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>Why we ‘see’ movies and ‘watch’ TV

>Watching the Emmys last night (and was Sally Field cut off because she spoke out against the war or because she said “goddamn”?) I idly queried why the Oscars have more prestige and glamor when more people watch more TV than they do movies. Richard had a ready, comprehensive answer: in an impulse hearkening back even unto the Greeks, film is public ceremony that demands respectful attention, and it’s bigger than we are. While we may eat during a movie (Twizzlers for me, thanks) we may not talk and the film cannot be paused by the audience or the sponsors. We watch it in the dark, all eyes on the screen.

The way we read is practically the opposite: we do it alone, in the light, and hold a book in our hands. But the status of the act of reading is greater than either seeing movies or watching TV, both despite and because of the fact that books have the smallest audience of the three. This may explain why censors go after books: they’re both bigger than us and easier to bully.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. >The Emmys/Oscars always remind me of so-called mass market books and trade books.

    Your fave Little Golden Book will never win a Caldecott or a Newbery, but a million kids will have it and love it just the same. No respect, but lots o’ love.

  2. >Too few people are aware of how strong is the smell of even a single Twizzler. Somebody five seats down can be eating one and there I am trying to watch, say, The Sweet Hereafter, and all I can think is: Twizzler.

  3. david elzey says:

    >Another reason why we “see” one and “watch” the other is purely physical. Film relies on retinal after-imagery that the mind has to actively make sense of frame-by-frame; in video the screen is pulsating in a way that stimulates the brains passive alpha waves, a pre-hypnotic state. We see the images in film and piece the information together, we watch the pulses of the cathode/LED/plasma screen and passively accept them.

  4. >It’s simply about numbers. They give out Emmys in, like, 250 categories every year. At the Oscars, it’s only 24, and you only have one shot to win for a particular performance or film (whereas at the Emmys, you can win every year your series is eligible). There’s no question which award “means” more.

  5. Anonymous says:


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