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Monday, September 11, 2006

Protecting the Imagination

Karen Utley writes 'the imagination deficit could cripple society' in today's Statesman.

As young girls, the Bronte sisters created and performed imaginative dramas; Agatha Christie conversed with her many imaginary friends; young C.S. Lewis invented worlds and recorded their imaginary histories.

Fascinated by the origin of genius, we remember the childhood inventiveness of these novelists because the fruits of their unique and powerful imaginations have entertained generations of readers and continue to inspire authors and filmmakers today.


Unfortunately, however, electronic entertainment industries now are targeting even the youngest children. Their products and programming, including a cable network especially for babies, not only usurp the time children once devoted to imagination-strengthening play, they saturate young minds with ready-made, pre-imagined adventures. Constant exposure to the already-visualized creations of TV producers and video-game designers undoubtedly disrupts the natural growth of creativity. Unless parents and teachers take defensive action to protect children's imaginations, the electronically stunted imaginations of future writers will produce no "Jane Eyre" or "Chronicles of Narnia."

The cry has gone up many times in recent years that the imagination is being stunted by modern technology. I tend to agree, although I can't say that the imagination cannot find other ways to develop. There seems to be less tolerance for anything less than perfection in adapations, for instance. There is little allowance made for budget concerns, or other limitations. And yet, perhaps the proliferation of fan fiction, and fandom in general is a sign of where all of those imaginative energies are going. For instance, someone might forgo reading Wuthering Heights, watch the movie instead and then start to wonder what might have happened inbetween scenes, or create alternate plotlines, or look backward into the backstory or forward and create a 'sequel'.

To address the publishing issue, personally I am dissappointed with the quality of writing that has passed through my hands as an editor. The heart is gone. I believe the reason for the dearth of great literature is a more complex issue which cannot be attributed to a single cause. I have not read anything truly imaginative nor powerfully excecuted in a long time. And then, the work only had moments of illumination with long periods of dullness of style. These writers did not have television and cgi to blame. Doubtless, eventually we will see something truly great come along once again.


mysticgypsy said...

"not only usurp the time children once devoted to imagination-strengthening play, they saturate young minds with ready-made, pre-imagined adventures."

This is scary but true and it pains me to see this happening every day..even as I speak, for I have observed it where I work.

Does this mean that homeschooling in the best option then?

Brontëana said...

I don't know if homeschooling makes any difference unless the parents control how much time is spent on the internet, watching television and playing video games. In fact, I did read something about Jane Eyre written by a homeschooler. It was depressing how poor her imaginative skills were- not to mention reading skills. Stating the obvious, and then being confused by it- Jane is plain! So the book is terrible. And Rochester is wierd.

Mandy Joy said...

I've oftened wondered about "ready made, pre-imagined adventures" and their consquences on young minds...but didn't the Brontes build their imaginary worlds off of the legacy of literature and news of the outside world? Everybody has to start somewhere, and that somewhere is usually where somebody left off. We build upon, expand, and revise the existing themes and drama/story lines given to us, and conform them to our wills. Now, if the Brontes had a "Pilgrims Progress" video game, or an "Arabian Nights" DVD collection, would that deter their desire to expand and create and imagine? I don't have the answer, but I'd venture to say that there's probally alot more to creative development than what mode we get our fairy-tales and stories from.

Brontëana said...

very well said, Mandy! Although I find the idea of a video game of Pilgrim's Progress endlessly amusing!

mysticgypsy said...

I think it would be interesting if it is at all possible to measure Creativity;)

Perhaps the writer attributes creativity as something resulting from the effects of reading, as opposed to other forms of mental stimulation.

Brontëana said...

That's true as well :) Although you can see people not using their imagination plainly enough.

Anonymous said...

My children spent most of the last holiday outside engaged in imaginary games with their friends. They hardly watched TV at all and their social skills have improved. British terrestial kids TV tends to be of good quality. But I hate the masses of imported cartoons with their bad animation and plots which are quite frankly mind numbing. I can easily see how a child fed a daily diet of this will lack creativity.