South Park and the Open Society by David Curtis and Gerald Erion is an article that analyzes a popular television show and explains the meaning and purpose that lurks beneath the jokes and humorous plot. Art Form for the Digital Age by Henry Jenkins is an article that advocates video games as an emerging art form and draws comparisons to silent cinema. Although the articles are on completely different subject matter they have a thematic connection. Both articles teach the reader about underlying messages that are conveyed through different mediums and how they have relation to the world around us. South Park and the Open Society and Art Form for the Digital Age are both epistemological representations of society providing insight on our behaviors as a whole.
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One may argue that video games and television shows are merely forms of entertainment and have no true value in forms of reflecting on our society because they do not have the ability to move us emotionally; not allowing them to be regarded as art and having significance beyond entertainment. Jenkins quotes an idea of Seldes saying “Contemporary games can pump us full of adrenaline, they can make us laugh, but they have no yet provoked us to tears. And many have argued that, since games don’t have characters of human complexity or stories that stress the consequences of our actions, they cannot achieve the status of true art.” (Jenkins 205) This quote illustrates an opposing view that one may have. True art moves people emotionally, therefore art reflects society because it is constructed through the mind of one who is affected by it. Art is a form of expression from the point of view of the artist who is experiencing it. If this is true, video games cannot be considered true art because they do not push us emotionally, therefore they cannot be representative of society.
South Park and video games are not only mediums of entertainment in the form of animation, they have a way of telling us something about the world we live in. “Games represent a new lively art, one as appropriate for the digital age as earlier media were for the machine age. They open up new aesthetic experiences and transform the computer screen into a realm of experimentation and innovation that is broadly accessible.” (Jenkins 204) Video games are an emerging art form that is largely unrecognized. It is a form of art in the “digital age” just as other forms of media were considered art in their respective times of popularity. Since video games are a new form of art for a new age then it has to be reflective of the direction in which our society is moving. Critics must also give video games time to fully emerge as a form of art. We are moving towards a society where digital technology is very important and constantly present in our lives. Video games are the proof if we look at the growth of the industry and sales over the past years. The fact that the industry is growing so rapidly shows a transition in the way we as people interact in society. We are more dependent on technology more than ever and video games have ways of reflecting that because they have become a large part of our culture. Curtis and Erion wrote, “a sophisticated social criticism sometimes lurks beneath the surface of seemingly inane cartoons, comics, video games, and the like.” (Cutis and Erion 296) Video games and television shows often have a deeper meaning beyond the plot. A lot of these messages are overlooked by viewers because they are presented esoterically. You would not understand the underlying messages unless you are knowledgeable on the subjects and are aware of what is going on in the world around you and in the medium specifically.
South Park and video games provide social commentary and criticism presented in an esoteric fashion. When discussing South Park, Curtis and Erion write, “we can draw and oblique social criticism from the show that illustrates some of the fundamental principles of democratic political policy…” (Curtis and Erion 296) South Park plays with the philosophy of open and closed societies introduced by Karl Popper. It deals with “social enemies” as a way of advocating tolerance. It plays a devil’s advocate between two polar points of view. The characters represent extremist points of view. This show teaches lessons in tolerance and the effect it has on society. In each episode a character engages in some action that causes a reaction by the other characters. The main character of the episode will represent a point of view on current societal issues and the reaction of the other characters often represent the two extremes of the argument. All of these things put together presents a comical model of society that represents Karl Popper’s idea of “open societies” being the best societies and why not tolerating intolerance is the best philosophical position for society take in order to grow positively.
Jenkins writes, “Cinema and other popular arts were to be celebrated, Seldes said, because they were so deeply imbedded in everyday life, because they were democratic arts embraced by average citizens…they captured the vitality of contemporary urban experience.” (Jenkins 204) Video games as an emerging art reflects society because they are a part of everyday life and they capture what is going on in the real world. There are a lot of violent video games around today. These violent games are usually the top sellers. It is not hard to believe being that we live in a world that is constantly plagued by violence. Video games may be violent because we live in a violent society. “We should instead look at video games as an emerging art form- one that does not simply simulate violence but increasingly offers new ways to understand violence- and talk about how to strike a balance between this form of social expression and social responsibility.” (Jenkins 206) Instead of blaming video games for the violence that we experience we should look at the existing violence as inspiration for the video games. What we experience in the world is what pushes people to create the games that they create. We should take video games as a form of therapy to understand why things are the way they are. We need to take responsibility and look at the true causes of what inspires video games. We can use video games not only as an art of expression but also as a way to take steps of figuring out the roots of our problems.
South Park and the Open Society and Art Form for the Digital Age are epistemological representations of society. Beneath the surface of their apparent function lies critical information about the current condition of our society. If we analyze video games and television shows deeply enough we will see that their origins are inspired by society and what is happening around us.
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