Everything Will Flow

by: Will Brooker / Richmond University

Scuba Diving

Scuba Diving

In an article from 2000, seeking a word to describe the cross-platform convergence of early 21st century popular culture – the spilling from one type of screen to another, the alliance of TV or cinema texts with interactive websites where the fiction opens up into interactive simulations – I fixed on “overflow” as an update of Raymond Williams’ 1974 coinage, “flow”. Williams was describing the disruptive, dreamlike experience of watching American television, with its constant flash-forwards of promised shows to come and flashback reminders of stories gone before; its snatches of teaser-trailers for current affairs sliced into the middle of drama series, and its lack of obvious distinction between commercials and programmes. Glossaries of cultural theory suggest two other common uses of the same term, from Deleuze and Guattari (1983), describing subversive energies that are repressively channelled and structured by bourgeois society, and Manuel Castells (1997), discussing the transit of wealth, information and finance in contemporary communication networks.

There is, however, another definition of “flow”, distinct from yet in some ways relatable to Williams’ use of the term. It is the central concept in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work, and according to Csikszentmihalyi it provides nothing less than the key to human fulfilment. Flow, in this context, is the pleasurable sensation of losing oneself in an activity – work, a game, a physical or mental challenge – and becoming immersed, with everything perfectly meshing in a harmonious state where goals are set and satisfyingly met. Flow, or “optimal experience”, involves a paradoxical balance between structure and release, between control and surrender, between heightened awareness of self and a sense of connection with others, between concentrated focus on a goal and a feeling of automatic effortlessness; time contracts or stretches and the individual merges with the activity, totally absorbed.

This sense of immersion, where the everyday is transcended and the participant enters a different state of being, a form of communion with a text, a process and sometimes with other participants, seems to offer a fascinating approach to the experience of watching television: in particular the more intense viewing practiced by fans with their favoured shows. When a devotee of 24 unplugs the telephone and disconnects the doorbell ten minutes before the programme begins; when Twin Peaks cultists prepare coffee and cherry pie for a group screening; when a viewer of Dawson’s Creek wears her Capeside High t-shirt during the episode and plays one of the show’s soundtrack CDs afterwards while participating in the virtual community at Capeside.net, these viewers are engaging in a ritual experience that aims for, if not a total absorption in the diegesis, then at least partial immersion and a liminal state of existing between the real and the fiction, temporarily removed from time and place. The sensations described by Csikszentmihalyi’s research subjects, from mountaineers through chess and basketball players to dancers – “that’s all that matters” (p.58), “it becomes your total world” (p.58), “your concentration is very complete” (p.52), “the concentration is like breathing – you never think of it” (p.53), “your comrades are there, but you all feel the same way anyway, you’re all in it together” (p.40) – could surely apply equally to the TV fan at the moment of closest engagement with his or her favoured show.

The only obstacle to applying this fascinating model to the experience of TV fandom is Csikszentmihalyi’s attitude to television. He doesn’t merely fail to mention TV viewing in his discussion of flow activities; he deliberately excludes it, denying it any such potential and only referring to it as a negative example, a contrast to more worthwhile practices. “Dance, theatre and the arts in general” are dignified as the category of mimicry, “in which alternative realities are created” (p.72); pretending or dressing-up as someone else, connecting with another identity, is praised as “stretch[ing] the limits of…ordinary experience”, and compared with tribal masking rituals. (p.73) Reading is “the most often mentioned flow activity around the world”, and studying a work of art can transport the viewer symbolically to “a separate reality” (pp.118-119) Sex and eating can be transformed from biological urges into flow experience with the right kind of discipline and discrimination. (p.101, p.114) Even trench warfare and criminal activity such as vandalism or joyriding are, according to Csikszentmihalyi’s respondents, potential sources of flow (p.68). The audience at a live concert is in a prime situation to experience flow through joint participation; yet Csikszentmihalyi allows that listeners to recorded music at home can also reach a state of flow through active engagement. These sophisticated listeners “begin by setting aside specific hours for listening. When the time comes, they deepen concentration by dousing the lights, by sitting in a favourite chair, or by following some other ritual that will focus attention.” (p.111)

This is, of course, precisely the kind of ritual that TV fans regularly engage in to prepare themselves for the experience of participatory immersion, whether as a group or solitary activity, in a visual text. Yet Csikszentmihalyi refuses to discuss television viewing as anything but a passive, brainless, numbing act – rejecting all the well-known research into active viewing and viewers’ abilities to construct their own meaning from television shows, and clinging to surprisingly primitive, old-fashioned and shamelessly unsupported prejudices about the medium. Television is like a drug, keeping “the mind from having to face depressing thoughts” (p.169) “The plots and characters of the popular shows are so repetitive that although TV requires the processing of visual images, very little else in the way of memory, thinking, or volition is required.” (p.30) “While people watch television, they need not fear that their drifting minds will force them to face disturbing personal problems.” (p.119) “Watching TV is far from being a positive experience – people generally report feeling passive, weak, rather irritable, and sad when doing it…” (p.169)

Csikszentmihalyi’s unapologetic hostility towards television is, on one level, frustrating, because his theories of flow would otherwise seem to offer productive insights into the experience of immersive viewing. However, other researchers have, equally unapologetically, drawn selectively on his work and subjected it to a “negotiated reading”, taking what works and ignoring what doesn’t. Roger C. Aden’s 1999 study, Popular Stories and Promised Lands, for instance, refers frequently to Csikszentmihalyi’s model of flow, modified in turn through Victor Turner’s use of the theory. Turner applied Csikszentmihalyi’s concepts to the experience of pilgrims visiting the religious site of Lough Derg (p.137-8), arguing that their involvement in structured ritual and the loss of self in community chanting clearly echoed the pattern of Csikszentmihalyi’s non-religious flow activities. Aden uses the same definition of “flow”, but relates it to “symbolic pilgrimage” – including the practice of watching The X-Files.

“Scully and Mulder’s adventures are envisioned as releases into the liminoid flow of an alternative world…The X-Files offers a sacred place where ‘real’ time and space are excluded, much the same way in which pilgrims experience the liminoid of communitas ‘as a timeless condition, an eternal now…'” (pp.160-162) “The deep sense of involvement these fans report,” Aden goes on, “is also similar to the ‘flow experiences’ reported by pilgrims. These experiences are moments of ‘ordered existence’ that are ‘relatively lasting and totally absorbing'”. (p.164) These last quotations are directly from Csikszentmihalyi, Aden apparently seeing no problem in citing an author who pointedly kept TV viewing off his extensive list of potential flow experiences.

Turner, as we saw, brought his study of religious pilgrimage to bear on Csikszentmihalyi and convincingly showed that “flow” could apply to religious communitas. Aden’s work on symbolic pilgrimage echoes both Turner’s research into physical journeys and Csikszentmihalyi’s notions of flow through reading and music, arguing that individuals can experience a pilgrim’s transcendence of time and place, the same sense of travel into liminality, without even leaving the room. Csikszentmihalyi, on the basis of his 1990 work Flow, would resist this latter use of his own theory, but his contempt for television and denial of its role in flow experience seems unsupported by any survey of viewer activities, whereas Aden provides interviews from his ethnographic research to illustrate his assertion that The X-Files can enable an immersive ritual experience.

Further investigation of this kind could explore the flow experiences associated with various television texts, asking for instance how a group viewing differs in this respect from individual involvement, whether science fiction and fantasy genres offer particular opportunities for symbolic pilgrimage to altered states, how repeat viewing of a beloved, intimately familiar text differs from the first, suspenseful encounter with a brand new episode of a show, and how the experience of television flow relates to that of home movie viewing and the more obviously “active” process of playing video games.

It remains to be asked whether the use of Csikszentmihalyi’s ideas to elevate and celebrate the potential of television would be in any way unethical or inappropriate, whether the benefits of applying the “optimal experience” model to a medium Csikszentmihalyi clearly scorns outweigh our duty to the original author’s beliefs and intentions, and whether we have the right to contradict and correct his cultural prejudices in expanding the limits of flow.


Roger C. Aden. Popular Stories and Promised Lands: Fan Cultures and Symbolic Pilgrimages, Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 1999.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow: The Classic Work on How To Achieve Happiness, London: Rider, 2002.

Victor Turner and Edith L.B. Turner. Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture, New York: Columbia UP, 1978.

Raymond Williams. Television: Technology and Cultural Form, London: Fontana, 1974.

“Flow” & Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
More on Television Theory

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Please feel free to comment.


  • Picture someone watching TV so attentively that he/she is oblivious to everything else but what is onscreen. He/she is like a sponge, absorbing everything indiscriminately would say some. No! She/he is actively creating meaning from what is on TV, may say some others. Perhaps he/she is in a ‘flow experience’, in a total fulfillment that is quasi religious, Brooker would like to state. However, he hesitates because the original author of this new conception of flow hates TV. Is it ethical, Brooker asks, to use “Csikszentmihalyi’s ideas to elevate and celebrate the potential of television”? It is fair and normal, I would say, since in the cross-borrowing arena of academia no concept really belongs to anyone. The moment of TV watching remains fascinating and we are still trying to dissect it by making use of whatever theory is at hand, and in this sense there is nothing like metaphors to capture our imagination. ‘Flow experience’ seems to be one of these similes that can foster a lot of original thinking about television, especially regarding fandom.

  • Virginia Nightingale

    Yes, Csikszentmihalyi is disappointing on television, and media in general. But have I missed something? Wasn’t Williams talking about flow in terms of the medium not the viewer experience? It was television’s flow that he commented on. I’ve always thought of Csikszentmihalyi’s concept as more like Henri Bergson’s ‘duration’ (see also DeLeuze’s On Bergsonism), where body and mind are unified in one process. “Flow” is as possible on a factory assembly line as on the dance floor. The mind/body connection in regard to television deserves greater attention than it has received, but I think we need to be careful about what might be lost to future research and analysis if we conflate the spaces of flows (Williams, Castells) with the psychological experience of flow (Csikszentmihalyi).

  • I wonder if we can separate the medium of television from the viewer experience of it. What is television without a viewer? Whenever we analyse a TV text, we’re surely talking about our reception of it.

  • Jessica Richards

    TV- as the expierence

    Tv and film has been given a bad rep. As opposed to books or reading, the audience is given an image and as a result has been labeled as a passive, lazy experience for the viewer. When in fact it is the opposite, now of course there are those people and those programs that prove otherwise, but there are magazines and some songs that have the same effect. TV and film on the contrary force more work from their audience. In order for the program to be enjoyable and fully comprehended the audience must not only believe the reality if it, but immerse themselves in it. That’s why “Twin Peaks” is better with coffee and cherry pie, and people travel to Washington to visit the sites filmed in the show. It helps them not only enter the reality in their mind, but gives them a physical connection to it. They can see it, they can taste it, they can feel it. It is this flow experience that makes their work worthwhile- because they have a connection, a relationship with it.

  • Television as Lover

    I recently wrote and presented an article titled, “Television as Lover,” that took up many of the issues raised by Brooker as well as the responses to his column. But I came at these issues with a different vocabulary, primarily because I was unfamiliar with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work before reading this column. Upon reading the column, however, I was overcome by such excitement that I rushed out to the local Barnes and Noble in search of “Flow”—both the book and the experience. I found (in the disproportionately large self-help section) Csikszentmihalyi’s book, “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” and began loosing/helping myself in/to it. In this book, Csikszentmihalyi (1990) draws a key distinction between pleasure and enjoyment, linking the latter to his notion of flow. I couldn’t help but notice how closely his discussion of these two concepts (pages 45-46 if you’re interested) parallels Roland Barthes’ distinction between ‘plaisir’ and ‘jouissance’—two French words that both refer to pleasure, albeit different kinds of pleasure. In “The Pleasure of the Text,” Barthes (1975) argues that ‘plaisir’ is the pleasure associated with passive reading, while ‘jouissance’ is a more intense, erotic pleasure associated with blissful enjoyment [for more on this distinction, see Ott, B. (2004). “(Re)Locating Pleasure in Media Studies: Toward an Erotics of Reading,” *Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies* 1(2): 194-212]. As it turns out, Barthes notion of ‘jouissance’ shares several other features that Csikszentmihalyi identifies as central to “flow.” ‘Jouissance’, like flow, involves the ‘momentary’ loss of self (e.g., the dissolution of the subject), is an action (e.g., focused attention) as well as a state of being (e.g., enjoyment), is commonly associated with sex, and is an intensely personal experience. Barthes’ ideas regarding ‘jouissance’ were later taken up by his friend Susan Sontag, who employed the phrase, “erotics of reading.” Specifically, Sontag advocated “a ‘transparent’ approach to art, literature, life, in which we let the work *happen* to us as immediately as possible” [“Susan Sontag: A Revolutionary Thinker, A Pop Icon,” *The Philadelphia Inquirer* (30 December 2004): editorial]. Sounds like “flow” to me! But regardless of what we call it—flow, ‘jouissance’, or an erotics of reading—the question remains: Can one achieve it watching TV? Csikszentmihalyi thinks not; Brooker thinks so. I think, in the words of Homer Simpson, “You’re both right.” In the “Television as Lover” essay, I argue (in keeping with John Fiske) that when television first emerged, it did not readily lend itself to ‘jouissance.’ TV was really about ‘plaisir.’ So, historically, Csikszentmihalyi may have been correct. But two things have changed since then: (1) the technology itself and (2) the sophistication and ‘reading’ (viewing) practices of audiences. This is where I would urge us NOT to separate the medium from the experience of viewing it. TV’s uniquely fragmented character ‘today’ allows for total immersion, or blissful enjoyment if you prefer, precisely because it is an ‘open’ text (which I mean in Umberto Eco’s sense of the term). Open texts, which “involve” the reader are far more likely to lead to “flow” because they require focused attention. Since I believe it is possible to achieve “optimal experience” with television today, I’ll pose a different question. If “flow” is an intensely personal experience, what is the task of the critic? I wish I could claim the question as my own, but alas it is triggered by Barthes’ claim that my ‘jouissance’ is not yours.

  • slippery

    I agree with V. Nightingale that there’s need for caution here. For instance, I see a significant difference between talking about the way in which a product is perceived to burble along without intervention (R. Williams) and the action added to the pre-fab product by an individual or a group, when addition produces a heightened state (W. Brooker’s stand, I believe). The fact that the simple term “flow” seems to cover both events is quite deceptive, in my view, though revealing too, I suppose, in that it should help to discredit excessive excitement about this word. Maybe I’m biassed by the fact that I was aware of the concept of “flow” long before I could spell Czikszentmihalyi. In my life as a tennis player, we call it “being in the zone,” while my New Age friends talk about feeling “blissed out” and Victor Nell speaks of “enchantment” — this list could be continued. Thus, I advocate contesting Czikszentmihalyi’s “ownership” of a useful word. But I’d put more energy into devising tools of sufficiently sharp edges that analysts were encouraged/helped to distinguish between profound enjoyment of a TV show, the spiritual impact(on a believer) of a pilgrimage, and the muscle-quivering triumph one might feel high on a peak in the Chamonix. May I add, it were well to address both the book Czikszentmihalyi did with Rob’t Kubey, and Kubey’s essay in the “Audience and Its Landscape” collection. Why Kubey wrote the latter on his own, I do not know. But I might try to find out, if I was trying to figure out how the co-authored study informs — or doesn’t — Czikszentmihalyi’s resistance(s).

  • Flow(ing)

    I want to clarify my position in light of brillo’s post. I am NOT suggesting that Williams’ notion of “flow” (as an unending torrent of images)is the same thing as Czikszentmihalyi’s notion of “flow” (as optimal experience). On the contrary, they quite clearly refer to different things: the former to a ‘mode’ of textuality or communication and the latter to an ‘experience’ of the world. What I AM suggesting is that the ability to ‘experience’ flow (in Czikszentmihalyi’s sense of the term) when watching television MAY only be possible because of television’s underlying ‘mode’ of flow (in Williams’ sense of the term). So, while Czikszentmihalyi and Williams define flow in two very different senses, those senses may, indeed, be interdependent when it comes to TV. That said, the confusion created by using one concept to refer to two different things is why I prefer Barthes’ notion of *jouissance* to Czikszentmihalyi’s notion of flow.

  • Aaron A Hainline


    I understand why one might want to dissmiss TV as a source of flow. I think we are obligated to contend with the fact that there are always going to be passive people and active people in whatever activity or notion we can concieve. We as individuals undoubtedly vary in our participation in activities, shifting to suit our particular needs and desires. If you are watching for the sake of passing time, chances are you are not participating actively with what you are watching (decoding aside of course). But the moment you start making predictions, trying to put plots together, or even critiquing the show because you find something unbelievable, you are being actively engaged with it. At that point you have the potential to achieve flow, per the standard of engaging in an activity.Finally, Bull**** on the fact that Television doesn’t allow the mind to face depressing thoughts. Sometimes what happens on TV is the depressing thought, and I don’t mean it in the sense of “Oh God, there’s nothing on worthwhile.” But think about it, if you cry, laugh, smile, frown, cover your face and say, “oh man” then you are physically engaging with the TV, and it can be a totally involuntary reaction; never-the-less, you are becoming one with the activity, and using your body while engaging with the TV. That included with the aforemention ritual of music listening that TV viewers also go through, sounds like a damn good case for flow on both levels to me.

  • Kristyn N. Barnett

    Well this article hit me at home because I myself don’t like television if you remember I told you at out meeting on guad. I really like the way that Czikszentmihalyi use the analogy of “flow” because I totally agree with him. I don’t think that you have to use your brain to be engaged into T.V, instead I beleive that it is a stimulous that takes you from reality like Czikszentmihalyi mention in the aritcle. My mind just doesn’t fit into television and it could be that it isn’t a flow for me personality. I agree with the flows that he mentioned like reading, playing music, ect. Things that actually take intellectual thoughts and make you perceive things in a different manner than before. For example, I like to wakr board and to me this is a florm or flowing because you have to use your mechcanics to perform style. I do beleive there is good film out there toward you must actually use your brain to understand a movie, but T.V is not publicised to do this. It is instead based upon advertising. But shows like discovery can very informative but I don’t know if you could call them a Flow. Overall I thought this article was very interesting.

  • I agree with Csikszentmihalyi when he refers to TV as a negative example of flow. It keeps people from actually going out and participating in other activities. If someone sits on the couch to watch TV and doesn’t move except to turn off the lights when his/her favorite show comes on then what good has this person done? Not that the term flow couldn’t and shouldn’t be applied to television, it’s just that i agree with what Newton Minnow said when he said that Tv is a vast wasteland. Television is evil. it lures you in and doesn’t want to let you go. “When television is good, nothing–not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers–nothing is better.” however how often has TV come out with a good new substantial program that minnow would actually be proud of?

  • Deborah McIntosh

    I admit it. I love TV. (and you do too)

    While I understand that the foremost point in this article was to contradict Csikszentmihalyi’s exclusion of TV viewing as “flow”, I would like to applaude Brooker’s accurate portrayal of television and its followers. I really appreciate his observance of TV as an art, capable of flow, just like everything else in life we enjoy immersing ourselves in.

    Personally, I feel this medium has a horribly unworthy reputation. Why are people so down on television? Is it reality TV? Could be, I dislike it as much as the next person with a reality of our own. But this criticism of TV as a “vast wasteland” has been around for decades now, and is still echoed, practically shouted, today. While this point of view may never be eliminated, to generalize today’s viewer as a passive couch potato, getting dumber by the minute, is just not accurate anymore.

    This is the dawning hour of a new age of TV. The ability for flow while engaging in television has never been easier or more popular. Beginning with cable and the ability to address more complex and “sensitive” issues, people can engage on a whole new level with shows and particular networks. They can actually relate to characters, instead of wishing their home resembled “Leave It to Beaver”s. They can engage with their favorite song through its video, or interviews with the musicians, or even televised concerts. Your favorite sport- on TV, from the game to the play by play to the player profiles.
    Over indulgence of anything is harmful. I’m not promoting the over-indulgence of TV, or that one should appreciate everything on the boob toob. It’s a matter of appreciating the medium for what it is and what it has to offer. Ignoring the bad and enjoying/exploring/”flowing” with the good.

  • Counter Point

    I’m torn between Booker’s argument for the inclusion of TV into Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow. Until the mention of the show X-files, I agreed with Csikszentmihalyi’s exclusion of television from flow for two reasons: 1.) the lack of active involvement in television viewing and more importantly 2.) the lack of goal setting and reaching in television viewing. The latter was brought up by the article’s author but never used as a criterion for proving the active involvement needed to produce a state of flow as Csikszentmihalyi initially pointed out.Now the two categories in question by the article for their obvious more passive states of involvement are reading and music listening. Booker uses Csikszentmihalyi’s acceptance of these “active” events as being note-worthy of producing a state of flow as an argument for televisions inclusion. Let’s clear that up very quickly. Reading is a completely self-absorbed activity, bent on the totality of concentration of the reader to not only derive meaning from the text but also to continue reading; reading is directly dependent on its audiences actions. Unlike the television, if a reader puts down the book to take on another action the book does not continue announcing the show in the background. As for goal setting, continuing a text until completion and personal enlightenment are natural goals for any work of literature. Music listening as well is far more in depth that Booker’s article leads you to believe. Of all the texts considered as “arts,” music is the most complex. Even in its simplified pop format, any song has at least four layers of discernable text known as tracks: guitar tracks, bass tracks, drum tracks and vocal tracks. Listening to the individual parts of a song as well as collectively gives a listener insight into the mind of an artist and allows there to be a personal connection which leads to a state of flow. Listeners are no longer trying to “understand” texts but are undeniably “feeling” them. Once again, finding the time to sit down and actively listen to a song rather than just memorize the lyrics is for all listeners a rewarding experience.In the case of television, however, these criterions of active involvement and goal setting are not as obviously present. One may argue that you are actively pulling meaning from the fractured images of light that pass before the “boob tube.” However, this is no different than what you do all your life. We are constantly deriving meaning from patterns of light, which is the very essence of vision. What’s more is that situations on television are far from new and mind expanding but in actuality are repetitive and redundant. If you’ve seen one show you’ve seen them all, the only difference is setting and character. So how active is a viewer that is watching something rehashed. I believe this is what makes television so exciting to viewers. No matter what changes in their day-to-day lives they can return to the comfort of the ever-looping television screen to relive scenes they remember from infancy. As for goal setting, unless sitting through an entire episode of any show without going to the bathroom is a difficult thing to do there really is no use for it.There are, in conclusion, some shows that do not fall into stereotypical categories of TV. Although the are few and far between, these series are the ones that push the boundaries and give audiences something new and refreshing to return to time and time again. I believe that X-files fall into this category, as do most shows that take a more “film” approach to disseminating information, along with being more viewer engaging. For the most part, however, I agree with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s in excluding television shows as being flow inductive.

  • I Flow with TV. It is my Major

    My first thought was to agree with Csikszentmihalyi that Flow could not be achieved through Television viewing. As it is described to us originally the mere act of watching Television did not seem to satisfy the requirements. The act of watching television is after all, a passive one; a decision to not get up and do something else. Then again, I don’t believe watching a play, reading a book, or viewing a piece of art are more qualified than watching Television. If Csikszentmihalyi insists that these are proper Flow practices then he leaves his theory open to being applied to Television.

    Television, like any other form of entertainment, serves it purpose by engaging one in something that is inherently a form of excapism. His definition is paraphrased “…becoming immersed, with everything perfectly meshing in a harmonious state where goals are set and satisfyingly met.” How exactly is this reality? It is a fairy tale. Clearly he intends Flow to be a form of escapism and self actualization but when it comes to watching television the mere electricity of the medium seems to negate any credibility it might have. When one watches a TV Show they love with friends, they achieve all the criteria of Flow. They control their viewing, it is a choice to view at all, but surrender to the content about to be presented. As they continue watching they connect with the characters and simultaneously with the people around them. The goal is set: to understand and become abosorbed in the fiction of program. Intuitively, through expectations from previous episodes and shared experiences by those watching, the artifice on the screen takes on a meaning understood individually to each viewer. I believe this to be the essence of Flow.

  • The problem with television is that if you have watched one show you have watched them all. The same rehashed shows with modern updates have been playing for years and years. So when you sit through the same crisis that has occured for the um-teenth time and have no need for active decyphering of text of course you’re going to get sucked into the flow if you so allow it. I think the greatest problem with most of the shows on TV however is that they allow so few variations on the conventions of tv that they are little more than escapism. As far as television sizing up to other forms of activity that can allow “flow”, I think unless you selectively choose what you watch and were not to just randomly select a show it is by far worse as far as avoiding escapist tendencies. Also I would say that it is by far more sophisticated in its techniques of encouraging immersion whilst providing little else value.

  • Shenise Sampson

    Television as an experience

    In reference to Csikszentmihalyi’s opinion of television as a “passive, brainless, and a numbing act” is, I think, a harsh citique of something that is, in my opinion, a lot more than that. In my opinion, I see television as an experience, as an escape from the daily stresses of life–the classes, the homework, the social trials–television is what I can come home to and expect to fufill or release me from whatever emotions I am feeling that day. I think a lot of the repetiveness of television dates back to the days of the when television first arrived on the American scene. Everything we see today in a show is most likely a story that has already been told before, but its appeal and fascination comes from the way that story is told. Audience demand, I think is what drives the medium to continue to exist in the repetitive aspect that he was referring to in his article, but I think what people fail to realize is that the reason television is as successful as it is, is because audience’s have demanded it and caused it to be that way. Just as filmmaker’s try and make what appeals and what is popular with the audience, it is the same with television shows. It is an absorbing medium that is easy to get caught up in, but that is because although it may seem like “trash” to someone else, for me and many others it is the escape, the fulfillment of life, the fascination of surroundings, the hope of identifying with someone else like you, the act of learning. Everyday I am a student to television’s wide variety of images, visuals, and content. Although I know it may be “trash”, I will constantly learn from the flow of this medium and use it to life’s advantage. This is not saying that I except everything that is placed on the table in front of me, but I do agree that it is an easily distracting form of media that attempts to draw you into a world of fascination that is not always riddled with reality—but that is, I think, the exciting part about television. It’s ability to connect on many levels.

  • I would have to disagree with Csikszentmihalyi’s statement about TV as a way for people to keep themselves from depressing thoughts. I would say viewers are actively engaging in the TV show. It’s true that viewers don’t have to be the “brightest” people, however, I would like to think we have become a more sophisticated generation. TV is a way of escapism from our every day lives, but so is reading a book. I don’t think TV should be judged as less of a medium to become engaged in or that it should be looked down upon. I believe that TV shows are a reflection of what goes in society today and the relationships that people have with each other. The characters usually dress in the latest fashion and deal with current issues (even though they are a bit exaggerated sometimes.) This is why we are able to experience “flow” or enjoy “the pleasurable sensation of losing oneself in an activity.” The viewers make that connection with the characters. Also, watching television is a way for people to socialize. It’s exciting when you meet people that religiously watch the same TV show as you do. Then you start talking about how you know someone who has similar characteristics or personality of a character in the show. Life is hectic, I think that everyone should find something that they can use as a tool of escapism. No matter if it’s watching TV, playing a sport or painting. It’s good to have a “flow experience” doing something.

  • Csikszentmihalyi admits that classical music and literature can produce flow experiences. So what if someone watches classical music or a Shakespeare performance on the TV rather than the stage? If they report exactly the same feelings of flow then surely this validates TV? The problem with TV is that it is too easy just to watch “anything” without engagement. You can’t do that with a book. If you don’t engage with reading Hamlet then you will put the book down. The answer is to be self monitoring — ask yourself if are you being challenged by a TV program, or just watching because you can’t “be bothered” to do anything else. Ask yourself if it wouldn’t be better reading a book, or taking a nap.

  • Nice to see you here, and hope to see you again ;) . Glad that you like the article


    A treasure as I dive through the flows of Flow.com. There are so many articles enticing me to comment — some are arguing “the Revolution was (not) Televised” (16/09/11), some are making critique of Media Studies (05/27/2005), some are making tributes “How Long Will it Last, and Do You Really Own It?” to stars like David Bowie (09/03/2011), some passionately sharing their favorite TV shows along with academia background “How TV Met Narrative Sophistication” (10/06/2006), and even some are just posting their beloved plants and we are involving with the discussion of it on TV sets…etc. It’s been a long time since this article being posted, but thanks for this meditative piece inviting my flow of thoughts. Thinking of it as the ritual of immersion, a “symbolic pilgrimage,” the publicized secret of Happiness, and also a pure pleasure for an archaeological dig and retrospective mutual appreciations, under the realm of the trope, I inevitably think of what John Berger says “Metaphor is needed. Metaphor is temporary. It does not replace theory.”
    Thank you Cinema, and Goodbye.

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