It should be said that I am a lover not a fighter, and what I love most is beauty in any form. However, this can result in... overly high expectations. As a person who too often sits on her pedestal of self-righteous judgment, monitoring how the world is "going down the tubes" and martyring herself on the Hellfire of what she deems contemporary incompetence, the articles of this blog will offer my cynical, social, intellectual, and pop cultural observations, which will both serve to vent my frustrations and-- after some counteraction-- convince me that the human race still has a chance. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that "Life is Beautiful," always was, and always will be, even when it isn't, wasn't or won't seem to be. “I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.” — John Burroughs (Photo of London Library after the Blitz of 1940).

Monday, December 2, 2013


TV Executive: "Hey, I've got an idea! Since everyone loved 'Sex and the City,'
let's make the show all over again. But younger! No, the writing doesn't have
to be good, because Carrie Bradshaw is already a product! People will 
buy the 
show without us even having to sell it. Just get a blond. Any blond! We'll
 make her trendy and market her with a poster where she looks like Sarah 
Jessica Parker but in that famous Marilyn Monroe ballerina pose, so she's 
immediately familiar! Interesting? Who said anything about 'interesting?'"

I Am Tempted to Hate the World Because...

I have lost a dear, childhood friend: Television. I don't know when I stopped watching TV... I just did. Somewhere between moving away from home, getting an education, paying bills, graduating from college, moving further from home, getting further education, attacking the working world, looking the planet in the face, and feeling my time being stolen from me, I just kind of lost interest. It wasn't a conscious decision. It happened slowly. Over the years, I needed prime time programming less and less, until I didn't need it at all.

I'm beginning to think that TV is something that people grow out of, at least in my case. You leave the convoluted fictional world behind and start watching the news, if you can stomach it. After all, the latter offers pretty much the same pre-packaged BS-- exaggerated hysteria to keep you tuned in, scare you to death, and then tell you that tomorrow the sun will shine. Essentially, you slowly become your own parents, whose taste in channel selections when you were a kid made them frustratingly boring. "No cartoons? But, it's SUNDAY!!!" The transformation is unavoidable. As your life starts to unfold and you notice the glaring discrepancies between the saccharine versions of civilian life on the boob tube and the reality of dismal, American survivalism, the glowing screen of static electricity that you once turned to for comfort becomes a liar. You can either embrace its folly, turn your brain off, and agree with its offered definitions of truth, which you know to be false, OR you can try to avoid it altogether but consequently never know what the Hell anyone else is talking about: "Wait... Who is Rachel Zoe?"

There are several factors to consider, of course, for the progress or disintegration-- dependent upon whom you ask-- of Television. It indeed loses its luster after you've grown up, read a few books, and realized that the constructed world of make believe has become the Prom Queen whose life goes nowhere after high school. While you matured, she stayed stuck in the same cliche, speaking the same lines, and failing to gain the richer dimensions of life experience. She never learned another role to play. In a sense, TV doesn't grow up either. As such, what may have once been appealing when your vision of the world was professed through this crystal box as a less savvy youngster, is no longer as potent once you step "out the box" and into the open. As a mature, well educated adult, you're just annoyed: the dialogue on "Mistresses" is pretty damned pathetic, the story lines on any and all CW teen shows are both idiotically cyclical and creatively apathetic, and the jokes on modern sitcoms like "Two and a Half Men" are so lazy that it feels intellectually insulting to even be in the same room when it's on. You watch and wonder, "What is it that I'm supposed to relate to here as a human being?" Warning: when you fish in that pond, you always come up empty. You may have had a live worm, but the fish are all plastic, wind-up toys. Save your brain the effort.

Then there is the added burden of the buck, which dictates that we basically sit through 1/2 hour, 1 hour, even 2 hour advertisements with only brief increments of a show tossed in for entertainment purposes. You rarely catch enough of a plot for it to be coherent, though. Yet, you keep watching in the hopes that something amazing will happen: the occasional cathartic release of laughter, the adrenaline rush of suspense, or the titillation of underage pornography. Awesome. Everybody have sex with a werewolf! The truth is, shows don't 'show' different people living their lives for our edification. They show us what to buy. It's all branding, as it has been from the very advent of the medium. One hand washes the other, which is a result of the necessarily evil exchange game, which also leaves everybody's hands dirty. (This program brought to you by: Lye Soap, Alka seltzer, General Motors, and the "softer side" of Sears).

Nowadays, the intrusion of visual stimuli has gone haywire, not only by each stations' indomitable logo ever-displayed in the lower-right hand corner, but by Twitter updates, "Up Next at 9pm" reminders, and Don't you love this channel and want to watch it all the time retina-burning hypnoses tactics. You almost wish you could crop out all of the distracting metaphorical salesmen knocking on your eyelids, asking you to buy something. Maybe if you focus your gaze into the center of the vortex, you'll just be able to make out the story allegedly hiding in the midst of the perpetual commercialism. The difference in today's hyped up marketing mega-storm is that while "I Love Lucy," "The Ed Sullivan Show" or "The Steve Allen Show" of the early years were strong programs to which different corporations were trying to hitch their wagons, today's offerings seem to be just barely riding the coattails of whatever products will give them money to keep going. Our shows are prostitutes, written to keep the viewer just interested enough to keep tuning in, so they'll buy this Beer, or that Razor, or eat this Pizza. One need not "engage" the viewer; one need only distract them long enough to drill the pertinent image home. In essence, the viewer is programmed by the program.

"The Dick Van Dyke Show" remains one of the most highly rated sitcoms-
(situation comedies) of all time. This is due to the talent and chemistry of
the cast, including Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Morey Amsterdam, Rose
Marie, and Richard Deacon, as well as the superb writing and clever
 premise of the show, which creator Carl Reiner interestingly 

based upon his own experiences as a television writer.

The bond one makes with Television, the movies, or the radio, forces him or her to make that unfortunate bargain with the Devil who says, "Okay, I'll entertain you, but you have to give me your active brain cells, your conscious thought, and your imagination in return." We let the TV lie to us. We even ask it to. The portal to human understanding thus channels only that which we think we can handle, similar to the way we supposedly use only a certain, small percentage of our brain, (however these statistic remain unclear). These integral compromises are the same things a television writer, and I know many working in the industry, are forced to make: concessions to sell concessions. Blood for potato chips: "Take your talent and dilute it through this sieve of money so it comes out tasting like cotton candy. It'll cause headaches, toothaches, and perhaps a little vomit, but the formula works, dammit!" It's Hell for anyone trying to get an unvarnished idea across.

Oh, the Wheel of Fortune... You spend money to make money by making others spend money. Television can't exist without sponsors, sponsors can't exist without customers, customers can't become aware of the product until they are shown the product, the product can't be shown to the mass populace unless it is emblazoned on a billboard, as an advert in a magazine, is played between songs on the air, or is lodged in the commercial break of a "hit show." So, the networks behind the show are tasked with the balancing act of pleasing both the audience and the sponsor-- one commodity sold to the other. We are part of the grand exchange-- shifting pieces in the tetris puzzle that is the mass media. The only person who has a chance of winning this game is the one who is behind the scenes, locking the different mismatched markets and demographics together to form a perfect single file, assembly line, until ashes ashes-- we all fall down. The bonus points "cha-ching" into dollar signs that line the top dogs' pockets, and the world of commerce keeps on turning, indefatigably.

Hollywood is Hell for writers. And audiences. And studios. The studios must only sign the story lines they think will sell, writers must write sanitized versions of their ideas to abide the greenback over gravity rule-- so they can earn a living and hope for better things-- and audiences have to put up with what they're given, which is what they wanted in the first place. Right? So why am I so underwhelmed?

In the first place, there's no time for TV. People badger me about my substandard viewership all the tine: "How have you NOT seen 'Game of Thrones'/'Scandal'/'The Americans?!'" My response, "How have YOU?!" Too many programs, too many channels, not enough hours in a lifetime. Secondly, and most importantly, this chain of power, which dictates what it is our eyes, ears, and minds will be feasting upon, blatantly talks down to us. The industry's condescension is the caveat emptor of the modern world. If the industry predicts what we will respond to, than their premonitions (lineups) reveal their assertion that we are a very ignorant, pathetic, superficial, and simple society. They give us flavorless, watered-down, ignorgasms (ignorance orgasms), and we take the medicine hoping that it will taste better after a few more tries. Our mindless nightly attendance only instigates the networks to produce more of the same, thinking that their prophecies have been fulfilled: "We were right! Eat up idiots-- most specifically at one of the chain restaurants mentioned during the latest commercial break."

"Grey's Anatomy" is a show that has consistently sucked since 2005. Now in its tenth season, 
it no longer even pretends to try. It already has its audience. Whatever shred of integrity it 
once may have had is lost beneath its artificial, soap operatic performances and soulless 
pretty people problems, which the viewer is supposed to digest as serious due to its
setting within the medical profession. It also had a musical episode, so...

The strategies and calculations behind bringing a show to life, and ultimately keeping that show running, are not the public's friends. The media's concern is our attention not our enlightenment, and so we are spoon fed simple ideas. Comically, this most often comes in the form of clumsy slap-stick awkwardness-- gracelessly done, as the the well-schooled vaudevillians have long since passed away. Then there are the superficially complicated but not really complicated at all-- because the characters are all narcissistic, selfish brats-- premises that constitute the realm supposedly known as "drama." You'll laugh, because it's simple, and so are you. You'll get all heated up by the catty nonsense, because you are, allegedly, nonsense as well. Racial and sexual minorities are tactlessly stuck into scripts as an apology, "Ok, you're represented now," and the natures of the story lines are kept kosher so no offense will be given, no social questions will be raised, and no one will care about anything but what these characters are wearing.

This causes the bigotry within and without the industry. Many like to scapegoat the "dumb, red states," the Simple Jacks of the South, or the Midwestern Average Joes, who "don't know no better, 'cause they don't know nothin' ah 'tall." The networks are catering, some say. This, in itself, is criminal, for it presents a portentous delineation between the alleged "smart" people and the accused "dumb" people-- the smart people being those holding the keys to the billion dollar safety deposit box, and the dumb people being those whose only hope of reprieve from a fiscally unrewarding day of work is propping up their dogs on the coffee table and watching CSI: Duluth. It's a truly prejudicial, divisive, and dangerous move, as Television clearly does not make shows for the sum populace, but only for specific groups. There aren't national narratives. There is this show for the red-necks, and this show for the blacks, and this show for the horny kids, and this show for the pretentious upper-crusts who think that they're being politically active while sitting on their plush leather couches. The theory is that we're not all bright enough to "get it," it being the full enchilada of the human saga, so we're sold our separate realities and convinced that we are correct in sitting stationary in our private pod universes instead of being invited into a worldwide discussion.

This, of course, is very chicken and the egg. Did we make these specific, contrasting demands or is our political isolation within our own particular demographic the product of mass conditioning? Are we dumb people asking for the same episodes of the same shows on repeat, or are we being dumbed down by people selling us re-hashed garbage? Who is to blame for the alleged, "ignorant Midwest's" ignorance? Who is to blame for their lack of exposure, which at the end of the day, is the only difference between them and the conceited decision makers who claim to know what's best for them? And who the eff has the right to call them dumb in the first place? Ignorance: the two way street. Granted, as we all live in our own privately isolated cocoons of "this is what life is," it is hard for each, independent mind to be unchained or unplugged from its comfortable space when that place is what we have come to define as reality. The perspective of rural Oklahoma is going to contrast with that of the yuppy New Yorker. In trying to understand each other, we grow tired. We change the channel. There is no ignorant Midwest; there is no ignorant South, North, East, West, whatever. There is only the contrived truth sent in each direction and the good, decent people who have no choice but to believe it, because it is streaming Live.

See, America does have a voice! Why aren't we heard?!

When what constitutes "humanity" is labeled as a thing unshared by all, we directly sever the border-crossing bridges that Television was meant to strengthen. Tele-vision: the ability to see things from a great distance, to connect the far reaches of the world together in a shared community. Television doesn't broadcast for America. It broadcasts to this specific population that will buy this bull sh*t, and this specific population that will buy that bull sh*t. "A nation divided against itself cannot stand," but we stand for this de-intellectualization by allowing it to teach us blame. This is the liberal's fault, this is the Bible belt's fault, this is the homo's fault, this is the radical's fault, this is Joe's fault... I gotta say, it's a brilliant tactic, this displacement. Meanwhile, the guy behind the orange curtain keeps making money off our inability to have a discussion based upon mutual respect for each other. (We might notice he's holding all the dough if we did).

Yes, I am tempted to hate the world...

... But I don't, because

Every once in awhile, something smart gets through. Sure, that smart thing is going to be branded just like everything else. Sure, "Breaking Bad" still came packaged with commercials and is selling T-shirts and coffee mugs of Heisenberg, but at least the impetus for the latter was a true appreciation for the series' great writing and acting. Sure, "The Newsroom" is a bit heavy-handed and proselytizing, ("Let me make up my own  mind, dammit!"), but it at least forces one to confront the issues in question, whether one is in agreement or disagreement. Sure, the premise for "The Walking Dead" may render it nothing more than a silly zombie show on paper, but the storylines examine raw and controversial incites into human nature that only such an extreme and exaggerated situation could illuminate properly-- as well as doing so without being overtly political and offensive. There too is beauty in the ability of "Mike and Molly" or "Parks and Recreation" to just make you laugh, especially when you have great comedic acting talents doing the performing and gifted writers keeping the audience grounded. One constructs and the other translates stories of enduring affection between human beings, including the beauty in their eccentricities, while giving the characters enough gravity to be as relatable as they are outrageous. 

Gone too soon. How I miss "Flight of the
Conchords." They made me feel like "the
most beautiful girl in the... room."

TV is good, and it is bad. It is smart, and it is stupid. It is working for us and against us. It's biggest faux pas, as in the film industry, is that it recreates instead of creating. Somehow, over the many interceding years of visual storytelling, both mediums have failed to notice the fact that it is always the independent, totally fresh idea that runs away with both ratings and tickets sales. Hollywood doesn't have a reputation for taking chances. It does not honor its writers, its actors, its directors, nor its producers, until they have somehow succeeded despite the odds, and then it only proceeds to pigeonhole them into a prison of "Do that again, the exact same way, but more."

Hollywood thinks that we are dumb, but we're not. We are, quite simply, exhausted. Our brains are tired. Our bodies are tired. Thus, we often throw up our hands at the end of the day and say, "Whatever. I'll just watch this because it's on." Additionally, taste is subjective. That's the way it is. I cannot fathom why anyone would want to sit down and watch "The Housewives of Beverly Hills." It irritates me that Lena Dunham's writing on "Girls" exhibits such narcissism and has such transparent antipathy for her audience. I don't know what a "Heart of Dixie" is, and I don't want to know. Yet, I can't fault people who enjoy these programs. To do so would be the same as adhering to the social lines of demarcation that Hollywood likes to draw between us. I'm onto you, H-town. We Are the World, so suck it!

I may not be a warrior for TV. It seems that the box has become a not-so-blank slate for stick figures and gimmicked shadow puppets. Still, I can't totally blame the industry either. I can blow the stick figures down like the Big Bad Wolf, if I want to; I can equally turn off the light and kill the puppetry. The art of civilization is deriving meaning and order from the madness. We endure by taking everything with a grain of salt. We are the remote controllers. It's really what we say that goes. While I would wish that the industry gifted its audiences with more compelling dramas that were the rules and not the exceptions, while I wish smart comic writers were allowed to write smartly, for all and not just some, later, maybe, on a cable network... and while I wish that there were unifying themes that every corner of the country, every race, every "class," every age were invited to participate in, we still do all right for ourselves. We do more than all right, considering the obscene hurdles of bull sh*t we're forced to surmount just to make or absorb a statement. Sometimes, something smart gets through.

At the end of the day... well, it's night. But figuratively speaking, at the end of the day, we are all connected both because of and sometimes despite the flashing images we see on the Television, be they good or bad. In every show, whether the characters be conscionable or unconscionable, superficial or heroic, horrific or fantastic, they are synchronized by their beating hearts behind their creation and reception and the emotions that viewers will attach to them. The visual medium of motion pictures, whether on the big screen or the small, teaches us how to feel. We all may feel a little differently, but we all feel. In a perfect world we would direct all of this energy into a powerful force that cleans up the tacky oil spill that is the entertainment industry. But, if we did that, we wouldn't have drama, would we? And we certainly wouldn't need comedy. 

Don't let it own you: "Throw away your television/ Take the noose off your
ambition/ Reinvent your intuition now"-- Red Hot Chili Peppers

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your "Hells Yeah" High-Fives and "Beg to Differ" Bitch Slaps: