Thursday, January 3, 2008


Either you are an academic who never watches TeeVee (and I'm impressed, there really are many of you out there) or you are an academic who sinks yourself into the miasma of middle/low culture. Survivor, Amazing Race, Big Brother, Dance something, Idol I don't know, and it gets worse.

As a sometime academic, I'm neither of these types. I do like to have a general sense of the drift of middle-brow culture, and I watch a little TV every night. But in this period of no Daily Show to put a humorous spin on tragedy, I find myself flailing about for popular culture. Project Runway. Mythbusters. They sort of fill in the gap. Both are reality shows, but both require real skill and commitment. They really make stuff, some of it beautiful, on Project Runway. And Mythbusters may not do good science, but at least they try to have some kind of control in every experiment. Plus, they have a sort of Burning Man, San Francisco street cred.

Narrative TeeVee, even without the strike, has jumped the shark, in my opinion. There is a dead body in everything dramatic on TeeVee, as though we all really were closet murderers - like many video games suggest. I don't actually think this is true from an existential viewpoint, but it's clearly the lowest common denominator that attracts advertising dollars. Then there is the example of HBO. I've long been a fan of HBO - and The Wire, which starts a new season soon, is among the best TeeVee ever - but I think the era of more and more material grotesque has got to come to an end. This was literalized in Six Feet Under, but was also apparent in things like HBO's Rome and OZ; now they are advertising an autopsy show. I think it's time for a little romantic comedy.

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