Repetition Could be the New Mother of Invention.

Posted: May 7, 2013 in Uncategorized
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By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.

Why do I find myself watching a movie or reading a book for a second time?  And a third time.  And a fourth time.   And… get the idea.


How many times The Godfather?

Watching a movie over and over again-ditto a book-strikes me as odd, particularly in our day and age when fast, terse, concise, and straightforward serve as lodestar and watch words for writing, and communicating in general.  Once again the adage—less is more—proves applicable.  Whether talking, or writing, or dining, or even shopping, unlike buying—less is more.   Just do it, be done with it, and move on rings in my ears.

Watching a movie several times seems to violate today’s life style and/or world view.  For a) you should have taken in the message the first time;  b) you shouldn’t be reading things where you can’t do this; c) no one should be writing material which takes several reads; and d) you’re wasting your time watching or reading the same thing several times because you prevent yourself from engaging in new combinations and permutations which are more current and thus more interesting.

Nonetheless I find myself reading the same thing again and again.  Can there a reasonable or actually several reasonable explanations for such behavior, I anxiously ask myself, late at night, after waking up in fear and trembling from a particularly bad dream?

The theory of cognitive dissonance forces me to offer a few justifications even if initially I can’t think of any.  Well, my first rationale is that whether right or wrong, I notice I’m still finding new things in the movie (or book) that I had missed during an earlier viewing.  Since I’m still able to learn from the movie, I conclude watching it makes sense.  Also I’ll see again a scene I know by heart yet continue to enjoy its special attractions nonetheless.

Another justification for watching a movie again is very simple, however unfortunate:  increasingly I realize how easily and often I forget all kinds of things, including scenes from a movie or book.  Remembering how frequently I forget even favorite parts of a movie I assume watching it once more may still hold plenty of charms.

A final reason for watching a movie yet again lies in the notion practice makes perfect.  This idea makes great sense to me because I’ve noticed enough instances where doing something over and over allows me to get better at doing it.  Computers provide many examples of this.  When I was first learning how to email, I’d forget what I learned at my last learning session, and realized I had to start over, almost from scratch.  However, after emailing for a month or more, I realized I had become a person who could email with aplomb and even a tad of alacrity.  Amazing, methinks.

Many other examples of practice making perfect come to mind.  Indeed virtually any activity or effort I need to engage in from washing dishes to jogging on a treadmill proceeds more smoothly the more I do it.  This certainly holds true for watching and interpreting and enjoying movies.

Thus I’ve come to the conclusion that doing things more than once—much more than once—makes good sense.  It’s even led me to think repetition could be the real mother of invention.

  1. Paul G. says:

    Good post, Peter!

    Two additional reasons I return to movies/stories are:
    1. The story is capable of reproducing feelings even after multiple viewings. (For example, a comedy that still makes me laugh after many viewings.)
    2. It connects to me personally and warrants revisiting at different times in my life.

    • MSJ says:

      Also, as our lives change, it is interesting to come back to films to see how they affect us differently. For instance, the Godfather was a very different film to me after I had kids. I started to see the story of a father trying to protect, and help his children. Interesting.

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