Showing posts with label TV. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TV. Show all posts

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bye Bye Boo Boo, but leave the rope here

 "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" , the egregious reality show on TLC concerning the grating hi-jinx of a so-called redneck child beauty pageant and her bucolic clan, has been canceled by the cable network.  The usual reasons prevail, declining viewership and star controversy. The controversy concerns reports that Honey's mom has been dating an alleged child molester. True or not, that will not do  for corporate image. Read about the rhubarb here. 
It's been said that the unexamined life isn't worth living, but we must ask in response if the selectively edited and vaguely scripted actions of the low-branch egomaniacs are worth watching. The fact that millions watch Honey Boo Boo or Duck Dynasty in their prime does not answer the question. The audience, I think, is complicit in whatever undoing occurs to the real life participants who , because of the presence of cameras and the knowledge that their shenanigans would be viewed on national television and beyond, ceased to be authentic (or "real") in any sense and instead began to act out for the lens. 

True , the stars of these shows made their choices and were paid what likely seemed like a good sum of money, but I doubt anyone warned them about the cost they'd pay once the audience turned to another channel and the camera crew went home. It's as tragic as Greek drama or Shakespeare at his most unsparing. It also also bitterly comic. Nathaniel West couldn't have conceived a more lacerating variation on how sudden fame makes fools of most of us.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

TV makes you nervous

There are those smartypants lovers of popular culture who've marketed the idea that television makes us smarter. I'd counter that the boob tube, now an accessory to larger telecom media tentacles, makes us more nervous;there's the frequently made error of thinking that heightened awareness of what's going about you for an increase intellect. Rather, I think it makes for the kind of overwhelming where the raw input becomes a torrential blur ; static , in other words. Television used wisely diverts the smart mind when it's time to uncork , but it becomes a nagging, noising chain of it's own accord.

TV has succeeded in making us measurably dumber. Not stupider, mind you, just dumber, which is tendency to accept mediocrity across the board in the kind of false-consciousness that embraces the equality of all cultural matters and mediums .God has a cruel wit if what we have are real people with fake lives watching TV shows full of fake people acting out real ones. Social anxiety disorder is a real condition, though we dispensed with the trend of making every discomfort a disease and just referred to sufferers as either existentially perplexed, or more simply, "neurotic".

Any good post-war coffee cooler philosophe knows the cure to the constant fretting and despair: GET A LIFE, or at least create one. In the current age, we can start with turning off the TV and getting a library card, for nothing makes you smarter as well has reading books , one page at a time, at pace where you're allowed, or rather compelled to develop sound thinking. TV has replaced the ability to abstract with the mere capacity to summarize, which is the difference between synthesizing information and formulating a solution to a problem under inspection, and the other merely a form of inventory taking, hardly more than putting everything in specimen jars, labeling them, and categorizing them in a method that renders the information inert, useless, and mere clutter. We're coming to approach ideas like statistic laden sports fans who have amassed data very quickly but have nothing they can do with it. TV, as fine and brilliant as some of the drama has become, does not provide for a structure through which critical thinking is possible, as would the reading of books. With the latter cannot argue with the screen, cannot add to a conversation under way. It remains entertainment best assessed with other disciplines hopefully read from books that were thoroughly interrogated by personalities that are aware that images are fleeting and forgotten, but words are forever and therefore powerful.

It's misleading to argue that TV overall is better and more brilliant than it was in the past and that as a consequence viewers have become smarter as they interact with the subtler and more complex programming. To my mind, the ratio of quality programming to the rot is about the same, ten percent to eighty percent (in descending order); those shows that one isn't embarrassed to admit to watching--Sopranos, The West Wing , et al--are better than the fabled Hill Street Blues, but the promise of cable television never materialized as you might have hoped. With some exceptions, we have five hundred channels with nothing to watch, to paraphrase Springsteen, and what we have, really, are millions of viewers who are knowledgeable about scores of things of little consequence at all. Being able to link the difficulties with the goon show that was the Michael Jackson trial with the daily debacle of the O.J. Simpson murder case in the minutest detail is not the same as garnering information that would help you devise better ways to educate, employ and protect a community. Television only makes you smarter about television, and I chance it to say that what people remember about Hardball are Chris Matthew's volume and how well or badly his haircut might have been, and not the details of his questions to his political guests.

The situation hasn't made us any smarter in ways that make interaction more successful; most of the discussion that one places so much stress on happens online, alone, in private, which more or less reduces the phenomenon to the consumption of pornography.

Friday, December 28, 2007

TMZ bottom feeds its way to the top

Gossip website has been slinging the proverbial crap at celebrity fuck ups for a while now, and one needs to admit that it was guilty fun watching the overpaid get some come uppance as their missteps and errant thinking were held to saturation ridicule. But then the nausea set in, the sheer meanness of the enterprise; constant badgering and inspection of the doings of people of no real consequence just makes seem like a playground bully who is too much of a beef-brained moron to think of anything better to do. Now they have a television show, it's a success, and the New York Times covers them with a puff piece. The "newspaper of record" sounds like it's endorsing this televised goon show. The newspaper's lack of criticism or direct comment on either the web site's or the program's pernicious pandering seems a further stab as they reach for that large segment of their potential readership that's attracted to this sort of bottom feeding journalism. That's a tragedy in a sense, since it would be refreshing for someone to be the scold and demand that someone stop giving these paparazzi-enabling knuckle draggers free time on my television. It’s one thing for an Internet creation to break out into the mainstream, but the awful drag of it all is that it had to be a petty, smug and bullying infestation like I realize that celebrities are an odd breed who are paid unreal amounts of money to fulfill audience requirements of glamour, power, beauty and grace and who are fair game when their lives go awry (or right, for that matter). But what does is just a shade shy of stalking, and the need for anything half-way resembling news about famous folks to fill their way web pages and TV slots, any snarky, sneaky, unfounded rumor to regale their audience with is mendacious pandering. Certainly the likes of Paris, Britney, Lindsey, Te al, have created their own catastrophes that are going to be played out in public, but the daily hammering these folks get goes far beyond someone getting their “just deserts”; the television version of the show especially is mean spirited and a superior tone that suggests a staff drunk on it’s seeming power to make or break reputations. The saturation is pornographic, honestly

Monday, August 27, 2007

"John From Cincinnati" caught a wave back to Hooterville

Alas, but the HBO surf drama John From Cincinnati has had it's season finale, and the network quickly announced after the broadcast that the eccentric program would not be renewed. This isn't a surprise, since this David Milch series (NYPD Blue, Deadwood)could find the credible (and endurable) balance between spiritual weirdness and the gritty, noir elements the writers and producers sought to beguile us with. There was a time in many a young man's life when strangeness and ambiguity by themselves were enough to satisfy a naive hankering for
subjects of greater depth and complexity, but one requires more as they get older. John, very much in a hurry to introduce it's skewed admixture, never seemed to get beyond the fevered brain storming stages wherein subplots are offered rapidly, and Twilight Zone/Twin Peaks components are offered to baffle you with their quixotic oddness.

This was a mixture that never came together as a palatable whole, and it was frankly incoherent in ways that telegraph the probability that MiLch and his writing staff hadn't the slightest idea what any of their ideas would add to: the connection between the titular character and Jesus were rather obvious, and the failure here is that one was not made to care with the Yost family "got back in the game" or not. This was a static show where no one really worked at any jobs that demanded attention who instead spent the whole of their time hanging out in surf shops, beach houses, public beaches or dingy motels in inexplicable states of rage, anger, swearing in impossible combinations in the club-footed cadences Milch has been famous for since NYPD Blue broadcast on ABC in the early nineties. None of it had that much to with surfing; the sport seemed an exotic backdrop for all this grousing and grumbling, which is a shame. The sport and the culture and the region where it exists is largely unexplored dramatically, and there are some quality scripts to be written and produced.David Milch had his chance and wiped out.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Tom Snyder

I was sorry to read that Tom Snyder, maverick and generously egocentric talk show host for NBC in the seventies with his late night Tomorrow Show program, has died of leukemia at age 71. In the same period it was the hipper choice to prefer Dick Cavett's brand of chatter with writers like Mailer, Vidal and Kingsley Amis, but there was something controlled about Cavett's manner that was at once appealing and off putting. You wanted him to get steamed when a rude or inane guest was getting on his nerves, but he didn't, falling silent for a moment instead and adding a fast quip or witticism to defuse the tension. Snyder, on the other hand, was all gusto, having something of a Marine attitude in a conversation that made him charge forward with a barrage of questions towards a guest whose work or notoriety our late host seemed positively clueless about. In a constant grey ribboned haze of cigarette smoke, he'd bluster, laugh, wave his arms, slip into rather pointless anecdotes about small TV or radio stations he used to work (complete with suggestions about what bistro served up the best steak, and the like) and ask questions that at times seemed to mystify his guests. Best of all, Snyder often blew his cool. Actually, he never tried to be cool, as MacLuhan's dictum of what a "cool medium" demands of a personality. Snyder was hot, hot tempered, hot blooded, a loose cannon. One of my favorite television memories during college was his attempt to interview Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols; Snyder would field some questions, seeking some information on which to base the rest of the interview. Rotten, noted malcontent and general purpose Antichrist, rebuffed Snyder again and again with a host of Anglophone vulgarities. Snyder in turn fumed and told Rotten as much, with the result being an effective deconstruction of the talk show format. Johnny Rotten refused to play along, and Tom Snyder refused to pretend that nothing was wrong. Good show, Tom. Fire up a colortini for me.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Tony Soprano Becomes King Lear?

The center of the The Sopranos universe is Tony Soprano, enforcing whatever laws of gravity there were in this skewed Americana that kept the players and their agendas in something resembling order. Sheer force of personality, brutality, dry-bone ruthlessness were what it took to maintain this crime empire and to maintain a social hierarchy in which everyone--Christopher, Paulie, Silvio, Carmella-- has an agenda they would pursue to disaster had the wrath of Tony not been their shared constraint. Uneasy , wobbly and self-doubting is the head of this fiefdom ,as all the self knowledge and revelation Tony has learned through therapy hasdecentered his mojo. Where he'd been able to compartmentalize his criminal career, the infidelities, the murders, and family life in square and sealed boxes whose contents and consequences never met, the barriers have collapsed, the actions and the pathologies behind have become irretrievably twined and knotted together, a perfect tangle. Tony is witnessing the world he's been the center of break apart, and he can no longer hold it together.I suspect his rhetorical question to Dr. Melfi regarding what therapeutic results, "IS THIS ALL THERE IS?",will be enlarged in the final four episodes. Tony Soprano, demanding love and loyality while he exerted his will, is soon to have his King Lear scene, alone in the rain, stripping himself of the literal and symbolic vestments depicting an idea of omnipotence he never had.

There are substantial differences between Tony and Shakespeare's delusional Majesty, the key one being that Lear relinquishes his power once he foolishly assumes that he has secured his version of reality , with all avowed loyalties and relations in tact, and that he may indulge his whims to be free of responsibility and merely be revered and adored.Betrayal and calumny are his results, and the cause of disasters, his vanity and failure to realize he's been grossly flattered in the efforts of a daugher and uscrupulous supplicants to rest power from him. The truth is what drives him past the brink and into the rain. Tony does not relinquish power to anyone in contrast, but he wearies of the weight of what he must to do maintain his position, and his refusal to change his behavior in order to change himself is costing him dearly. An old axiom comes to mind, that one cannot think their way into good living, but one can live there way into good thinking.Tony's problem is that he thought he could make his anxieties vanish on the basis of self-knowledge alone.The gathered revelations have gotten thick for him.

All the lies told to him and the lies he told himself are laid bare, and all that awaits is the last brick to fall from the last wall from this shoddily bolstered construction of self delusion. What producer David Chase and his writers come up with by the series is one of the few things to look forward to in this season of dim news and dimmer celebrity hi jinks.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Kill Your TV

He scratches his chin where he just shaved minutes ago, the drone of morning cable news making the air in the apartment seem filled with static. This was the first time he could remember where the thought of canceling his cable service stayed with him overnight, a notion that came when he was moving between the two hundred stations, concentrating on the news and movie outlets, becoming slowly aware that there are, according to the networks, only five or six stories worth covering in the world; Anna Nicole Smith, Don Imus's propensity for stepping in his own piles of crap, Sanjaya Malakar's inscrutable lack of singing talent,, The Virginia Tech Massacre, Alec Baldwin's tirade against his eleven year old daughter. What bothered him wasn't the stories themselves, as they are news and need to be presented and understood in some fashion, but there is a point where there is nothing more to say when nothing more is known but yet the talking heads just keep right on yakking up a storm, pushing other stories off the air. Literally, off the air.

When there is nothing more to report, talking heads present some other "authority" from some hereto-for unheard of blog site, specialty magazine or perhaps a former aid to a senator that once sat on a committee loosely related to the spotlight controversy , who would then be peppered with a series of inane questions he or she didn't have a real answer to. Airtime filled with supposition, best guesses, speculation, old fashioned rumor mongering, all in the name of the public's right to know what is or is not happening to the over famous, the overpaid whose hyper image is out of bounds with anything one recognizes when they finally leave the house, start the car and attempt to navigate traffic as one makes their way to work. I have a job to pay for this seamless and seamy stream of irrelevance? It's possible to watch cable news programming for a whole day and learn nothing at all for the time spent. He twitches. The shirt is stiff and scratchy like a trucker's scabbed fingertips. The tv keeps making the yammering drone of nonsense, and the roof suddenly seems be lowering upon him; is this what a sardine feels like?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Joe Scarborough's failure to make distinctions

The Imus Affair has been good for the cable talk shows this last week for the simple reason that it's freed any and all of the usual suspects from having to shuffling their talking points around intransigent political problems and allows them instead to opine, preen, pout, and shout over a simply grasped matter on which little or no
background information is required. It is a food fight, yes, and many things get said in heat over an event that is being spoken off in comically exaggerated terms.
It's been good for Joe Scarborough because it's let him reassert his conservative credentials ; his point , of course , is expected, but a valid one, which is why are rap artists getting off so freely for more offensive language than Imus ever uttered?
In the heat of debate--Scarborough's show can be a shout fest much of the time--Joe wonders why the New York Times, august institution it is, blesses vile rap language as genius and genuine poetry. Scarborough makes the common mistake of assuming that an individual critic's opinion on a consumer product is an official position of the newspaper. Joe, though, would be hard pressed to find an unsigned editorial on the OP/ED page endorsing gangster rap and everything mythos it indulges in. Joe, 'though, is not a stupid man and is well aware of the difference. It's a clever way for him to bash some liberals and the NY Times to reassert his conservative credentials and
make amends for the compulsive Bush bashing he's taken to in the last year. I don't mind the Bush bashing, nor mind that he's a conservative, but it's annoying when a smart guy plays dumb with simple distinctions to build up his credibility.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Don Imus Gets Canned

Don Imus is a crotchety geezer who, on his best day at the microphone, radiates an incomprehensible arrogance that cannot be traced to any innate talent or knack on his part. There is nothing intrinsic about Imus--not intellect, not wit, not looks--that is admirable or worth the stale sweat naked envy evokes. His talent, as it were, is his penchant for being an asshole, of not giving a good goddamn what others think of him. What is obvious is that he's that sort who merely wanted to be famous, and didn't care what he was famous for. It paid off, to be sure, since he's been marketed as that supposedly rare breed of iconoclastic truth tellers who actually say what the rest of us are thinking." It's claptrap and marketing, and the drive time audience loved to listen to the bellicose bile and offending slurs
for those pre-dawn excursions on the freeways to the office. His bad karma has gathered against him over all the years that he's been given a pass by bosses and media critics, and his recent fall, having been fired by both MSNBC and CBS in the aftermath of his "nappy headed hos" crack about the Rutgers Women's Basketball Team, strikes me as something he might has well have been asking for. Ideally, we will have seen the last of this frowning scarecrow and the rest of us can get on with things that actually interest us.But no. The story isn't going anywhere, and the experience of OJ, Michael Jackson and the debacle of Anna Nicole Smith staying for ceaseless, seamless, unending periods of time on our broadcast and cable talk shows remind us that American media is addicted to celebrity , obsessing over it as if it
were a religion,a metaphysically fixed certainty. The issue of racism and misogyny and other offenses are no longer the point; everyone wants to get their say in, everyone with half a a foot in the door of Fame wants to be associated with this farce, to the extent that the bad faith is boundless. Al Sharpton's fiasco with the Tawana Brawley and Jessie Jackson's referring to New York as "Hymietown" are not forgotten, but they aren't mentioned as the two of them bray and pontificate about injustice and all manner of foul words and deeds. The injustice, though, is that everyone having their say, even if what's uttered only mirrors that thing they claim to find abhorrent.