Father Longenecker has an interesting opinion piece about how fantasy films destroy the imagination while simultaneously creating demand for more fantasy entertainment.*
The dynamic of interaction is totally different when viewing a film as opposed to reading a book. When we watch a film we are drawn into a sympathetic relationship with the hero. We go on his adventure with him and identify visually and emotionally with his doubts and fears, joys and sorrows, conflicts and triumphs. The transaction is a dramatic one…. The experience, however, is imaginatively passive. That is to say, the imagination is dormant. Everything is provided on the movie screen, and the viewer’s imagination lies on one side unused.
When I was growing up, reading was the usual entertainment in our house. Trips to the cinema were few and far between. SF and fantasy TV shows tended to be reruns on weekends: the original Star Trek, Dr. Who, and Channel 5’s Saturday afternoon movie. I remember some of those movies! The Blob terrified me for years, The War of the Worlds intrigued me, and Mom revealed her childhood crush on the actor from The Day the Earth Stood Still.
If we really liked a movie or a TV program, we milked the experience for all it was worth. We quoted lines, acted out scenes, and wondered what happened to the characters afterward. (Real movie sequels never held a candle to our crazy storylines!)
The explosion of film and TV in the SF and fantasy veins came in the ’90s. I admit I got hooked on Star Trek continuations and Buffy the Vampire Slayer – I even recorded Babylon 5 so I could watch it after class. And the movies! My friends and I went to the $1.50 theater in the nearby mall. The bad movies like Tank Girl and Judge Dredd vastly outweighed gems like Stargate and Dark City. We STILL went.
I didn’t think such things killed my imagination. After all, they were mostly forgettable. However, later I was working my way through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. In Week 4 of the course, the task was to give up reading in our leisure, but also to avoid other media. At that point, I was only watching a few hours of TV a week, but how I missed it!
Cameron explained why a lot of blocked writers and unproductive artists benefited from shutting out even reading. Definitely food for thought:
“Reading deprivation casts us into our inner silence, a space some of us begin to immediately fill with new words – long, gossipy conversations, television bingeing, the radio as a constant, chatty companion. We often cannot hear our own inner voice, the voice of our artist’s inspiration, above the static. …(W)e need to cast a watchful eye on these other pollutants. They poison the well.”
*Yes, at the Creative Conservative website Political conservative Russell Kirk was a fiction writer. I highly recommend the collection of his ghost stories, Ancestral Shadows.