Engaging with Media

I enjoyed the Netflix show, The Witcher. One of the things I really enjoyed about the show, was that it trusted the audience to figure out the different timelines. For those of you that aren’t aware and haven’t watched the show, there are three timelines that converge. The clues as to the relationship between the timelines are somewhat subtle. You have to be paying attention to the show to catch all of them.

For example, in the very first episode Renfri mentions a young girl called the Lion of Cintra, shortly it cuts to calling Ciri the Lion Cub of Cintra. This is confusing, because of the age. it stuck out in my mind though.  A few episodes later when Geralt is investigating a Striga there’s a piece of art with a young prince and princess. Seconds later it cuts to a live shot of those people in a scene including Yenefer. It was around this point, after some definite confusion, it coalesced in my mind that there were three timelines and when the timelines were occurring. Within that same episode there’s another clue with Stregobor and his predilection to hunt girls born during the eclipse, indicating the ordering of time between other episodes as well.

Similarly, there were odd reactions to the middle episodes of the Mandolorian. Specifically, the Tatooine episode. Which I thought was strange. Sure there was some fan service in going to the planet. I felt it reinforced themes. Mando hated droids and didn’t trust them to do much of anything. That Mandolorians were generally honorable – given his dedication to the job he took. It was reinforcing who he was given the betrayal he’d just committed. It was reframing his commitment to the Child in context with he commitment to his code and the contract he committed too. It was a theme episode not one to drive character advancement.

I think there are a couple reasons for this. First, we’re not truly engaged with the media we consume any longer. If we are watching a show or movie at home, it’s likely we’re watching it while using another device, another monitor, but doing something else. Second, a lot of us never really learned about themes in literature and definitely not in movies. Without that knowledge, it’s difficult to understand why some director or writer would go this route with a given show.

While I think this is an education issue, Folding Ideas, over on YouTube, thinks this is an anti-intellectual issue. Where he believes it’s an intentional misunderstanding or ignoring of the themes. Where people reviewing or explaining the ending of a movie look for the literal textual based understanding without looking at the themes or metaphors within the film. You can see it below.

I disagree with this. If it was intentional, I don’t think we’d see it everywhere. Because it’s not just in entertainment media we see these sorts of critical misunderstandings. I think this is a combination of education, practice, and engagement. Since, we aren’t completely engaged with media, we miss things. The examples I gave that easily explain the timeline could be easily missed if you’re looking at your phone or only partially engaged with the media. If you aren’t willing to give your attention wholly to one piece of media, then the other piece of media will likewise be misunderstood and misinterpreted. It’s likely that a piece of misinformation would slip through our critical thinking during this dual engagement approach.

When I watch media, I try to engage with it entirely, however, this is difficult when you’re tired or when you have your phone right there. I try, when I’m at my computer, to focus on the video I’m watching or the article I’m reading. However, there are times when a video is interesting, but not enough to keep me fully engaged, so I’ll look at some other media. Generally, I’d like for people that write articles or produce videos to be more media literate. Read some books on media criticism and the different approaches based on the medium.

I remember watching the videos that are in the video above and just feeling frustrated because what they were saying didn’t resonate with my interpretation of the movie. In fact, they didn’t illuminate my understanding of the movie at all and just resulted in me turning off the video. Relatedly, I feel that The Witcher is suffering for literal interpretations of the show, when the right way to view the Witcher is through a theme lens. Because, there are a lot of interesting themes in the show, I really feel like each arc has a different set of themes that are important.

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