Hulu Saves The World. Or not.

One of the most talked-about commercials from last Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast was Hulu‘s “An Evil Plot to Destroy the World” spot. Understandably–the ad was funny, it enlisted the star power of Alec Baldwin, and it had the dubious privilege of existing within a Bowl broadcast that produced few other memorable commercials. As you know, though, the real appeal of the spot comes in its startling acknowledgment of the kinds of critiques that have been leveled at modern media purveyors, namely, that the constant presence of screens in the modern life is making us less socially functional and more relying on technology to get us through our daily journey:

“And the best part is, there’s nothing you can do to stop it. I mean, what are you gonna do, turn off your TV and your computer?”

I can only assume that Baldwin’s question forced a lot of people–many of whom were undoubtedly checking their Facebook page as they kept one eye on the TV screen–to stop in their tracks and think about how close to home the words were hitting. Yet, for every viewer who was appalled to be confronted by such a brutal truth, I believe there was another who shrugged and said, “Yep. I am addicted to having a screen in front of me.”

This acknowledgment may be the key to harnessing the wonderful access that our computers, phones, and television sets give us, using them to make us all the more intelligent about both what what we consume and what we produce. The fact that Meetup uses a digital, Evite-like program to put into effect their “Unplug Your Friends” screen addiction intervention program is a humorous reminder that turning off completely is both unnecessary and, ultimately, limiting. Gone are the days when it was trendy to say you didn’t own a television. Cultural literacy is, I would say, as valuable a form of social currency now as it has ever been.

And while I do not subscribe to Steven Johnson’s belief, put forth in 2005’s Everything Bad is Good for You, that today’s lowest common denominator media artifacts are significantly more challenging and rewarding than their counterparts of yesteryear, the abundance of screens has certainly raised the bar on the highest common denominator, both in quality and quantity–the more transistors, the more opportunity for consumer control. This consumer control is also made possible by the self-selection of time and place of consumption, a well-documented factor in the continued proliferation of digital forms of viewing. And, perhaps most importantly, the abundance of screens has given us a powerful cross-referencing tool, and the fact that we are becoming quite good at using this tool easily stamps out the notion that we are falling into passive realms.

It is the tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment of these aspects of modern media–as well as their Luddite naysayers–that made the Hulu spot such a breath of fresh air. If more media outlets can intelligently acknowledge modern consumption and thereby encourage its most intelligent use, we will be on the right path to avoiding mental destruction.

UPDATE: It has occurred to me that all of these goddamned screens have, in fact, started to rot my brain and everything I said above is a lie that I was tricked into thinking I believed. Sorry for the confusion.

UPDATE: I just did some online research, and it now appears that the original post was both accurate and honest. Please disregard first update.

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