long way in the last few decades: from the rock 'n’ roll boom of the fifties, to the hippie aesthetic of the seventies, to the electronic age of the nineties. Pop culture clearly fluctuates at a rapid pace and even though fads have come and gone, one thing has remained viable even in more contemporary times: the TV set. On top of that, never has the world seen a greater peak in technology than it has in recent years, and the television is no exception. Unfortunately, as fascinating as these advancements may sound, it is generally presumed that the television—as with much modern pop culture tech—has had and continues to have detrimental effects on Western culture. Given that the TV has been a
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In fact, by 2006 it was reported that 99% of American households owned at least one TV, with 56% of that figure admitting to paying for cable (Herr). Indeed, very few people would argue against just how far the television has evolved; and in that evolution, the content and quality of televised programming has also changed. Drama TV is only one of the many genres that have experienced this variation, but it just happens to be one of the more popular (MarketingCharts). While contemporary dramas may vary from their “golden age” counterparts, whether or not they are altered to such an extent in where they can actually promote cognitive potency is truly controversial.
In his 2005 essay, Watching TV Makes You Smarter, Steven Johnson sides with the minority by arguing that modern television programming can enhance cognitive capabilities. Johnson explains that over the years, television shows—mainly drama TV—has become increasingly more complex and demanding on their audiences’ brain function. As Johnson himself put it: “to keep up with entertainment like 24, you have to pay attention, make inferences, [and track] shifting social relationships” (279). Johnson refers to this as the Sleeper Curve, a theory he believes to be “the single most important new force [in altering] the mental development of young people today . . . enhancing our cognitive faculties, not dumbing them