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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Calculated story telling sets heightened expectations

I think I better understand why some people say that TV rots your brain. I'm not talking about whether a flickering box of light or fast-paced cuts or any of that stuff mesmerizes you and turns you into commander pudding head. No, I'm talking about the art form of storytelling.

Think about how your average TV show works. Odds are, if they introduce something to you at any point in time, they are going to use it later. Some shows are really good at this. Their writers have clearly heard about Chekhov's gun and aren't about to violate such things in their scripts.

This usually comes up in the scope of a single episode, but some shows stretch it out to multi-episode arcs, seasons, or even the entire series. It's when something obvious gets left out or somehow fails to be resolved that people start feeling that something is amiss.

My thinking here is that this sort of payoff sets up a certain expectation in the viewer which may carry over to real life. Here's why.

I sat on a jury late last year and was making a point to pay attention to everything going on. I was going to vacuum up everything everyone said or did up on that stand, and precisely how they phrased things. While this was going on, there were a number of topics which either were never raised or were abandoned short of their logical conclusion.

As a juror, there is nothing you can do about this. Only the lawyers can ask questions, and only then if certain other requirements have been met -- foundations and such. All you can do is sit there and take it all in... just like watching a TV show.

The key difference here is that a team of skilled writers did not sit down with their rotisserie chicken to craft this story. Whatever happened was merely real life, and what you're going to hear about it is a function of what the two sides can manage to extract from certain people. There may be some weaving of tales going on, but they are at best what they want you to think, and not something which may have actually happened.

At any rate when it's time to go deliberate and you're reviewing all of your notes and conferring with other jurors, certain things may jump out at you. There's really nothing you can do about it. You certainly can't do any sort of research on your own, so that's out. You can't talk to anyone but the other jurors, and then only in the deliberation room.

Eventually, you just have to let it go. Real life has loose ends.