Words of MavericK

Blabbering of a Fool

“Who Made You Boss, Telling Me I’m Not A Reader!?”

I sincerely hope this is the last personal post before I decide the direction this blog of mine will be heading, either into a niche area of mine which probably is the niche area for many active bloggers out there, or towards deactivation.

Note: This is going to be a verbal diarrhea; hopefully editions will not be done to the original spew (meaning grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors abound).

I’m currently engaged in a project to get students (re)excited about reading, in this age of electronic games and virtual interactions. Seems like a tough call. In my opinion, what sets books back from these games and cyber devices is the lack of (instant) stimuli. In games, you push a button, you get an instant reaction; in cyber devices such as smartphones, Facebook etc., interaction is as instantaneous as face-to-face communication, but with the safety of anonymity (not always the case) and your comfort zone. When you read a book, the text is static on a plain surface. Same goes for an e-reader. Nothing visually happens when you read a book. Sure, you can have accompanying music to go with your book, but it would require extra effort when compared to playing a video or surfing the internet because, well, your book doesn’t come built in with music. Audio books, you say? Sure, as if listening to someone spending hours droning over countless text would seem more appealing to us predominantly visual creatures.

But one thing that books have that video games and most virtual devices lack, is the power to exercise our imaginations. When you play a game, everything (story, characters, character designs, landscapes, background music etc.) is predetermined for you; you are playing a scripted game. The use of electronic devices does not warrant the use of imagination, rather it satisfies another important of humans: the need for company. But books, glorious books! Sure they are, like games, scripted with a beginning, middle, and end, but the actual occurrences of events, the appearances of characters in the stories, the many possible motives behind the action of a single character; they are all only bounded by the limits of your imagination.

The ability of imagination, like every other human abilities, varies from person to person. One might be able to come up with Tolkienesque imagery when reading a book, while another could be seeing nothing but symbols that have been printed onto paper in black ink, when a book is held open in front of him/her. Avid readers would probably never understand the sentiments of the latter, unless one taps back into his/her memories when he/she was still learning to read. This, I feel, is what makes comics and graphic novels appealing. They take a step forward in scripting and helps the reader imagine the settings of the story, action sequences, and appearances of the characters. And of course, they tend to be more lighthearted in plot, which makes it equally appealing to avid readers as well (one should always have variation in their book diet, just like food).

In my various interactions with teachers and people working in the education industry, I realized that many actually despise comics and graphic novels, and do not recognize them as proper reading materials. Yet at the same time, they would very much like their students to grow to like reading. As mentioned, imagination is an ability that varies in level between different people, and we should not simply expect one book that appeals to one person, to appeal as strongly to another. However, by despising the medium by which the individual prefers to engage in the activity of reading, are you not despising the individual as well, for having made a “despicable choice”? One might argue that comics and graphic novels contain questionable content, but that is the case for full-text novels as well. The only difference is that through comics and graphic novels, the content is presented in an easily understood manner, which also means it will be more easily scrutinized by undiscerning eyes. How many of these judgmental people have actually read through a volume of comics?

And to my final point about questionable content. In a bid to “protect young minds” from being negatively influenced by questionable content found in books or any other media, you practice censorship and cut off all possible (to you) associations with the sources from them? It is akin to telling a child that a bear is potentially dangerous yet never showing him/her what an actual bear looks like. And when the child finally grows up and meets a real bear, I suppose that is the best time to experience firsthand just how dangerous a bear can be. While one will argue that it is a god-given (not that I’m religious in the first place) responsibility for anyone to protect young ones from potential harm, I personally think that it is just an excuse to avoid taking up the responsibility of educating them.

Instead of filtering out content that students might be in contact with, we should be encouraging them to expand their cognitive experiences, and then educating them on HOW (not WHAT) to deal with content and materials that seem to be questionable. And before anyone goes on a rant about how I’m trying to encourage pornography or anything similar; Pornography is not questionable, but is explicit. Questionable means there is room and freedom for discourse to take place. Sadly in Singapore, we aren’t thought how to think, but what to think. We are indoctrinated to listen to the “elders” because they just know what is right and good for us.

And this is how our creativity is eroded…slowly, but surely.

And to all those out there who only reads comics, manga, magazines, or simply anything with words printed/engraved on them: You are all readers. We are already engaging in some sort of reading. Do not let the inflated egos of “classy” novel readers tell you otherwise.

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