Monday, April 14, 2014

Blogs Are Dead, Too

This is a mixed bag of misplaced outrage:
Twenty years ago, [David Foster] Wallace wrote about the impact of television on U.S. fiction. He focused on the effects of irony as it transferred from one medium to the other. In the 1960s, writers like Thomas Pynchon had successfully used irony and pop reference to reveal the dark side of war and American culture. Irony laid waste to corruption and hypocrisy. In the aftermath of the ’60s, as Wallace saw it, television adopted a self-deprecating, ironic attitude to make viewers feel smarter than the na├»ve public, and to flatter them into continued watching. Fiction responded by simply absorbing pop culture to “help create a mood of irony and irreverence, to make us uneasy and so ‘comment’ on the vapidity of U.S. culture, and most important, these days, to be just plain realistic.” But what if irony leads to a sinkhole of relativism and disavowal? For Wallace, regurgitating ironic pop culture is a dead end:
We have not overthrown the Baby Boomers as the arbiters of our culture. They control the broadcast networks, the major media outlets, and the access needed to spread cultural awareness. The few cracks that exist--Funny or Die, Jimmy Fallon, anything Amy Poehler or Tina Fey decided to do--are swamped with the kind of humor you see emanating from The Simpsons.

And, really, that's your whole fucking problem right there--The Simpsons. It should have ended a decade ago, but it didn't. It should have evolved into a millennial thing, but it didn't. It is squarely in the hands of people who worship at the altar of the Sixties counterculture movement, and they have done amazing, stellar work in satire and humor. But, once you've done that work, you need to go away. 

The thing that Wallace couldn't have seen coming was the development of television as an artistic medium. If you are an actor, and if you're really good at what you do, your ass needs to be on television. Kevin Spacey, et al, as it were.

That self-deprecating irony is noticeably absent from two of the most popular shows of the last five years--Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. One has ended and one is really starting to take off.

This is intensely purposeful and introspective fiction that goes deep inside of the characters, revealing flaws and weakness like no other medium. If Wallace were alive today, would he revise his stance on what television is doing to fiction given that there are so many good shows being so kind to the idea of storytelling? One season of the Walking Dead was enough to convince me that there was a reason why it was popular--it told a complex story from different angles in a way that put to bed the idea that television was a superfluous medium. It explained through art the necessity of giving a shit. That's what resonates--the need to care about people and do what it takes to survive is the gut punch modern fiction needed. With Breaking Bad you had the story of a man this culture would reject as irrelevant out of hand becoming a cultural icon. And they did it with the story, and nothing but the story, and they never betrayed what the story needed to have. Remarkable stuff.

And then you want to bring up a show like True Detective? And then your favorite show inserted here (because there are at least twenty great shows on television right now--twenty)? Come on.

I think that the death of music and the music industry has had a tremendous impact on the culture; films are dying as well. The problems in the film industry center around trying to make Marvel movies when television is examining flawed, difficult characters in a better way. If you made a Marvel film like they make an episode of The Walking Dead, then you might have a resurgence in film as a way of exploring characterization.

The switch was thrown on the Simpsons years ago for me. I don't know about you, but I just got tired of the Baby Boomer humor--that wiseassed, knowing shit that doesn't believe in anything and that thinks everything is a fraud has advanced past its shelf life. We don't live in that world anymore and we have not left that way of thinking in the past. We're dragging it around like a boat anchor, kind of like the censorship standards on TV that need to go away, too.

Someone with a hint of mercy in their soul needs to bring the Simpsons to an end. Clap, clap, and then we're done, just like we're done with Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien (Jeee-zus, is he ever done). So long, and thanks for the DVDs. It's well past the time to move on.

Oh, and blogs? Pretty much dead forever, since no one has read this far.

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