It's hard to deny that film and television (and by extension all visual media) have an advantage as entertainment in that they flood the senses in a way that words on a page do not. It's also hard to deny that, at least in terms of readers having to produce a sensory equivalent, books require more imagination.
However, the simplicity of this idea (and perhaps, more to the point, its implications) bores and annoys me. I instinctively feel that this attitude about books being somehow superior doesn't actually come from a respect for the medium itself but from habit and personal experience.
I suspect that those who profess that television rots your mind while books enhance it would not also argue that sex is inferior to masturbation for the same reason. Or that food with too strong of a taste destroys creativity by leaving nothing to the imagination. That said, television has always been much more heavily regulated than literature and therefore less likely to offer something that suits your personal taste.
Stock photo to keep you reading. Does this degrade us both?
Books are associated with intellectualism. This goes hand in hand with the notion that almost no one will care about them. Subject matter and language that creates an uproar when it appears on television gets written into novels all the time and no one cares. Books are sometimes banned from school libraries and that gets talked about, but this will only ever happen on a limited scale because in order for a population to get up in arms about something in a book, at least a few of them have to read it. So when it does happen, we make the most of it.
The social climate these days is very sensitive to notions of equality and how we treat people and use various words. For example, don't tell a mixed-race woman that she looks "exotic," as this dehumanizes her by categorizing her like a fruit or a flower. Don't assume that someone from an "ethnic" background is somehow more "culturally connected." So why do we assume that writers of novels or poetry are smarter or more intellectual than people who write for television or movies? Do lovers of books not understand that this faux-respect just ultimately reinforces the separation between the "important" as opposed to the "enjoyable" and makes it harder for writers of books to get paid?
I also assume that people of the "books are superior" school of thought are likely not reading Harry Potter and watching Godard, only...oh shit, maybe that's exactly what they're doing.
Disclaimer: The idea for this blog entry was conceived while the author was in an 8 x 8 cubicle and acutely feeling that claustrophobic "arguing on the Internet" feeling. This is not to invalidate any of the above, but simply to acknowledge that the opinions expressed are probably not very interesting for those who already agree with them and that the author is not the type to gain satisfaction simply from sticking it to those who don't agree with her, unless it results over the course of an actual, dramatic, drawn-out argument witnessed by many people and proceeds in such a manner as to make it very satisfying indeed. Even in this case, though, victory is likely to be bittersweet, and to overwhelmingly result in that "important" but sad and spent feeling. In other words, she might have influenced some minds, but she could have been reading Tolstoy.