Originally published 27 November 2010.
Obsession is the most potent emotion. Addictions will kill you no matter what they are. Millions of Americans are unknowingly (or knowingly) addicted to television. It allows them to inhabit a world where they can feel connected with others without sharing any of themselves. Facebook, Twitter, and most modern internet culture functions in a similar way, but with the option of creating a second identity – a fictional avatar of yourself. But at least there is interaction, right?
To some, the television is a sign of the apocalypse. To others, it is a life-vest. Are either of these things true? What is the effect of television on all of us? It inhabits a huge part of our cultural identity whether or not we watch it. The majority of homes have at least 2 TV’s. Parents frequently claim that it will melt your brain and there is a common guilt that arises from watching too much of it. Guilt? Brain melting? Sounds like the apocalypse.
We all need to start watching more television. Possibly twice as much as we already do. If doubling your daily intake of shows will interfere with sleeping, eating, or bathing, then you simply need to change your viewing style to get more out of the experience. Television is the Pop Bible. The Modern Homer. We quote it. We talk about it. We obsess over it.
Cinema has already entered the history books as the great art form of the 20th Century. Filmmakers are starting to realize that television not only offers an opportunity for a more thorough exploration of characterization and thematic material, but is also beginning to preserve quality over viewership – critical success over commercial success – to the most extent that thick entertainment hierarchies can manage. Truly good shows are beginning to function like epic serial novels – no different from reading A Tale of Two Cities as published. Well-made episodes are like microscopic art films. If asked to point out the ten most well-made films of the last decade, a critic would be stupid if they left out “The Blue Comet”, the penultimate installment of The Sopranos. It is no accident that this was written by both David Chase, the show creator, and Matthew Weiner, who is now running Mad Men, the contemporary pinnacle of potential.
In fact, why is anyone going to the movies anymore? In ten years, prices will be exorbitant and all of the great filmmakers will have realized the potential of the serial. The television will become an art exhibit free to access from our walls and computers. The standard of beauty will rise exponentially and cheap, brainless writing and directing will be reduced to critical panning, followed closely by public shame and scorn. This revolution will be gentle. Many viewers will not be aware of it. They will only feel different – more stimulated and thoughtful. This new style of television is the only way to create a truly popular art and to bring culture to those who are disillusioned by esoteric museum exhibits. The evening news will become a Werner Herzog documentary. Programs for children will be a new generation of Aesop fables and tales from the Brothers Grimm, colorful and captivating. Fiction will enter a new era of impeccable pacing and planning. Books will disappear and burn. Movie theaters will vanish. All will become fat.
All we have to do to enter this new era of art is get obsessed. Change the way we watch television. Scrutinize every angle. Question the implications of every line of dialogue. Take copious notes on the development of plot structures and narratives. Treat viewing like a profession. Stop loving it. Start hating it. Make cynical comments on your Twitter about the last episode of Glee. Post a link on your Facebook to a CNN bit on gay marriage or Koran burning. After all, there is at least some interaction, right?
We the People need a Culture Boobjob. Let’s get fat also.
Worth Watching front to back: