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Before 2000, it was "chewing gum for the eyes"...
December 7, 2009 4:44 PM   Subscribe

2000-2009: When TV Became Art.

Yes, it contains the MetaFilter trifecta: mentions of The Sopranos, The Wire and Mad Men - a decade in MeFi's favourite television.
posted by crossoverman (190 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
In fact, a series like The Wire might not have found that audience were it not for galloping advances in technology: DVDs that allowed viewers to watch a whole season in a gulp and, later, DVRs that let viewers curate, pause, and reflect.

This is a good point. Despite having HBO, Mrs. Beese and I usually sat out new seasons of The Wire - preferring to watch two or three DVD episodes a night for as many nights as necessary. The thick street accents and police slang usually demanded a couple of rewinds in any case.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:54 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is a portion of New York Magazine's '00s Issue featuring Ten Years In Culture
posted by netbros at 4:57 PM on December 7, 2009


We are absolutely in the golden age of television right now.

That said, when TV became art:
Ctrl-F "Twin Peaks" - Phrase not found
posted by naju at 5:01 PM on December 7, 2009 [9 favorites]


"When TV Became Full of Itself", you mean.

Funniest goddam thing I've read all day. Really. The cluelessness is fast and furious in that article.
posted by Zambrano at 5:02 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Obvious Contrarian Post needs to contain at least one piece of actual critical content, Zambrano. You can phrase it sarcastically, if you like.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:04 PM on December 7, 2009 [21 favorites]


"Yes, it contains the MetaFilter trifecta"

I see that it leads with Big Pussy.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:06 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Golden age? Nobody's watching!

HALF the American Population watched Gunsmoke.
A quarter watched Seinfeld.

We are never getting those sorts of numbers back. Ever.
posted by effugas at 5:07 PM on December 7, 2009 [9 favorites]


MeFites who enjoyed this post might also be interested in the Tim Goodman's (TV critic for the San Francisco Chronicle) episode-by-episode deconstructions of Mad Men (Season 3), Breaking Bad (Season 2), The Wire (Season 4).
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:07 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


If this was written by anybody other than Steve Allen, they're stealing his bit.
posted by DU at 5:08 PM on December 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's good to hear somebody saying something other than "THE AUGHTIES WERE A BAD DECADE THAT NOBODY LIKED!"

I mean, good and bad things happened, like in any other decade. True, we had war and economic problems, but we also had great advances in medicine and technology. And the internet really came into its own, too. It changed from a nerdy hobby that normal people only dabbled in to the dominant medium for free speech and news.

And, oh yeah, TV got better, too. Although Fox cancelled most of the good shows.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:09 PM on December 7, 2009


Nobody's watching!

Well then, that sounds exactly like art to me.
posted by neroli at 5:11 PM on December 7, 2009 [14 favorites]


>Golden age? Nobody's watching!

That's actually a good thing. This means networks will try to aim for niches instead of the lowest common denominator. This means we'll have shows that we, personally, will like more, even on broadcast TV. In addition, tough times means they'll try harder. It's a real win for the viewer.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:12 PM on December 7, 2009 [14 favorites]


I remember when Cop Rock was gonna bust TV wide open.
posted by Max Power at 5:14 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


So my grandfather and I get into arguments about this sort of stuff all the time. He claims the days of All in the Family were the nadir of television, and I list off countless contemporary shows that make the past look like a bad acid trip. Really, what our arguments come down to is who has better taste in tv.

One night, I caught him watching an episode of Deal or No Deal. I came over, gave him a kiss, and said, "I win."

This past weekend, he walked in on me watching the season premiere of Jersey Shore. He stared at the tube for a few seconds with a sneer, looked at me, said, "We're square again," and walked out the room.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 5:18 PM on December 7, 2009 [18 favorites]


Ctrl-F "Twin Peaks" - Phrase not found

That was my first reaction, too. But I think that Twin Peaks showed what television was capable of. And over the next two decades (yes, we are rapidly approaching the 20th anniversary of that show), television fulfilled that promise - with shows that were actually far more coherent and consistent than Twin Peaks ever was. (And I say that as a huge Peaks fan, owning nearly every issue of Wrapped in Plastic.)
posted by crossoverman at 5:22 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Apropos of nothing, after managing to not watch it for 7 years, I just watched all 60 episodes of "The Wire" in less than 6 days. It destroyed me in a (mostly) good way.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:26 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Nobody's watching?

When there were three TV channels, every piece of content that went on any of them had to be calibrated to appeal to broadest possible audience. If it was offensive to almost anyone, or if it might go over anybody's head, it didn't get on TV. When half of America was watching Gunsmoke in 1958, they had exactly two alternatives - Cimarron City (another, crappier Western) or Sammy Kaye's Music from Manhattan. Damn straight we're never going to get those numbers back, and it's a good thing, too, because it would inevitably mean a return to the same lowest-common-denominator pre-chewed mush that went with them.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 5:27 PM on December 7, 2009 [21 favorites]


Funniest goddam thing I've read all day. Really. The cluelessness is fast and furious in that article.

Put up or shut up, bucko. You bitch and kvetch about how shitty everything is but you don't 1)provide any kind of credentials, 2)offer up any useful information.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:28 PM on December 7, 2009 [7 favorites]


Deadwood is the third part of the trifecta you fucking cocksucker--not Sopranos!
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 5:29 PM on December 7, 2009 [17 favorites]


Interesting. I've written about and have had long drunken discussions making this argument except for the '90s. Simpsons, Northern Exposure, Twin Peaks, Seinfeld, Buffy (the start of Joss), and others. It was with these shows that TV finally took a major turn toward the better. Better acting, directing, and obviously writing. Shows became smart on multiple levels; an intelligence that while hinted at before was really allowed to flourish in the '90s.

The 'aughts certainly continued with these newfound freedoms but in some ways (and I think largely because of reality TV) has seen a stifling (except maybe on HBO and Showtime) as instant revenue became the requirement.

Of course this could all just be a generational thing as in "TV became teh awesomes during my age of adult awareness".
posted by bfootdav at 5:31 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Before 2000 was Twin Peaks, The Sopranos, Buffy as well as a number of shows whose mass popularity far, far exceeds many mass-market shows being filmed today. technically the Sopranos started in '99.
posted by GuyZero at 5:33 PM on December 7, 2009


TV only just became art? Shit, guys, we've been way off with our video game debates.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:34 PM on December 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Know what else is high art?

NOT OWNING A TELEVISION!

Seriously, have you fuckers tried Lite Brite recently?
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 5:37 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


You Should See the Other Guy: Deadwood is the third part of the trifecta you fucking cocksucker--not Sopranos!

Surely you jest.
posted by jckll at 5:43 PM on December 7, 2009


Nothing will ever top Adam West's Batman ...




... or perhaps The Prisoner. It was all done before most of you were even born. Now, off the f***ing lawn.
posted by philip-random at 5:44 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


And I made it until... 5:43 PM today before I read another article reminding me of how great The Wire is.

I suppose it is the "end-of the-decade roundup" season, though. And The Wire is quite an achievement.
posted by joechip at 5:44 PM on December 7, 2009


I don't think you guys get it.

It's not that people are watching *other* shows. It's that the attention environment is so, so amazingly packed with other things -- the Internet, YouTube, video games, DVDs, streaming NetFlix -- and that these other things do not support the advertising model that made TV profitable in the first place.

I literally know a large number of people who do not own televisions. Laptops, sure. But not TV's. That's new, that's very new.
posted by effugas at 5:54 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think Babylon 5 should get some credit for, in my opinion, pioneering the multiyear story arc.
posted by grouse at 5:56 PM on December 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's good to hear somebody saying something other than "THE AUGHTIES WERE A BAD DECADE THAT NOBODY LIKED!"

I mean, good and bad things happened, like in any other decade. True, we had war and economic problems, but we also had great advances in medicine and technology. And the internet really came into its own, too. It changed from a nerdy hobby that normal people only dabbled in to the dominant medium for free speech and news.


For free speech and news that nobody pays for, which is a great thing for the consumer and a disaster for the creators; I love the internet, but I'm growing less and less convinced it was a full-on boon to society. I mean, good and bad things happened...

The aughties were a bad decade that nobody liked, but our dramatic TV was indeed stellar. On balance, though, I think our wars and our cretinous president who financially ruined us will be what it was best remembered for. Good shows, though.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:58 PM on December 7, 2009


("Our cretinous president," of course, does not refer to the present office-holder. As far as I'm concerned, the aughties ended in November of 2008, and while this decade's hard so far, I feel we've got a solid chance.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:01 PM on December 7, 2009


I hate to say that The Sopranos needs to get bumped but lord-thundering-fuck, the dialog written for Ian McShane in Deadwood is about as good as I've ever heard. Also, EB got some great stuff to say as well.

Also, interesting notion that the great TV of the last 10 years was borne out of the nineties. I can see that, I really can.
posted by Richat at 6:02 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


... or perhaps The Prisoner. It was all done before most of you were even born. Now, off the f***ing lawn.

Speaking of which, my tastes line up pretty square with this article and I have been wanting to give The Prisoner a whirl for years now.

Questions..

• Would it hold up to modern viewing or would it seem dated ("dated" being in a bad way)?

• Has it been ripped off and "homaged" (due to its influence) so much by now that it wouldnt hold up to first-time viewing very well?
posted by Senor Cardgage at 6:04 PM on December 7, 2009


HALF the American Population watched Gunsmoke.

At a time when the majority of same had access to two or three, at most, other television programs.

When I was a kid living in rural Massachusetts, we got only two television stations in the summer (due to leaves on the millions of trees). You better believe we watched some abject crap with choices that limited; if we'd had 198 other things to flick through, we wouldn't have been watching that goddamned musical remake of Brother Rat that channel 27 used to show about twice a week. ("Wooden Indian! Wooden Indian!")
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:06 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would describe what happened in the 00s as the rise of the cinematic TV show, nothing more. Production values improved, cinematography got better, laugh tracks went away, etc. Not that they were invented this decade.... but they rose.

Art on TV wasn't invented this decade. And The Wire may be the best show but it's not the best art -- it's a better description of the power structure of society than art piece.
posted by gonna get a dog at 6:07 PM on December 7, 2009


"two or three, at most, other television programs during that broadcast hour" is, of course, what I meant.

Spending any length of time in a part of the world where television of any kind is only available for a couple of hours each day, even at the high-end tourist hotels, was kind of a mindfuck, though. I suppose those days are gone forever.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:08 PM on December 7, 2009


He claims the days of All in the Family were the nadir of television...

Did you just use the wrong word there or do you have an ultra-racist weirdo nutjob grandfather?
posted by DU at 6:09 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


And The Wire may be the best show but it's not the best art -- it's a better description of the power structure of society than art piece.

How is a television series that explores the "power structure of society" through excellent scripts and brilliant performances not art?
posted by crossoverman at 6:22 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Of course this could all just be a generational thing as in "TV became teh awesomes during my age of adult awareness".

My father (81) identifies the golden age of television as 1949 through 1959, when they canceled The Voice of Firestone.

I laughed at this for many years, but I was recently reviewing a biography of Paul Newman, and holy crap what I wouldn't give to see just the stuff he appeared in on TV in those days. Shakespeare, Shaw, O'Neill, whatever the latest Broadway play was--you name it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:22 PM on December 7, 2009


whatever the latest Broadway play was

when new media are invented, it takes a while for people to figure out how it's different from the familiar. Plays should be on stage. Tv show should be tv shows.
posted by empath at 6:29 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Speaking of which, my tastes line up pretty square with this article and I have been wanting to give The Prisoner a whirl for years now.

Questions..

• Would it hold up to modern viewing or would it seem dated ("dated" being in a bad way)?


If any show is an acid trip, The Prisoner is it. Can you tell it's from the sixties? Well, yes. But it's too bizarre and creative to call it "dated." In terms of '60s shows holding up over time, I'd say it's more like The Avengers and less like Star Trek.

• Has it been ripped off and "homaged" (due to its influence) so much by now that it wouldnt hold up to first-time viewing very well?

It's certainly had its influence on modern television, but I was completely sucked in when I watched it all for the first time a year ago or so.

You can see all of the episodes free on AMC's site, btw.
posted by katillathehun at 6:31 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Would it hold up to modern viewing or would it seem dated ("dated" being in a bad way)?

Occasionally the pacing gets a bit slow for modern tastes, but McGoohan's absolute conviction always manages to hold things together. I miss him already.

Has it been ripped off and "homaged" (due to its influence) so much by now that it wouldnt hold up to first-time viewing very well?

Nope. The Simpsons lifted as much as from The Prisoner anyone, and they didn't parody anything beyond the first episode. Plenty of existential weirdness left to go around.
posted by Iridic at 6:40 PM on December 7, 2009


How is a television series that explores the "power structure of society" through excellent scripts and brilliant performances not art?

The show is a political message, not a transmission of the eternal. Whatever. Depends on your definition of art.
posted by gonna get a dog at 6:46 PM on December 7, 2009


What about the Decalogue (1989)? It certainly kicks Twin Peaks' ass.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:49 PM on December 7, 2009


In terms of '60s shows holding up over time, I'd say it's more like The Avengers and less like Star Trek.

Whoa whoa whoa. What are you implying?
posted by DU at 6:51 PM on December 7, 2009


I enjoy television and a lot of it during the 00s was extremely excellent. I sincerely hope that the nichefying continues and the cost of production continues to drop so more things such as Dr. Horrible come into existence.

What I would also love to see is more international television. The only international television I have ever been exposed to is British, Japanese, and Spanish language soap operas (and New Zealand I guess if Flight of the Conchords counts?). I know many other countries don't produce nearly as much television as we do, but in film it's easy to find great works in any year from a variety of countries and cultures, but I haven't seen the same exchange in television.
posted by haveanicesummer at 6:58 PM on December 7, 2009


Would it hold up to modern viewing or would it seem dated ("dated" being in a bad way)?

As someone who barely made it through the first two episodes (being too bored and annoyed to go any further), that's certainly a possibility.
posted by kittyprecious at 7:01 PM on December 7, 2009


The show is a political message, not a transmission of the eternal. Whatever. Depends on your definition of art.

No, I think your definition is too narrow.

And if it was just a political message, I would have turned off pretty quickly.
posted by crossoverman at 7:09 PM on December 7, 2009


The article failed to bring up the point that technology is also making it cheaper and easier to produce better-looking shows. You can shoot decent footage on digital these days, with smaller and cheaper equipment, and keep post-production costs down while keeping your production values up.

And special effects are no longer the budget-breaker they used to be, making pretty much anything possible, thus expanding the television auteur's palette immensely.

While the stylistic innovations and multi-episode story arc go back to shows like Hill Street Blues, the trailblazing for the CGI effects was done by Hercules and Xena.

Every time you watch a brilliant sequence made possible only by computers, you have Greek gods and heroes to thank.
posted by MrVisible at 7:10 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Re: PRISONER

As with LSD, assuming you're mature and free of serious mental health issues, I'd advise that you try it at least once. You won't be entirely bored. It might just open the door ...
posted by philip-random at 7:22 PM on December 7, 2009


The Decalogue is indeed excellent TV but this discussion seems to be about American TV. Wouldn't really be fair to compete with other countries who do it so much better :-)

(Twin Peaks kicked its own ass half way through season two)
posted by sineater at 7:27 PM on December 7, 2009


Why is everything (lately) that's being posted here about the specific time period of 2000-2009? Is it just me, or is this like, a really great example of how short everyone's memory seems to be.
posted by Bageena at 7:31 PM on December 7, 2009


I know many other countries don't produce nearly as much television as we do, but in film it's easy to find great works in any year from a variety of countries and cultures, but I haven't seen the same exchange in television.

Your local cable provider might offer some international channels that you're not noticing--my own cable provider has Italian, Portuguese, and South Korean programming.

WWITV.com is something else to keep in mind.

To be honest, though, I hate French TV and Italian TV and Spanish TV and Argentine TV, and I'm only so-so about German TV, even though I love movies from all of those countries with a wild, unholy passion. It seems to me that the difference in quality between movies and TV is much more dramatic than in the US/UK/Aus/CN.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:33 PM on December 7, 2009


Why is everything (lately) that's being posted here about the specific time period of 2000-2009?

A lot of media outlets are doing "end of the decade" roundups and people are posting links to them.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:34 PM on December 7, 2009


Actually, I think the ultimate theme of The Wire is pretty universal. The show is many things, but perhaps most of all it's an examination of how people deal with being part of an organization that behaves in crazy and destructive ways and dehumanizes them, but that they still love and let define their identity.

I'd say most everyone has had that experience at least once in their lives.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 7:37 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Canadian French TV has had some good runs, but I don't know how much of it is avaiblable in English. There's the perenially recommended Bougons, from the oughts, but also Omerta 3 (don't bother with the first two), Minuit le soir, Dans une galaxie près de chez vous (a children show that parodies Star Trek with jokes that target the adult audience), and Duplessis, from the 1980s (by Denys Arcand).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:29 PM on December 7, 2009


Is it just me, or is this like, a really great example of how short everyone's memory seems to be.

It's you, since it's a retrospective of this decade - the 00s - which is rapidly coming to an end.
posted by crossoverman at 8:34 PM on December 7, 2009


I literally know a large number of people who do not own televisions. Laptops, sure. But not TV's. That's new, that's very new.

Yeah, I know what you mean. I am actually enjoying a lot more TV now that I, er, no longer have one.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:35 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Every time you watch a brilliant sequence made possible only by computers, you have Greek gods and heroes to thank.

To some degree. But although people remember to point out that Babylon 5 had an epic story arc, they forget it was also the first SF show to do all its effects in the computer - rather than rely on any physical models. It also used a few virtual sets, too.

So, it seems, the 90s did a lot to lay the groundwork for television becoming what it is today - in every aspect.
posted by crossoverman at 8:39 PM on December 7, 2009


The Obvious Contrarian Post needs to contain at least one piece of actual critical content, Zambrano. You can phrase it sarcastically, if you like.

Put up or shut up, bucko. You bitch and kvetch about how shitty everything is but you don't 1)provide any kind of credentials, 2)offer up any useful information.

Why should Zambrano have to do something that 50%+ of the comments on Metafilter never do? Credentials? Useful information? What is this, Wikipedia?

I don't think this is the Golden Age of Television, "The Sopranos" and "Mad Men" notwithstanding. To state, as Emily Nussbaum does, that all TV before 2000 was seen as "bubble gum for the eyes" and to imply that TV is not now "a compromised medium" is so absurd it defies description.

I don't have Credentials to back that up other than an intuition that Norman Lear and Marshall McLuhan would laugh their asses off at Emily Nussbaum.
posted by blucevalo at 8:46 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can't believe I'm the first person to mention Twilight Zone. I'm not even American, for crying out loud.
posted by Kattullus at 8:51 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I saw a link to this on another site, skimmed it, and concluded the author must be somewhere in her mid-20s. Groundbreaking can be defined in various ways, and there are plenty of shows that broke previous molds/ brought real innovation/ created a new form of entertainment prior to the past several years.

But this whole decade-in-review stuff seems overblown to me. The media is making too big a deal about a simple rolling over from 09-10. Perhaps it's because we just had the big change - of a century and a millenium, or because the past decade has not been so great for me, personally - unemployment, illnesses and deaths in the family.

Or maybe it's because I tire of such simplistic journalism tricks.
posted by NorthernLite at 8:52 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Has TV gotten better, proportionally? There's much more TV being produced these days. If only 1% of TV is watchable over time, it means that in 1959 you only get, what, an hour of watchable TV every week? (since they go off air at night) In 2009, you have at least a few hours, maybe more. And with the increasing sample, it becomes less probable that you have a year where there's almost nothing good.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:14 PM on December 7, 2009


The media is making too big a deal about a simple rolling over from 09-10.

I don't think so. We talk about past decades in a collective more than we do particular years: the cultural revolution of the 60s, the music of the 70s, the fashion of the 80s, for example.

I think we need more perspective on this decade before we can really start talking about how it compares to previous decades - certainly I think we're only just getting a handle on what the 90s were like, since we have almost another decade after them to compare it to in retrospect.

That said, while these lists of lists aren't necessarily comprehensive or with enough time to really comment on the last couple of years in the same way we can see what 2000 and 2001 changed, I think it will be interesting as historical perspective later. In 2019, it will be interesting to look back at these 2009 lists and see if people really remember The Wire in the same way or if Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is still equated as the best movie of this decade (I've seen it on several lists).

I happen to agree that lists are often lazy journalism, though we get them every year. I'm just willing to cut this latest spate some slack, since "best of the decade" only happens once every ten years.
posted by crossoverman at 9:17 PM on December 7, 2009


(Twin Peaks kicked its own ass half way through season two)

Too true. If only it had ended with the resolution of the Laura Palmer mystery ... although the very last episode was uncanny and malevolent in all the right ways. David Lynch unleashed.

To state, as Emily Nussbaum does, that all TV before 2000 was seen as "bubble gum for the eyes" and to imply that TV is not now "a compromised medium" is so absurd it defies description.

The past ten years has brought us (via the TV screen) some of the worst culture ever perpetrated upon humanity, maybe the worst (Survivor anyone, and the wasteland of "reality TV" it perpetrated). Count me in as one of those who no longer watches my TV on TV anymore (certainly not my own, as I don't own one). That said, no flies on the likes of Mad Men, Sopranos, Entourage, etc ... or certainly what I've seen of them. I gave up on being faithful to any particular TV show probably around the time that Twin Peaks so disappointed me.
posted by philip-random at 9:20 PM on December 7, 2009


I still curse Fox for canceling "Get A Life".
posted by KokuRyu at 9:21 PM on December 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


And it makes sense in the context of French Canadian TV: we have a main public network (the French CBC) and a minor one (Télé-Québec), a main private network (TVA) and a minor one (TQS, or whatever they call it now), and small cable channels. So not that much TV is being produced, and budgets are limited (small market). Some years we get one or two good shows, and other years it's pretty dreary.

At the same time, there seems to be something cultural/structural about it: from what I've seen, French TV sucks almost universally, despite its much larger market.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:23 PM on December 7, 2009


I think we need more perspective on this decade before we can really start talking about how it compares to previous decades - certainly I think we're only just getting a handle on what the 90s were like

Isn't there a 15-year rule floating around out there somewhere? That is, we don't really know shit about what has staying power until at least fifteen years after it's made it's initial impact.

So what was everyone so wound up about in '94?
posted by philip-random at 9:24 PM on December 7, 2009


So what was everyone so wound up about in '94?

Killer on the run!
posted by Burhanistan at 9:35 PM on December 7, 2009


Would it hold up to modern viewing or would it seem dated ("dated" being in a bad way)?

Depends on your tolerance for 1960s special effects and pacing, but I think it is still a brilliant show. It has its weak episodes, but overall, it is still great.

Did you just use the wrong word there or do you have an ultra-racist weirdo nutjob grandfather?

My dad's favorite show of all time is All in the Family (a close second being The Wonder Years) because he identifies and agrees with Archie Bunker.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:35 PM on December 7, 2009


I can't believe I'm the first person to mention Twilight Zone.

If we're going back that far, I'll toss in Naked City, the first mature television police procedural and the forerunner of Hill Street Blues, Law & Order, Homicide, and the The Wire.
posted by Iridic at 9:57 PM on December 7, 2009


Hey, just wanted to make a peep about the stuff on Adult Swim. Granted, much of it is pretty low-brow, but it's taken TV into some wonderfully absurd territory. With Tim and Eric's Awesome Show throwing footage through VHS machines to make it look authentic, and then there's The Venture Brothers, which I could probably spend a whole post on praising it for the music/charachters/plot/writing and everything else.

So yeah, a few hits and a bunch of misses, but it's great that there's one corner of one network willing to experiment in Dadaism.
posted by hellojed at 9:59 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


My dad's favorite show of all time is All in the Family

Nadir means low point.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 10:47 PM on December 7, 2009


This whole thing with overarching story lines had its roots in Hill Street Blues, LA Law, and St Elsewhere. Without Steven Bochco, TV would STILL look like Jake and the Fat Man.
posted by faceonmars at 10:49 PM on December 7, 2009


RE: The Prisoner:
"• Would it hold up to modern viewing or would it seem dated ("dated" being in a bad way)?

• Has it been ripped off and "homaged" (due to its influence) so much by now that it wouldnt hold up to first-time viewing very well?
"

The Prisoner comes from swinging sixties Britain, but it's very much its own thing, a singular experience like a fever dream or a vacation spent inside a Dali painting. It's a self-contained world where you think you know what's going on, like the main character thinks he's got it figured out. But with each episode you come to see that you know nothing about anything, and it gets weirder and weirder, until you stop trying to figure it out and just enjoy the show. Then it really gets bizarre.

There have been lots of homages and references to The Prisoner over the years, but none of them capture the Alice In Wonderland With Spies craziness of the show (most definitely including the reimagining that just came out), so watching it you probably won't get the feeling that you've seen it a million times before.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:05 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


How has nobody mentioned X-files yet?

No X-files, no Lost.
posted by empath at 11:18 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


This whole thing with overarching story lines had its roots in Hill Street Blues, LA Law, and St Elsewhere. Without Steven Bochco, TV would STILL look like Jake and the Fat Man.

I don't think much of LA Law and Bochco wasn't connected to St. Elsewhere. Hill Street Blues was great but I think that was due a lot in part to David Milch, who wrote many of the great episodes and then went on to create NYPD Blue with Bochco. Milch of course later made Deadwood (greatest series in television history) while, without Millch, Bochco's given us Raising the Bar, Doogie Howser, Murder One, and Cop Rock. Doesn't take much to figure out the genius in that relationship.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 11:18 PM on December 7, 2009


How has nobody mentioned X-files yet?

X-Files is not a good show, imo. X-Files is an average show with an above average topic at its core. Like much of bad television that came before it (including many highly praised shows like Buffy, STNG, etc.), it spoon fed its audience. This doesn't mean one can't enjoy it but it doesn't compare to Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Mad Men, Six Feet Under, Arrested Development, The Wire, John From Cincinnati (I know I'm in the minority on that one), and many of the other great entertainments of this decade.

To me, the truly great show that seems to always be missing from discussions of contemporary television is the one that I think most people dismiss based on its topic: Friday Night Lights. It easily contains some of the best written male characters in TV history as well as one of the more complex married couples. Like many of the HBO shows, it needs to be watched from the beginning to be fully appreciated but its topic and marketing don't lead one to believe that's the case.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 11:39 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I kind of thought she was spot on.

Over the last decade there was some kind of perfect storm where people who had spent ten, twenty, thirty years making tv shows were hired (many by HBO) to make shows that everyone knew would only reach a limited audience - the objective was not quantity but quality. And then there was the technology to change the way they were viewed - My first experiences with DVR broke regular, every-fifteen-minutes-a-commercial TV viewing for me forever - I will not willingly go back.

You can trace the genealogy of any show through thematic lines or through their creators or political resonance - the point is the way TV shows were being made changed and this let people try things they could not before.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:16 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


when new media are invented, it takes a while for people to figure out how it's different from the familiar. Plays should be on stage. Tv show should be tv shows.

Whilst I would generally agree with that, the BBC did some amazing one off plays in the past and I constantly have my fingers crossed that they will return to them.

Abigail's Party - that's all I have to say.
posted by vbfg at 2:06 AM on December 8, 2009


X-Files is not a good show, imo. X-Files is an average show with an above average topic at its core. Like much of bad television that came before it (including many highly praised shows like Buffy

Not to get all pedantic, but if you're gonna make sweeping statements designed to get a rise out of people, you might check, I don't know, wikipedia or something to ensure you have your dates right. The X-Files was on almost half a decade earlier. I'm curious what you mean by spoonfeeding here -- all the shows you mention derisively are genre pieces with different agendas than straight-up dramas like The Sopranos, etc., and it stands to reason they would be more plot-driven. (In fact, I'd argue that The X-Files and Buffy both lose their way in later seasons, when they become more focused on endless soap opera developments than on telling stories.) A better metric would be how they stack up against contemporary shows that do the same kind of things -- Dexter, maybe, or Lost, or BSG.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:06 AM on December 8, 2009


The Adventures of Pete and Pete - fuck seinfeld, this was the perfect sit-com. The Aughts had great episodal drama... but not many laughs that weren't aired after midnight on Cartoon Network.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:16 AM on December 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


So "All in the Family" is now the nadir of TV history? I guess I never got that memo.
posted by blucevalo at 5:01 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


In fact, a series like The Wire might not have found that audience were it not for galloping advances in technology: DVDs that allowed viewers to watch a whole season in a gulp and, later, DVRs that let viewers curate, pause, and reflect.

Yes, this.

I think a lot of this has to do with DVD and being able to watch a show in its entirety - which helps a lot in terms of watchability: HBO shows are able to reach a wider audience, rather than just those who subscribe to the channel on cable, and it's much easier to follow a show after it's finished broadcasting. Also, the level of convenience of not having to tune in at a specific time or remember to tape it makes a huge difference.

I wouldn't have gotten into Six Feet Under, The Wire, Mad Men or even The West Wing were it not for Netflix (and iTunes in cases of severe impatience). No way would I be able to sit through commercials and wait for my weekly dose with any of those shows. Savoring them in my own time and being able to watch multiple episodes in one sitting if I wanted made it much more satisfying to consume TV as a story-telling medium rather than just tuning in once a week for some brain-candy.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:21 AM on December 8, 2009


I'm nonplussed about what people think "nadir" means.
posted by kmz at 7:39 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


So "All in the Family" is now the nadir of TV history? I guess I never got that memo.

From the context, it seems like someone (either the poster or the grandfather) was confusing "nadir" (the low point) with "zenith" (the high point). This happens way more often than you'd expect.

Another set of antonyms people often confuse are "nonplussed" (completely taken aback, at a loss) and "unfazed" (totally cool, not shaken at all).

I would complain, but this kind of thing keeps me in editing work.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:41 AM on December 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


He totally gave Bush the election in 2000, didn't he?
posted by Burhanistan at 7:41 AM on December 8, 2009


Actually, I think the ultimate theme of The Wire is pretty universal. The show is many things, but perhaps most of all it's an examination of how people deal with being part of an organization that behaves in crazy and destructive ways and dehumanizes them, but that they still love and let define their identity.

Nonononono. The Wire was about the individual's dynamic relationship to and existence within the organization. There was no implicit negative indictment of organizations themselves, but rather the individuals who comprise, shape and lead it. The most chilling aspect of The Wire, and make not mistake, it's brutal, is that despite the sheer amount of craziness that exists within the power structures, is that they're the best we got right now.

Actually, I take that back, The Wire wasn't so much filled with brutal dislike of organizations, but rather a love/hate affair with them. The most successful power structure in the series was Marlo Stanfield's gang and they were some of the coldest, must brutal individuals of the series, who's entire reason for existing was simply to gather more power for itself. All of the other groups had other reasons for existing, be it to protect and serve i.e. the police or politicians, or gather power for them and their family (Stringerbell, the docksmen). I think Simon realizes that individuals matter and can do good within a group and sometimes even channel the group for good, but ultimately, it's the person that matters, no matter what the group says or does (Bubbles story). When the individual doesn't get too attached to the group, they're ok as McNulty learned when he just showed up for work and went home. It's when he started to get seriously involved within the police force again that he wound up slipping into old patterns and ultimately chose to corrupt himself to try and correct the disfunction of the group.

Damn, what a great series.

The media is making too big a deal about a simple rolling over from 09-10

I don't know what, the decade didn't start till 2001, so it won't end 'till 2011 runs away

In fact, a series like The Wire might not have found that audience were it not for galloping advances in technology: DVDs that allowed viewers to watch a whole season in a gulp and, later, DVRs that let viewers curate, pause, and reflect.

Most def. The wife and I mainlined the first season over several nights, about 6 months after the series ended, then wisely decided to order the complete series collection and waited impatiently for the complete series collection to arrive. It took a while 'cause somebody suddenly decided to get cheap and went for ground shipping as opposed to 2 day air. For 10 days, I was giggling over the idea of Omar tooling around the United States on the back of semi, hee hee.

I had only seen part of an episode before that, the one from Seaons 2, where the Irish police commissioner tries to surprise the priest with an offering, only to find the polish dockworkers have beat him to it, which pissed him off. At the time, I thought "This the great show everyone was talking about? Whatever..." and promptly forget about it. But I kept hearing about it and it was done by the guy who did "Homicide" which I loved, so eventually we decided to try the first season and were actually able to buy a high quality reproduction of it and watch it at our leisure. Think about that for a minute. We didn't have to rearrange our schedule, we got a complete story-line and we were able to watch it on a device while cuddled up in bed (i.e. a laptop), while the kids watched something else on their tv. That's pretty amazing when you consider how different that is from the previous decades.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:11 AM on December 8, 2009


I would complain, but this kind of thing keeps me in editing work.

Yeah, its good to have work these days.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:17 AM on December 8, 2009


Every decade is the best decade ever for television because we can go back and watch all of the old shows too.
posted by haveanicesummer at 8:58 AM on December 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Art criticism proper to the name ("art" as a colloquial term is about as empty as a bucket of space) has mostly been formal criticism for the duration of the 20th century. That means that self-consciousness about, and exploration of, the most fundamental formal characteristics and potentials of television would be required to make a TV show stand out in sophistication. All TV shows have this in greater and lesser amounts (the episode that's about television, the character that's a TV star, etc) - but one thing that makes shows like The Prisoner and Seinfeld stand out to me, while consigning shows like The Wire to the realm of merely excellent genre work, is that both those shows are really about television itself - and they help us to understand and explore what the formal parameters of video as a mass cultural phenomenon really are. As interesting and compelling as the Wire is, at the end of the day it does almost nothing to further the art of television - and arguably, its ownmost core is undermined by this failure - since it fails to adequately take on the logic of mass spectatorship that allows the cycle of poverty to continue.

And at the end of the day, what both the former shows tell us is that the form of television is a self-destroying tool of control that you either embrace (at great psychic cost) or that you resist (perhaps futilely). In other words, the best of what serial mainstream television has to tell us is that television is horrific. Theses shows' greatest accomplishment is ultimately to tell us that we probably shouldn't have been watching television at all - because there is no liberatory potential here, there is nothing but a dark black hole of self-hatred and paranoia abetting the forces of market capitalism.

And so, I find the basic free-floating notion that mainstream television has any artistic value highly debatable. On the other hand, if you'd like to explore what video can do, outside the parameters of mainstream television - and discover, whether, in fact, video is bound by the same logic as "television", or if it can be freed from it - I would highly recommend pursuing the work of Vito Acconci or Nam June Paik. Or just start here. Almost all "artists" working with this media are bound, in one way or another, by the desire to subvert TV or the necessity of attempting to escape its gravity - since video has by now become so synonymous with television that it is almost impossible to work with video without addressing oneself to that problematic.
posted by macross city flaneur at 9:18 AM on December 8, 2009


Not to get all pedantic, but if you're gonna make sweeping statements designed to get a rise out of people, you might check, I don't know, wikipedia or something to ensure you have your dates right. The X-Files was on almost half a decade earlier.

I didn't make it to get a rise out of anyone. I was posting my opinion as to why no one had mentioned X-Files. I also don't know what "dates" you're referring to as I didn't mention any. Someone posted they were surprised why X-Files wasn't mentioned when other 90s shows were. I posted why I thought it hadn't been--because it's not very good.

I'm curious what you mean by spoonfeeding here

I mean they don't treat their audiences with respect by assuming that they cannot follow complicated dramas with complex conflicts. Their dialogue is 50% needless exposition, telling us what we already know (because we've already had it shown to us). Style wise there's very little difference between X-Files, Buffy, and The Cosby Show--it's pretty simple for the average viewer to know what's going to happen next by the way the information is presented. Good drama is supposed to make the viewer wonder "What's next?". Great drama makes sure that what's next is both inevitable and surprising. X-Files and Buffy always forget the second part.

This scene from the third series of Deadwood has wonderful dialogue (as does the entire series), but what makes it wonderful is not only its language--what the two people are saying--but the fact that they are talking to each other and we are eavesdropping. My recollection of Buffy and X-Files are that they are rife with scenes of two people talking strictly for the eavesdropper's benefit. More than often they're each telling the other information they're already aware of because the writers think the viewers need the information (again) in order to follow along.

all the shows you mention derisively are genre pieces with different agendas than straight-up dramas like The Sopranos

Sopranos is a gangster show. Deadwood is a western. Those are genre pieces. The reason they don't seem as such is because they don't use their genre as a crutch. Their creators don't assume that people who like gangster or western stories aren't smart just because they like genre fiction. This is not something that X-Files' or Buffy's creators do. The fact that they're genre pieces is irrelevant.

There are two ways to tell a story, genre or not: well or poorly. You can like a poorly told story the same way you can laugh at a poorly told joke, but that doesn't mean the experience can't be more enjoyable by improving the telling.

Personally, I think X-Files is "chewing gum for the eyes". You disagree. But the fact that you have to rationalize ("it's a genre piece!") doesn't do much for your argument.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:23 AM on December 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, Zambrano may have failed at the Obvious Contrarian Post, but I'll take a shot at it. (Almost required, really, given my username.)

Nussbaum seems to be falling into the trap that True Art Is Angsty. The Sopranos, The Wire, The Shield, Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad, Lost. Doesn't all this gritty exploration of the dark side of the human psyche get tiresome at some point? How many times does it have to be redone in slightly different guises before it ceases to be art? Even in sitcoms Nussbaum falls into this. ("...and Curb Your Enthusiasm debuted, violating the premise that viewers couldn’t tolerate a hateful protagonist," never mind that Seinfeld had that covered a decade earlier. Or maybe it was just me that found all four of the principals on Seinfeld hateful.)

OK, so Nussbaum doesn't fall completely into this; among the shows she discusses beyond the briefest of mentions, The West Wing and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are exceptions. But the vast majority of shows she mentions are the grim gritty types. Most damning, I think, is her failure to mention the all-too-short-lived Pushing Daisies. I have no way of knowing whether that was merely an oversight on Nussbaum's part or if she doesn't consider it "art" because it's a positive, uplifting show, but given the preponderance of dark-and-gritty, I can't help but suspect it's the latter.

TV as art before the 00's? One need merely look to The Twilight Zone, as mentioned above, but its episodes were ultimately morality tales more often than not, with a clear division between Right and Wrong, and I imagine unappealing to Nussbaum. Or later seasons of M*A*S*H, sometimes quite serious themselves, but most of the time ending with a positive message.

As a refutation of the idea that a story must be dark and gritty to be truly artful, I can put it no better than Ursula K. LeGuin: "The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:34 AM on December 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


And so, I find the basic free-floating notion that mainstream television has any artistic value highly debatable. On the other hand, if you'd like to explore what video can do, outside the parameters of mainstream television - and discover, whether, in fact, video is bound by the same logic as "television", or if it can be freed from it - I would highly recommend pursuing the work of Vito Acconci or Nam June Paik.

OH GOURD. I'm having some serious bad art-school flashbacks here.

Not all art has to be serious or self-conscious. Ceci n'est pas un show de television. Let's all sit on our urinals, lighten up, and bask in the glow of Omar Little.

Yes, Vito Acconci makes some interesting statements about the nature of video and spectatorship, but I don't want to watch him when I get home from work. Likewise, there are assthousand paintings that I recognize as revolutionary that I don't want to look at on my walls every single day. James Joyce revolutionized language and I read 658 pages of Ulysses and have no idea what he was on about - I could hunker down and plod through it, or I could enjoy myself and read something a little lighter. Being that I am not a hardcore academic, at the end of the day, I want my art to bring me joy in addition to making me think. I don't want the thinking to overtake the joy. I think there's tremendous value in art that succeeds at being beautiful and well-crafted, even if it doesn't necessarily aim to subvert the dominant paradigm.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:34 AM on December 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Or maybe it was just me that found all four of the principals on Seinfeld hateful.

No, I pretty much hate them all and can't even watch the show because it makes me viscerally uncomfortable. (See also: Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office - UK, The Peep Show)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:36 AM on December 8, 2009


I don't want to watch him when I get home from work.

I don't want the thinking to overtake the joy.

Yes, when you get home from work. But why do you need relief from the sort of work you're doing?

There is no doubt that art has always been about pleasure, in some sense, but what is the nature of the pleasures that are available to you at this moment in history. Is "joy" nothing more than laughing at the paranoid triviliaties of George Castanza or adopting the aloof middle-class bemusement of Jerry?

Why is "thinking" for so many of us tantamount to "being made to think"? Why is thinking by definition not pleasurable?

These, I would argue, are all conditions that serve power interests in are culture and that TV abets, to say the least. An endless fascination with triviality and a negative definition of "joy" that is basically relief from the oppressive condition of our work, which is by definition and implicitly without joy.

Maybe what you need relief from is not work, but television.
posted by macross city flaneur at 9:41 AM on December 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


That means that self-consciousness about, and exploration of, the most fundamental formal characteristics and potentials of television would be required to make a TV show stand out in sophistication. All TV shows have this in greater and lesser amounts (the episode that's about television, the character that's a TV star, etc) - but one thing that makes shows like The Prisoner and Seinfeld stand out to me, while consigning shows like The Wire to the realm of merely excellent genre work, is that both those shows are really about television itself - and they help us to understand and explore what the formal parameters of video as a mass cultural phenomenon really are.

Wait, what? Art can't be art unless it's about itself? Do you apply the same rubric to films? Novels? Paintings?
posted by kmz at 9:47 AM on December 8, 2009


a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain

If LeGuin were a more careful student of the history of art and literature, she would understand that the category so-called "aestheticized" pain and boredom is very new, and in fact is coincident with modernity and post-industrialism in particular.

Contemporary artists are obsessed with pain and boredom because they are our condition, and throughout the 19th century the unproblematic categories of "beauty" and "pleasure" became problematized by an inescapable awareness of their jeopardization - both by modern life and politics, but also by the extension of aesthetic criteria to the lives of those non-aristocrats whose dominant condition is suffering.

In other words, so much of art is about suffering because so many of us suffer, and because so much of that suffering is traceable to the structure of contemporary society. As, in fact, middle class life has become less physically painful throughout the 20th century, the pain of boredom, has become more dominant a category, and the presentation and interest in physical pain has, ironically, become one important mechanism of escape. Beauty and pleasure as they were classically conceived, however, may be precluded as possibilities at the contemporary moment - precisely because they lack an intensity sufficient to liberate us from our boredom. Thus many presentations of beauty are constantly threatened by the perception of their banality.

I would agree with LeGuin on one point, however - and that is the banality of the category of "evil", which precisely obfuscates the conditions which jeopardize the experience of "beauty". This is why Clive Barker is so uninteresting.
posted by macross city flaneur at 9:53 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Brandon Blatcher: I don't know what, the decade didn't start till 2001, so it won't end 'till 2011 runs away

runs after Brandon You see, there's two ways of talking about decades. When you speak of the first decade of the 21st Century, that's 2001-10, but when you refer to the 00s, that's 2000-9. I could go into it in more detail but I'm out of breath now from running and talking stops, leans forward, puts hands on thighs, breathes
posted by Kattullus at 9:54 AM on December 8, 2009


But why do you need relief from the sort of work you're doing?

I love my job. I love my job more than most people love their jobs. There is not A SINGLE THING on earth that I would rather be doing. I never think "Oh man, I have to go to work tomorrow." or "I hate my job." I never even count down the hours until it's over.

I'm a nanny.

If you spend 10 hours with two children ages 4 and 2, you will understand why I don't want to settle in and watch Vito Acconci at the end of the day.

I'm also an artist and went to art school and think about art and appreciate art, and I don't think that art and entertainment need to be separated, I think the two can - and do - overlap. It becomes very murky when you try to wedge the two apart: fiction v. literature, movies v. films, snapshots v. photographs, etc.

I need relief from my work because it's HARD WORK, not because I'm lost in the drudgery of an uncreative life.

Why is "thinking" for so many of us tantamount to "being made to think"? Why is thinking by definition not pleasurable?

Thinking is plenty pleasurable, but it also requires a certain amount of energy. I do plenty of things that require deep thought, but I don't have that much expendable energy at all times. I like to reserve my brain cells for when I'm able to get the most use out of them, rather than trying to OVERTHINK ALL BEANS AT ALL TIMES.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:55 AM on December 8, 2009


Do you apply the same rubric to films? Novels? Paintings?

Yes - or at least frequently (there are many interesting 20th century critiques of formalism, but formal critique is our dominant paradigm). But more importantly, artists themselves do. Those the middle class are now so comfortable unproblematically labelling "artists" (because of historical habit) - say Matisse or Picasso in painting - began their careers, and achieved their fame, precisely because of the way their work questioned and extended the formal conditions of "art", often against the rebellious skepticism of the middle class.
posted by macross city flaneur at 9:56 AM on December 8, 2009


And at the end of the day, what both the former shows tell us is that the form of television is a self-destroying tool of control that you either embrace (at great psychic cost) or that you resist (perhaps futilely). In other words, the best of what serial mainstream television has to tell us is that television is horrific. Theses shows' greatest accomplishment is ultimately to tell us that we probably shouldn't have been watching television at all - because there is no liberatory potential here, there is nothing but a dark black hole of self-hatred and paranoia abetting the forces of market capitalism.

Eventually you'll graduate from college and find out this doesn't get you laid anymore.
posted by Mick at 9:57 AM on December 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


Eventually you'll graduate from college and find out this doesn't get you laid anymore.
posted by Mick


Says you! Art trolling gets EVERYONE hot.
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:01 AM on December 8, 2009


I need relief from my work because it's HARD WORK, not because I'm lost in the drudgery of an uncreative life.

I'm certainly not questioning anyone's creativity - but even the most creative of us (especially the most creative of us, perhaps) have to struggle against the banalities and insensitivies introduced into our culture by modern life, and the nature of modern work.

Of course it's not all necessarily about work - but I would challenge you to ask yourself whether TV properly provides you any opportunities to recoup the "energy" you expend at work. Isn't that what sleep does? Food? Quiet time with family? At what point does TV position itself in our lives as a tool of relief? What does it relieve us from that food and sleep and meaningful social relations do not?

If your work life were really as untouched by the dehumanization of post-industrial civilization as you claim, wouldn't television be completely unappealing?
posted by macross city flaneur at 10:04 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nurse Jackie is excellent. Hilarious. Edie Falco is brilliant.

Breaking Bad is very interesting, although there's the occasional slow episode (disclaimer: I like action)
posted by kathrineg at 10:07 AM on December 8, 2009


If your work life were really as untouched by the dehumanization of post-industrial civilization as you claim, wouldn't television be completely unappealing?
posted by macross city flaneur


No. People have always enjoyed, and will always enjoy stories.
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:07 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Those the middle class are now so comfortable unproblematically labelling "artists" (because of historical habit) - say Matisse or Picasso in painting - began their careers, and achieved their fame, precisely because of the way their work questioned and extended the formal conditions of "art", often against the rebellious skepticism of the middle class.

There's a difference between challenging the boundaries of an art form and actively being about the art form itself, like you feel TV should have to do. I love Charlie Kaufman and Tom Stoppard, but self-referentiality is not all art is.

But I'm just a plebe, so I'm sure you know better than me.
posted by kmz at 10:11 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


No. People have always enjoyed, and will always enjoy stories.

Well, sure, if you're *spit* middle class.
posted by kmz at 10:13 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Eventually you'll graduate from college and find out this doesn't get you laid anymore.

At 34, my interest in the history, practice, and criticism of art has, unfortunately, proven far too persistent - and provably ineffective at attracting the opposite sex - to be explained by this comment.

I like thinking about art. I like reading about art. I like reading books by the people who have thought the most interesting things about art.

Maybe, post-college, you should try it. A volume of Herder's writing would be a great starting point to understand how the project of "aesthetic" understanding was first conceived and undertaken - precisely on the cusp of industrialization and the emergence of a powerful middle class. And Ranciere's "Emancipated Spectator" would bookend it as one of the more recent attempts to recover and understand artistic possibilities in late capitalist western culture.

You might then proceed to Kant, Schiller, St. Beuve, Ruskin, Mallarme, Adorno, Bazin, Greenberg, Gombrich, Rosalind Krauss, Deleuze, etc.

Of course, I will warn you: it takes a lot longer than 4 years to get through this stuff, and it does take away from your TV watching hours.
posted by macross city flaneur at 10:15 AM on December 8, 2009


I think by his definition, Big Brother is unparalleled television art. It is both ON television, and ABOUT BEING on television, and redefines both what television is and what being on television means. It is essentially plotless, playful in its structure (the British version airs a live feed where you can watch such things as "old lady sleeps on couch"), and it is winkingly named in reference to literature that culturally defines what being monitored means.

The medium is the message, and the message is "Guess who's in the hot tub this week?"
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:20 AM on December 8, 2009


Of course, I will warn you: it takes a lot longer than 4 years to get through this stuff, and it does take away from your TV watching hours.
posted by macross city flaneur


Is this something macross city flaneur would need to watch TV to understand?
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:22 AM on December 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Of course it's not all necessarily about work - but I would challenge you to ask yourself whether TV properly provides you any opportunities to recoup the "energy" you expend at work. Isn't that what sleep does? Food? Quiet time with family? At what point does TV position itself in our lives as a tool of relief? What does it relieve us from that food and sleep and meaningful social relations do not?

If your work life were really as untouched by the dehumanization of post-industrial civilization as you claim, wouldn't television be completely unappealing?


I never claimed that my work life was "untouched" by anything. Geez. I was merely emphasizing that I need relief from work because it's mentally and physically taxing, not because it has sucked out my soul.

As for television: when I get home, I eat. I watch perhaps an hour, maybe two hours tops of television. I don't watch ANYTHING in the form of "spontaenous dissemination" anymore: I watch a few shows and the occasionally documentary via Netflix/Roku. I watch House on Hulu because I love Hugh Laurie as an actor and the characters intrigue me, even if the plot has gone completely stupid lately. I do not simply sit down, turn on the TV, and stuff my face in a bag of Doritos. I choose what I watch in the same manner that I choose what I read: Is this going to make me happy? Is this entertaining/beautiful/thought provoking?

While I say I don't want to watch Vito Acconci, I also don't want to watch America's Next Top Reality Show either. I enjoy television that is crafted as story telling. Television when used properly is a tool for quiet thought and relaxation the same way that a book is: you can think as much or as little as you want to. Why would TV be unappealing as a way of immersing yourself in a story? Television to me is much like a graphic novel with sound. When done properly, it's engaging and compelling. But that doesn't mean that it HAS to require ALL BRAIN CELLS.

(Television in spontaneous-dissemination is abhorrent to me because of the advertising, but television shows in and of themselves can be awful, mediocre, or brilliant on their own merits.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:24 AM on December 8, 2009


plebe

By the way, let's set aside the class associations for a moment and consider one question. Would you come to a thread in MeFi and speak with such confidence as so many people have here about the category of "physics" without having read a single line that anyone in the 20th century has written about physics? Without having worked through a single problem? Is this about class?

Isn't a troll someone who speaks so confidently without any acquaintance of historical thinking about a subject?

You might consider the possibility that this - and, sad to say, many other threads on MeFi - are one big troll against art itself.
posted by macross city flaneur at 10:25 AM on December 8, 2009


I like thinking about art. I like reading about art. I like reading books by the people who have thought the most interesting things about art.

Maybe, post-college, you should try it.


Dude, me too. I also enjoy The Wire The two are not mutually exclusive.

Of course, I will warn you: it takes a lot longer than 4 years to get through this stuff, and it does take away from your TV watching hours.

Y'know, there are many nights where I actually don't watch anything at all. But I do read every. single. night. without fail. Again, the two are not mutually exclusive. You can read Kant (if you want to) AND watch TV. Honest.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:26 AM on December 8, 2009


macross: How much television do you watch?
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:29 AM on December 8, 2009


would need to watch a lot of TV to understand

Guilty as charged. I do watch a lot of TV. I play a lot of video games. I watch a lot of film. I read a lot of books. I'm as immersed in this culture as anyone here.
posted by macross city flaneur at 10:29 AM on December 8, 2009


I like thinking about art. I like reading about art. I like reading books by the people who have thought the most interesting things about art.

Yeah, me too. The difference between you and me is that, at 45, I don't feel the need to vomit my erudition all over everyone in a puerile pissing contest that boils down to "YOUR FAVORITE TV SHOW SUCKS."
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:36 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Guilty as charged. I do watch a lot of TV.
posted by macross city flaneur


So um, what's your point then? That we should watch it but think it sucks because we're post-industrial?
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:38 AM on December 8, 2009


Right now my favorite shows are Mad Men, True Blood, and Fringe. I'm pretty religious about the Daily Show. I also spot watch and enjoy House. I grew up with TV. I have always watched a lot of TV.
posted by macross city flaneur at 10:38 AM on December 8, 2009


watch it but think it sucks because we're post-industrial

That we should think critically about what we love and are obsessed by, and that we should be unafraid to adjudge our habits with some critical distance. Artists and critics share this trait in common.
posted by macross city flaneur at 10:40 AM on December 8, 2009


pissing contest

It's not a pissing contest. But a lot of the comments about TV and art are fairly uncritical. I hope I'm introducing value to this thread by glossing some of the observations about contemporary media that have been made in recent decades. Is it possible for that to happen on Metafilter?

If I came in here with a graduate degree in chemistry to comment on a thread about chemistry, would you think of me as a resource or a threat?
posted by macross city flaneur at 10:43 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


If only it had ended with the resolution of the Laura Palmer mystery

No, no. If only the mystery had never been solved... that's what Lynch wanted, but Frost (and the network) was pretty firmly opposed.

Also, Soap. The original Arrested Development.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:45 AM on December 8, 2009


If you were an analytical chemist and came in here and said only analytical chemistry is real chemistry, and o-chem and p-chem are fine but not chemistry, then I would hope you would also get mocked.
posted by kmz at 10:46 AM on December 8, 2009


Guilty as charged. I do watch a lot of TV. I play a lot of video games. I watch a lot of film. I read a lot of books. I'm as immersed in this culture as anyone here.

We watch almost all of the same shows, I'm so confused why you're picking a bone with me over TV as entertainment and the value of coming home to enjoy some quality visual story telling.

Maybe Vito Acconci could explain it to me... or Jon Stewart... hard to say.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:51 AM on December 8, 2009


I'm so confused why you're picking a bone with me over TV as entertainment

Not picking a bone with you in particular. I'm trying to critique the presupposing language of the originally posted article and the thread in general though, by introducing a perspective that seems mostly unknown to both from contemporary cultural criticism.

This is not a judgment of any one person here more than it is anyone else, including myself. It is possible to ajudge oneself and one's own habits negatively and to place them in a broader context. The question of how possible it is to be liberated from our dominant cultural condition is, as I've said, one that quality TV shows themselves take up.

One can only be a critic of culture from an inner standing point of that culture itself.

Assuming the conversation must immediately jump to the level of condemnation of individuals only prevents us from getting at the important problems.

We can be critical of what we do. We can leave open the question of whether we should or even can do and be other than what we are while at the same time examining all the negative elements of what we do and are.

This is one definition of the critical mindset.
posted by macross city flaneur at 10:58 AM on December 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I hope I'm introducing value to this thread by glossing some of the observations about contemporary media that have been made in recent decades. Is it possible for that to happen on Metafilter?

If I came in here with a graduate degree in chemistry to comment on a thread about chemistry, would you think of me as a resource or a threat?


If you came into a thread about people enjoying cocktails and lectured them about how they should understand the molecular chemistry of their cocktail and if they didn't, they should just shut up about it, then I'd think you were neither a resource nor a threat, but what we like to call "an asshole."

You are not by any means the only person on this thread with a graduate degree in any of the following: literature; film studies; semiotics; cultural theory; art history; cultural anthropology; TV and film production. You're just the only one swaggering about it so far.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:58 AM on December 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


only analytical chemistry is real chemistry

The question of the "reality" of television is not one I'm very interested in. And "art" as a category is as worthy of critique as any.

However, we do ourselves no favors by pretending that our language and categories have no history. Any critique of our terminology must proceed as and through an engagement with those categories.

But if the dominant conception of chemistry in a thread on chemical questions entertained a notion of chemistry that was all but completely divorced from the way that category had been framed throughout the 20th century, it would be a worthy thing to note.

The reason that this doesn't happen, frankly, is that, in general MeFites tend to be far more acquainted with the sciences than they are with the arts and history of art. And so the level of discourse around art is far less sophisticated.
posted by macross city flaneur at 11:03 AM on December 8, 2009


swaggering

I don't know what your degrees in, but I am in a position to evaluate the quality and level of information of the discussion. Can we engage in a discussion about the questions raised by my original comment rather than in one about my attitude in raising them? Or perhaps you construe the very fact that I raised such issues as threatening and indicative of superiority? I'm sorry, but I have to say this is, in my experience, the frequent resort of people who aren't very interested in the complicated questions raised by the consideration of contemporary media and aesthetics.

I don't have to be swaggering to have a different acquaintance with and understanding of contemporary philosophy of art than you. My swaggering, such as it is, is not a very interesting topic of discussion.
posted by macross city flaneur at 11:08 AM on December 8, 2009


Quit moving the damn target around.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:10 AM on December 8, 2009


I'm not trying to shut anyone up, just introduce another perspective. One that, I hope, is interesting to some people.
posted by macross city flaneur at 11:12 AM on December 8, 2009


You Should See, etc., you said a thing preceded a thing that did not in fact precede a thing. Go look; it's there.

Re: the notion of genre, "western" and "gangster" are not genres in the sense that horror/suspense is a genre; "western" is more setting than anything else (within which one is free to do anything, as a creator), and "gangster" allows you to tell extremely realistic stories (as gangsters are people who live in the real world) that are still gangster stories. Shows like The X-Files have to follow a more mannered structure if they're going to work (and The X-Files often does not work, especially toward the end, when it seemed to become very confused about what its -- rather modest -- goals were). Also, frankly, it's kind of setting the bar a bit too high to say, you know, it's Deadwood or it's crap. There's quite a gulf between the two.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:14 AM on December 8, 2009


Big Brother

Big Brother is actually a fairly interesting case - but the simple response to your analysis is that Big Brother is precisely not harnessing a critical evaluation of television to its formal features. Though it might become interesting as an accidental critique of itself, ultimately any such recovered self-critique would be minimized by the relatively shallow terms of its engagement with these questions. No one is denying the difference between simple self-referentiality and art's critical function.
posted by macross city flaneur at 11:26 AM on December 8, 2009


My swaggering, such as it is, is not a very interesting topic of discussion.

I think we are all familiar with the trope of the art critic who swaggers, and yet teasingly refuses to engage the audience in a proper discourse on the nature of his swagger. The difference between a mosey, a sashay, or a simple loping gait can make all the difference in a dance performance or in the on-foot pursuit of food and shelter, and yet he denies us this knowledge. What terror haunts him so, such that to admit his swagger, let alone to examine how it is informed by the surrounding terrain or by the shape of his feet (have they the talons of hens' feet? the hooves of a wizard-ass? the mesaxonic pads of the hyrax - modest, yet exotic?) prompts a dismissal of the inquiry in favor of a veiled reference to superiority and threat? What swaggers are superior to other swaggers - what swaggers threaten other swaggers? How can a gesture threaten another gesture when they are both only gestures? Or is there muscle behind the movement?

And so it is with each further step in discourse that we must distrust him further, for just as he refuses to lift the curtain on how he moves, we must take that curtain fabric ourselves and lay it on the ground as a carpet for him to walk on, so that perhaps we may later discern the pattern of his movement in the ripples of the carpet below, to see where there was swish, sway, or clomp. The longer we keep this up, the more the fabric shall be worn away by the sand underneath, but as the curtain erodes and as the dirt overtakes the cloth-shield, we shall reach the limit-condition of swagger-knowledge, "zooming in" closer and closer to an understanding of what the swagger had been. But would an education in swagger-knowledge aid us in an understanding of knowledge-swagger?

I suggest instead that we take this curtain fabric and fashion from it an entirely new discourse, one more in line with the earlier work of Luce Irigiray.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:27 AM on December 8, 2009 [9 favorites]


"I don't think it's so much that he's trying to walk that way. It just seems like his butt gets in the way, it's so big."
posted by mrgrimm at 11:40 AM on December 8, 2009


Also, it's Irigaray. ... what was this post about?
posted by mrgrimm at 11:42 AM on December 8, 2009


If you're going to talk about television shows which are about television, you really HAVE to make sure to mention It's Garry Shandling's Show and The Larry Sanders Show. Both of these programs deconstructed their genres (sitcoms and talk shows, respectively) with an astute eye which was revolutionary at the time and pretty much game-changing across the board.

If you haven't caught these gems and you like television on a meta level, these are the shows for you.
posted by hippybear at 11:44 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nice, Sticherbeast - and I'm open to discussing my putative swagger. However, I have to ask why this is reframed as the central question?

One thing I often notice on MeFi is the frequency with which certain common rhetorical "fallacies" are introduced - the ad hominem being one of the most favored. Personally I've always felt this is done without much sophistication - because, as you say, the personal stakes and style and investment of a speaker is every bit a part of the argument.

Nonetheless, while not ruling out the relevance of my "swagger" (which is, as a matter of both style and substance, debatable - a debate I've called uninteresting compared to the debate about art and television), I would suggest that the intensity of the focus it has received is more indicative of the insecurities and presumptions of other people on this thread - and far more revealing about them - than it is about me.
posted by macross city flaneur at 11:48 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jesus dude, just shut up about your swagger and say something beyond yourself.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:50 AM on December 8, 2009


I mean, maybe we can get through this not by hearing what people thought was swaggering about my original comment (or subsequent ones), but doesn't this seem like a derail?
posted by macross city flaneur at 11:55 AM on December 8, 2009


beyond yourself

I think I already said that I find my swagger less interesting than the original comment. Aren't you just projecting?
posted by macross city flaneur at 11:55 AM on December 8, 2009


sorry, I meant "through this 'knot'"
posted by macross city flaneur at 11:57 AM on December 8, 2009


Only by critiquing your own comments can your comments become art.
posted by kmz at 11:59 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


When this thread became performance art.
posted by naju at 12:10 PM on December 8, 2009


Getting back to the idea of self-reflexive shows and video art: I know that my own work and taste runs towards work too arty to be properly commercial and too commercial to be properly arty.

In that vein, this decade saw both Jam and Tim & Eric.

Jam wasn't simply a dark and weird show. It played with the idea of what sketch comedy could be and what television could do. It was as flat, documentary-style, and atmospheric as a show I've ever seen. Sure, it was based on older material, but Morris found a way to mine that older material for some new twists. After Brass Eye, he could have made any number of more traditional shows, but he chose not to. (It aired in a remixed form, too, as an formally experimental twist on mere reruns.)

Tim & Eric is maybe superficially more in line with traditional notions of humor, but not by much. I've seen less-interesting and more poorly-made riffs on public access TV and other forms of "outsider" hoo-ha in more properly "arty" contexts, but T&E have the temerity, connections, and budget to bring their art to basic cable - and what's more, to deliver both on the strange-for-strangeness' sake and some more traditionally funny comedy bits. What they do is far more difficult than some of the po-faced VJ-ing I've seen in my days. It is, self-consciously, one of the most abrasive mainstream shows I've ever seen, and their live show is as well. I love it.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:12 PM on December 8, 2009


Isn't a troll someone who speaks so confidently without any acquaintance of historical thinking about a subject?

No, a troll is someone who deliberately posts an inflammatory statement that they know to be false to provoke an emotional response from others. Mere ignorance does not make one a troll, nor even speaking confidently from ignorance.

In fact, it's interesting that you mention "historical thinking" while at the same time trying to draw analogies to chemistry, precisely because understanding the current state of chemical theory doesn't require understading of historical thinking. The Thomson or Bohr models of the atom are often presented as interesting historical sidebars while teaching chemistry, but it's not strictly necessary to understand them, or even know of their existence, to understand atomic orbital theory on which modern chemistry is based.

I don't know what your degrees in, but I am in a position to evaluate the quality and level of information of the discussion.

Then you also have a responsibility to communicate with the other participants in this thread at a level they can understand. If I pop into a thread on AskMe involving chemistry and see that the OP is at the level of half-remembered high school chemistry, I'm going to do my best to explain my answer at a level that he can understand, even if that involves a bit of oversimplification; I'm not going to insist that he can't possibly understand the answer until he can derive the solutions to the Schrödinger Equation.

To that end, let's go back to your very first statement in this thread:

Art criticism proper to the name ("art" as a colloquial term is about as empty as a bucket of space)

Could you explain to me, someone who has no formal training in art criticism, a) why "art" as a colloquial term is empty, and b) whether you believe Nussbaum, in the linked article, is using "art" in the colloquial sense or in the formal art criticism sense?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:16 PM on December 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


can your comments become art

The goal of my comments is not that they be art, and my comments don't rise to the level of a form. The form of commenting in general is one we share as a community, which does make their formal critique potentially of interest (or that of community blogs and their limitations as a discursive form in general).

Unfortunately, kmz, your own comment's failure to recognize this makes it less interesting than it could be. What would be difficult to accomplish, and interesting to witness - is if you were somehow able to link the argument of my comments (or the form of resistance to them in evidence here, or the gap between the understandings of both sets of interlocutors) to the limitations or possibilities of comments as a form. That would be quite sophisticated - an achievement on metafilter that would, perhaps only by a particularly well-attuned portion of the community, be recognized as surpassingly interesting.
posted by macross city flaneur at 12:16 PM on December 8, 2009


I had a HAMBURGER for lunch.
posted by kmz at 12:22 PM on December 8, 2009


The reason that this doesn't happen, frankly, is that, in general MeFites tend to be far more acquainted with the sciences than they are with the arts and history of art. And so the level of discourse around art is far less sophisticated.

*blinks.* Y'know, sometimes people talk about two MetaFilters. I'm guessing we've been reading different ones because some of the greatest - if not THE greatest - discussions I've seen on the arts and art history and culture and whatnot were on this here 'Filter.

I'm not trying to shut anyone up, just introduce another perspective. One that, I hope, is interesting to some people.

Fair enough. I will say for my part, I'm aware of your perspective and have been introduced to it a million times before and no, I don't find it interesting, I find it tiresome. Intentional or not, you come off as hypocritical and arrogant. It's hard to read tone on the internet, and I believe that you do mean to bring up the idea of criticsm and critique honestly, but your language choice lends an air of "Ooooh, look at ME and how deep I AM and how YOU ALL aren't CRITIQUING your own choices!" which just falls flat and puts your intended "audience" on the defensive - that is, if you haven't already bored them to sleep.

I do retract the above if this commentary is, in fact, performance art. In which case, I respond with a simple "Whatever."

The form of commenting in general is one we share as a community, which does make their formal critique potentially of interest (or that of community blogs and their limitations as a discursive form in general).

Unfortunately, kmz, your own comment's failure to recognize this makes it less interesting than it could be.


THE IRONY HAS KILLED ME. I AM DEAD.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:25 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think the glib dismissal of, say, Ursula K. LeGuin as "a poor student" on the basis of an implicit disagreement with the precepts underlying a quote of hers on the topic of evil is the sort of thing that gets people to tune out of your comments, irrespective of what other value you are attempting to impart. It is a bad rhetorical strategy, because whatever others merits of your own argument that may exist, it comes off as "take THAT, author of The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness!"

Let's step back a bit. You said:
In other words, the best of what serial mainstream television has to tell us is that television is horrific. Theses shows' greatest accomplishment is ultimately to tell us that we probably shouldn't have been watching television at all - because there is no liberatory potential here, there is nothing but a dark black hole of self-hatred and paranoia abetting the forces of market capitalism.

And so, I find the basic free-floating notion that mainstream television has any artistic value highly debatable.


I don't see adequate support for these statements. To me, they come off as circular. When people put forth examples of serial mainstream television as art that do not conform to what your definition, rather than engage with these counterexamples, you simply dismiss them as art at all. You also fail to explain why great television has to tell us that we shouldn't have been watching at all - that strikes me as being very conservative, actually.

Furthermore, how does your argument about The Wire's lack of self-reflexivity square with not only the show's existence as a counterpoint to other media depictions of the same issues, but also with the show's media-critical fifth season? Neither The Wire nor its viewers exist in a vacuum where they've never seen more conventional depictions of cops and drug dealers, and to have hammered that point down harder within the four corners of the show itself would have come off as corny and redundant.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:44 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, the first half of this thread was interesting, anyway.
posted by hippybear at 12:46 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]



a troll is someone who deliberately posts an inflammatory statement that they know to be false to provoke an emotional response from others

Well, I see people who are saying what they believe to be true accused of trolling quite a bit, so I think this might be only a partial definition. Not sure if you are accusing me of trolling, but I should say that not only am I posting things I think are true (some of the time - the rest of the time I am keeping at a critical remove from the question of their truth - but I nonetheless never post anything I don't think is an interesting possibility or worth discussing), but I had little idea that the reaction to what I was saying would be as negative as it was. Especially since there already seemed to be wide disagreement in the thread over the merits of the original article and the virtues of television since 2000.

In fact, it's interesting that you mention "historical thinking" while at the same time trying to draw analogies to chemistry, precisely because understanding the current state of chemical theory doesn't require understading of historical thinking. The Thomson or Bohr models of the atom are often presented as interesting historical sidebars while teaching chemistry, but it's not strictly necessary to understand them, or even know of their existence, to understand atomic orbital theory on which modern chemistry is based.

So I think you will agree that while the humanities and sciences proceed differently on this score, even the accumulated information in a science textbook is a product of the historical thinking on the subject. Not quite sure where you want to take us with this point, but I agree it's an interesting difference between the sciences and humanities. I made analogies to chemistry because I wanted to draw attention to a gap that exists in this discussion (and on mefi generally, in my admittedly partial experience, as well as, I should note, a handful of other mefites with whom I've commiserated), but really as a feature of American culture more broadly - between the way we approach the objects and scientific knowledge and objects of art in our basic attitudes. Mostly it comes down to this: understanding scientific phenomena is supposed to require knowledge, while everyone is equally capable of discussing art productively, as if it were a birthright.

This attitude evolves out of the legacy of the Kantian observation that art is marked by a certain subjectivity. But even Kant didn't believe that you could say anything of value about art or art history without knowledge of those things - nor would he have asserted that everyone has the same level of sophistication in confronting questions of art or artworks, as derivable from their level of effort in having reflective encounters with art. Almost no one known for their ideas about art has failed to acknowledge the basic problem of artistic appreciation, and the role of education in having an experience with art that is of any value.

I'm not going to insist that he can't possibly understand the answer until he can derive the solutions to the Schrödinger Equation.

Sorry - if I had understood that the problem here, or one major problem, was that people simply didn't understand what I had said - I would have produced an entirely different set of responses. But I think you'll agree that almost no one replied by saying "macross, could you suss that out a bit? I really have no idea what you're talking about." Quite the contrary. Some people very much knew what I was talking about, or believed they did, while others chose to attack me personally or my style.

Could you explain to me, someone who has no formal training in art criticism, a) why "art" as a colloquial term is empty, and b) whether you believe Nussbaum, in the linked article, is using "art" in the colloquial sense or in the formal art criticism sense?

Point a is a difficult question, with many different answers. I can only offer a snapshot of an answer (in a comments thread - yay, formal criticism!). The way we use "art", both colloquially and as a critical term (separate matters), has a long history.

Relatively briefly, I'll note that art as it is used colloquially tends to have a multi-layered (and sometimes confused) set of uses somewhere between a) whatever cultural products someone (anyone) wants to call "good" and worthy of attention (a definition that, in some sense reverts to what, in the 18th century was set apart as "craft" or "artisanship") b) that set of objects embraced by a certain community who set themselves as judges of what is good, then put their preferred objects in museums or honored public places, and c) painting or pictorial imagery as the defining formal expression of "good" cultural products.

Then there is the emerging category of the "arty", which has been used in this thread, and whose recentness makes it much harder to see clearly. But in my experience, it is typically a vaguely derogatory term that seems to exist primarily to put distance between the speaker (often themselves an "artist" or "artisan") and one or more perceived features of some tradition of production thought to be predictable or worthy of contempt. Derogatory "artiness" is one product of the intense disagreements (and intense misunderstandings) of what is at stake with certain artists and traditions. Art is the target of such intense critique precisely on the terms of its own categorical deployment. This is now a widespread occurrence. But it is worth noting that this was a basic tack in use by art critics themselves as early as the late 19th century. Much 20th century criticism and art has reflected an effort to redeem the intentions and value of art from its increasingly fragmented and shallow categorical uses. And so, more than anything, "artiness" is a trickle down effect of a problematic that originated in art practice and criticism itself. The stereotypical example here is Duchamp's "Fountain" serving as a critique of (among other things) the museum/encounter with art, the supposed necessity of the "beautiful" in art, and the role of technique.

In any case, a), b), and c) are useless as definitions, because, from my perspective 1) they've already been endlessly critiqued and de-elaborated 2) they were always shallow in the first place, and never really reflected sophisticated thinking about what art was in the first place, only straw men that art itself had the original and primary hand in debunking and 3) even on their own shallow terms, they don't reflect any acquaintance with recent efforts to get at what "art" might be or what value, if any, it has left, as a term.

...to be continued...
posted by macross city flaneur at 1:28 PM on December 8, 2009


Somehow I'm moved to post this MeTa from a short while ago. It might be of interest.

http://metatalk.metafilter.com/18046/Trolling-techniques
posted by hippybear at 1:39 PM on December 8, 2009


as to your second question, DevilsAdvocate, the reason I implicated Nussbaum in an unsophisticated categorical deployment of the term art is, first of all, because she adduced no art criticism at all in her article, nor did her criteria of "artfulness" indicate any.

Quite the contrary, criteria like "collectible and life-changing and transformative and lasting" are precisely colloquial and, even worse, reflect a buying-in to long-standing hobgoblins of artistic misunderstanding. No art critic, even a popular one, should be caught citing collectibility or durability as criteria for what makes something awful, when those same criteria have been endlessly lampooned and lamented by even modernist critics such as Theodor Adorno or Walter Benjamin. The collector's market has, in fact, often been construed as a direct threat to art, and the ephemerality of the artistic encounter embraced by many recent artistic traditions. A good example of both is Andy Goldsworthy's pieces, which, by being place in the out of doors, and made of organic materials which are quite deliberately quick-degrading - has directly resisted both tendencies.

This is just one example of the way Nussbaum's implicates herself in almost total ignorance of the current stakes of art practice. Either she is a pretty shallow student of art herself, or she assumes her audience is.
posted by macross city flaneur at 1:43 PM on December 8, 2009


sorry, should have been "what makes something artful"
posted by macross city flaneur at 1:44 PM on December 8, 2009


hippybear, I'm sorry you don't like what I have to say. But I really am doing everything I can to try to have a productive discussion here.
posted by macross city flaneur at 1:47 PM on December 8, 2009


I really am doing everything I can to try to have a productive discussion here.

No, you're doing everything you can to be right, which is something else entirely. Your points about your feelings regarding the level of artistic merit to be found in television programming were made long ago. Everything since then has been wanking.
posted by hippybear at 1:50 PM on December 8, 2009


tl; dr
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:51 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Re: the notion of genre, "western" and "gangster" are not genres in the sense that horror/suspense is a genre; "western" is more setting than anything else (within which one is free to do anything, as a creator), and "gangster" allows you to tell extremely realistic stories (as gangsters are people who live in the real world) that are still gangster stories.

Again, you're rationalizing. The genre of a piece in no way affects the quality. Western is absolutely a genre. (I've even taken courses on the western genre). To suggest that some genres, like horror or suspense, are incapable of being top-notch ignores stories in their genres that are just that.

Shows like The X-Files have to follow a more mannered structure if they're going to work (and The X-Files often does not work, especially toward the end, when it seemed to become very confused about what its -- rather modest -- goals were).

What structure? Can you better explain what you mean because I don't follow. X-Files and Buffy don't fail as compelling drama because they're about aliens and otherworldly things, they fail because Joss Whedon and Chris Carter (and the networks that air their shows) are more interested in appealing to as large an audience as possible than writing intelligent fiction. In order to do that, the work needs to be dumbed down.

There were many westerns before Deadwood: Ponderosa, The Lone Ranger, Rawhide, Wagon Train, Have Gun Will Travel, and on and on. None of them compare, story-wise, to Deadwood even though, as you suggested, they have the benefit of being "free to do anything". Your implying that it's a genre in which it's easy to make compelling drama goes out the window when you view any television western pre-Deadwood! The same will happen when someone (and believe me, it won't be Joss Whedon or Chris Carter) creates a compelling drama that is sci-fi or whatever genre you imagine Buffy/X-Files are being held back by.

Also, frankly, it's kind of setting the bar a bit too high to say, you know, it's Deadwood or it's crap. There's quite a gulf between the two.

Well, I didn't create the FPP or write the article that's linked to. The point of the thread is that contemporary television is setting the bar pretty high. When others suggested that the author was wrong, just look at X-Files or whatever, well, I disagree with them.

Also, I don't think "it's Deadwood or it's crap". I also like plenty of other shows, some of which I mentioned (Friday Night Lights, John From Cincinnati (which, if you haven't seen it, features a character that many believe is an alien or Christ resurrected--hard to have more of a stricture on what you can do than that!--the show has people surfing in clouds!), Sopranos, Tell Me You Love Me, hell I'll even take Gossip Girl or Rescue Me over Buffy and X-Files!

And yes, you're correct that I wrote that Buffy pre-dated X-Files. That was my mistake. When I wrote, "X-Files is an average show with an above average topic at its core. Like much of bad television that came before it (including many highly praised shows like Buffy, STNG, etc.)" I meant, "including many highly praised shows that came before the shows discussed in the article." I apologize.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 1:56 PM on December 8, 2009


some of the greatest - if not THE greatest - discussions I've seen on the arts and art history and culture

Would love to see some of those. I've had a few decent discussions on MeFi in this area, and had a few really good back-channel conversations, but mostly I've encountered a lot of angry resistance to anything approaching a informed discussion of art. I've had a lot more interesting and productive discussions about technical and scientific subjects.

THE IRONY HAS KILLED ME. I AM DEAD.

Sorry, but I just don't understand the content or the apparent tone here. What exactly are you saying is ironic?
posted by macross city flaneur at 1:58 PM on December 8, 2009


No, you're doing everything you can to be right, which is something else entirely.

Right about what, hippybear? I'd really be interested to hear what you think are the substantive contours of the debate. Since your comment on Gary Shandling/Larry Sanders - which I totally agree were great - you've posting nothing but angry ad hominem. I really don't understand where you're coming from.
posted by macross city flaneur at 2:01 PM on December 8, 2009


But I really am doing everything I can to try to have a productive discussion here.

macross, I appreciate where you're coming from but you've pretty much eaten the discussion here; likely unintentionally. I recommend you take a short break, go for a walk or something. Let something else take form for a while.
posted by philip-random at 2:20 PM on December 8, 2009


In other words, the best of what serial mainstream television has to tell us is that television is horrific. Theses shows' greatest accomplishment is ultimately to tell us that we probably shouldn't have been watching television at all - because there is no liberatory potential here, there is nothing but a dark black hole of self-hatred and paranoia abetting the forces of market capitalism.

Macross, do you really believe this? Could you elaborate on this idea?
posted by AceRock at 2:22 PM on December 8, 2009


Again, you're rationalizing. The genre of a piece in no way affects the quality. Western is absolutely a genre. (I've even taken courses on the western genre). To suggest that some genres, like horror or suspense, are incapable of being top-notch ignores stories in their genres that are just that.

We-eeee-elllll...wait a minute, because what do we mean when we say western is a genre? Because we may think of horses and lawmen and goldmining towns and whatnot, but as far as I can tell, the only rule is that your story be set in the old west. That's some serious leeway. There may be genre tropes and cliches, but essentially the western is just historical fiction...or in other words, the real world (the stuff of most "literary" fiction) set back a hundred-plus years. If previous western series didn't treat the subject with the seriousness Milch did...well, one, it means those writers probably just weren't as talented as David Milch (which is a safe bet, generally), and two, it doesn't mean they couldn't have, that the potential wasn't there. They just, for whatever reason, didn't.

Now, as far as The X-Files and Buffy go, I think I'm still a little vague on what exactly your objection to them is beyond they're just bad shows (I personally think they're both good shows for about half their respective runs, and then mediocre-to-lousy shows), but I'll explain what I mean by pointing to genre. You don't need moustachio-twirling men in black hats lighting cigarillos off blazing dynamite-fuses to have a western; you just have to have a story set in the old west. To have a horror story, however -- which could, incidentally, be as easily set in the old west as anywhere else -- you need to have a monstrous villain of some sort, and it must be in conflict with your leads, and the story has to scare you, at least a little. That's a much more limited pallette you're working with there. You could take your horror parts and build something different with them, but you probably won't have a horror story anymore, and that's what your audience is looking for. If those sorts of things aren't for you (and it sounds like they're not, to judge from your list; I liked John from Cincinnatti, too, but it's really only fantasy in the most magic-realism kinda way), that's cool, but it seems to come down more to a distaste for a style as a whole than for a thing itself, if you see what I'm saying here.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:26 PM on December 8, 2009


Well, I see people who are saying what they believe to be true accused of trolling quite a bit, so I think this might be only a partial definition.

Perhaps different people understand the term differently; as I understand the term, no one who sincerely believes what they are writing is trolling. I suspect that many people who use the term differently are lazily trying to discredit an idea they disagree with without making an attempt to refute the idea.

Not sure if you are accusing me of trolling

Not at all.

So I think you will agree that while the humanities and sciences proceed differently on this score, even the accumulated information in a science textbook is a product of the historical thinking on the subject. Not quite sure where you want to take us with this point, but I agree it's an interesting difference between the sciences and humanities.

Where I want to take us is that humanities and sciences are fundamentally different on that score. Science, while certainly a product of historical thinking, does not require a person to understand the historical development of a science in order to understand current scientific thinking. Humanities (if I am understanding you correctly) do require such understanding. And as they are fundamentally different in this regard, any proposed analogies between sciences and humanities are suspect at best; at a minimum, we must ask whether a proposed analogy holds up in light of such a deep, fundamental difference.

I'll note that art as it is used colloquially tends to have a multi-layered (and sometimes confused) set of uses somewhere between a) whatever cultural products someone (anyone) wants to call "good" and worthy of attention (a definition that, in some sense reverts to what, in the 18th century was set apart as "craft" or "artisanship") b) that set of objects embraced by a certain community who set themselves as judges of what is good, then put their preferred objects in museums or honored public places, and c) painting or pictorial imagery as the defining formal expression of "good" cultural products.

Yes, this definition corresponds reasonably well to what I understand "art" to mean, colloquially, so it's good to see we have some agreement there.

In any case, a), b), and c) are useless as definitions, because, from my perspective 1) they've already been endlessly critiqued and de-elaborated 2) they were always shallow in the first place, and never really reflected sophisticated thinking about what art was in the first place, only straw men that art itself had the original and primary hand in debunking and 3) even on their own shallow terms, they don't reflect any acquaintance with recent efforts to get at what "art" might be or what value, if any, it has left, as a term.

Perhaps you've already seen them endlessly critiqued and de-elaborated, but I, who have no formal (and very little informal) training in art appreciation and criticism, have not seen them endlessly critiqued and de-elaborated, and find discussion of whether various television shows are worthy of the label "art" to be an interesting one. This may well be boring and tedious to someone who has seen the same arguments a hundred times before, and moved past them realizing that the argument itself is meaningless (and believe me, I've been on that side of things on other topics on MeFi), but to those participating in the argument, such things are relatively novel and worthy of discussion. In my experience, it may be possible to gently nudge such people towards a deeper understanding, but bluntly declaring that the argument is meaningless and serious students of the arts have considered it meaningless for at least a hundred years is likely to rub people the wrong way and lead them to attack you personally or your style.

I think this is an issue in any discussion on a topic where people have widely differing levels of experience, not only art. Questions which the more experienced participants know have long since been resolved may seem novel and uncertain to those with little or no knowledge of the topic. The more-experienced few can respond in a number of ways: they can discuss the topic among themselves at their high level, and ignore the neophyte questions and uninformed comments, letting the neophyte debate continue even though they know it to be ultimately meaningless; they can patiently and gently instruct the neophytes, tedious as it might be to the experts who have explained the same things a hundred times before (but, they must remember, it may be the first time these particular neophytes have heard it), and even then they may be unsuccessful and the neophytes may continue their meaningless debate; or they can testily dismiss the neophytes by asserting their debate is so uninformed as to be meaningless without ever explaining why at a level the neophytes can understand. Surely it is not inconceivable that this last would be met with personal attacks in return, even if not warranted.

as to your second question, DevilsAdvocate, the reason I implicated Nussbaum in an unsophisticated categorical deployment of the term art is, first of all, because she adduced no art criticism at all in her article, nor did her criteria of "artfulness" indicate any.

This seems fair to me; Nussbaum's use of "art" seems to me to be the colloquial meaning, and not the art criticism meaning, as well.

Either she is a pretty shallow student of art herself, or she assumes her audience is.

So if she correctly assumes that her audience are shallow students of art, and writes for that audience, then what is the issue? I freely admit that I am a shallow student of art, familiar mainly with the colloquial definition of the term, and have little understanding of the formal term. So Nussbaum is writing for people like me, and people like me are reading her. I (and apparently several other MeFites) disagree with her assertion that the 00s were the decade in which television became [colloquial] art, but I don't find the assertion meaningless. Those with deeper understanding of modern art criticism do find it meaningless; that's fine, it's just that such people are not Nussbaum's intended audience. Is New York Magazine where one expects to find high-level criticism of the arts grounded in modern art theory? I wouldn't think so; I would have thought more specialized publications exist for such criticism, but perhaps I'm wrong on that count.

...but I had little idea that the reaction to what I was saying would be as negative as it was. Especially since there already seemed to be wide disagreement in the thread over the merits of the original article and the virtues of television since 2000.

I think the error you made was failing to realize that most people were arguing that Nussbaum's central point was not correct, while you are arguing that Nussbaum's central point is not meaningful. It's like if a bunch of people in a thread were arguing whether cheesecake was the best kind of cake or not, and someone else came in and said cheesecake wasn't a cake at all, but really a kind of pie. Which might be an arguable point, but if everyone else in the thread implicitly accepts that cheesecake is a kind of cake, the argument that it's actually a pie is likely to be met with hostility from some unless it's presented with much tact, and without the slightest hint of insult to other participants in the thread.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:06 PM on December 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


kittens for breakfast, I think we should probably agree to disagree as we obviously have very different foundations in what we think makes compelling tv.

As for genre, I don't really see how Buffy's genre forces the writers to write horrible, expository dialogue for every scene. Same goes for X-Files, and I don't see how any of what you've written so far supports your idea that because they're in these genres, they have to be poorly written.

I could not find any clips of either show on Youtube to offer up as examples of poorly done tv because all I could find over and over again was fan music videos for both shows. (I'm probably not searching for the correct terms but since I'm not a fan of either show, I don't know what the right terms should be.)

it doesn't mean they couldn't have, that the potential wasn't there. They just, for whatever reason, didn't.

Again, I don't follow this logic. Up until Deadwood, someone could have made the exact same arguments that you're making but regarding the TV Western. It had never been made into compelling tv, its genre is restrictive, etc. Now that Milch has done it, you suggest it's obvious. Why will you not grant other writers the same latitude with the genres of Buffy and XFiles? No one has done it... yet. Doesn't mean it's not possible.

One of the reasons that Deadwood rang so right for many viewers is that it transcended its own genre. You suggest that the only thing that makes Deadwood a western is that it's period and there are horses. I don't agree with you, but don't understand why your logic doesn't apply to X Files--the only thing that makes it sci-fi/horror is the presence of aliens and monsters, right? How does the presence of those creatures insist on poorly crafted drama?

It's like this: here's a pitch idea for a wacky comedy: boy falls in love with girl. They date--hit it off swimmingly. He confesses she's not her first and she's fine with that... until she realizes his first is her mother! Then things really get crazy as he tries to convince her it all meant nothing.

Crappy genre flick, right? Aim it at the teen audience and throw in a soundtrack with soon-to-be-hits from the hot band of the month and it'll get the asses in the seats and be forgotten until next season when we do it all again, right? Right. Unless you're Buck Henry and Mike Nichols in which case you take that premise and genre and make The Graduate.

Any filmmakers before that (and a bazillion since) have taken that genre and made dismissible movies (and tv shows) out of it. But The Graduate proves that things don't have to be that way. Had those two (and their co-conspirators, including Simon and Garfunkel) not done it, most people would still think, given the ingredients and genre, that it was impossible. I propose that it is not impossible to make a *great* science fiction/horror/suspense/whatever tv show. However, Buffy and X-Files ain't it.

Also, you're mistaken that I have inherent biases against those genres. I love all genres (I've written screenplays for a zombie picture and a kidnapping picture, for instance--unproduced). I just get insulted by films and television shows that insist I'm a moron that must be spoonfed my plot and characterization.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 5:42 PM on December 8, 2009


Of course, I will warn you: it takes a lot longer than 4 years to get through this stuff, and it does take away from your TV watching hours.

Oh christ, are you joking? What a pompous windbag.
posted by empath at 6:16 PM on December 8, 2009


macross city flaneur: You don't seem to see it, but your comments come across as rather aggressive, and I think that's what is frustrating people (me included). For instance, in your first comment, you say "[the Wire] fails to adequately take on the logic of mass spectatorship that allows the cycle of poverty to continue". You introduce a theorical notion in a general discussion, without explaining its meaning, or where it comes from (the provenance is fairly important, since various authors may mean different thing by the word "spectatorship").

Then people disagree (perhaps naively) with you, and you start making assumptions about them. The dropping of names was particularly obnoxious (And it's Sainte-Beuve). If you want to have productive conversations about art, you may want to recalibrate your approach.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:38 PM on December 8, 2009


As interesting and compelling as the Wire is, at the end of the day it does almost nothing to further the art of television

Yeah, but was it trying to do so? If not, it seems odd to hold it to that standard.

Overrall you seem to be arguing that what makes truly great television are shows that say something about television. If so, that's a pretty limited way of thinking.

Finally, as to whether The Wire furthers the art of television, it may be too soon to say. It'll be interesting what other works of the media are inspired by show ala Hill Street Blues shaping shows that came after it.

Otherwise, yeah, your tone is pretty arrogant and off putting in terms of wanting to hold any sort of conversation with you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:15 PM on December 8, 2009


As for genre, I don't really see how Buffy's genre forces the writers to write horrible, expository dialogue for every scene. Same goes for X-Files, and I don't see how any of what you've written so far supports your idea that because they're in these genres, they have to be poorly written.

Oh, okay -- I actually thought you had some objection to these shows that was more substantive than this. "Horrible" isn't really a criticism anyone can respond to -- I mean, I don't recall thinking the dialogue was particularly horrible in these shows (the wit of the dialogue on Buffy is one of that show's major selling points to most people who followed it). In both cases, though, expository dialogue is pretty important vis a vis communicating what the hell is going on, as the premise of both shows has characters encountering things that are unfamiliar in normal life. Hence, you have characters whose job description is essentially explainer-of-weird-shit. Not to say you can't have horror that's ambiguous, but in the case of The X-Files, at least, the premise of the show was explicitly people investigate weird shit. I suppose they could have done it in complete silence, but it seems a bit more natural that investigators would actually, you know, discuss their findings. To be honest, I'm a little baffled both by the vehemence of your objection and to the objection itself.

One of the reasons that Deadwood rang so right for many viewers is that it transcended its own genre. You suggest that the only thing that makes Deadwood a western is that it's period and there are horses. I don't agree with you, but don't understand why your logic doesn't apply to X Files--the only thing that makes it sci-fi/horror is the presence of aliens and monsters, right? How does the presence of those creatures insist on poorly crafted drama?

Well, first of all, I don't agree with your loaded framing; my argument is that different genres require different approaches. The naturalistic dialogue that (I think) you're saying is what would make these shows crap or not crap would, I've argued, (a) not be very natural in shows where it actually makes more sense for people to talk to each other in an expository fashion than not, and (b) not be conducive to making such shows work. Again, I feel like I must not be fully grasping whatever your stance on this is, because this type of dialogue seems both logical for this type of show and, frankly, like not that big a deal. I doubt any X-Files script would ever be mistaken for Faulkner, but there's more to a dramatic presentation than dialogue -- a lot more.

Second, what I'm arguing vis a vis Deadwood is that the only thing that makes any western a western is time and place. Within that setting, you're probably going to find certain recurring motifs -- lawmen, stagecoaches, hookers, et cetera -- but while you're arguing that you'll find those things because they're part and parcel of the genre, I am arguing that you will find these cocksuckers because they were all the fuck really there. What made Deadwood what it was is that Milch treated Deadwood like a dramatic series, a western about history as opposed to a western about westerns. It had more in common with Mad Men or LA Confidential than with Bonanza. To be honest, my knowledge of TV westerns in their heyday is too slight to say with any certainty that Deadwood was without precedent in this approach, but I'm willing to bet it wasn't. For a variety of reasons, I suspect any proto-Deadwood was not as good (not least because I think Deadwood is one of the best television series I've ever seen), but I'd actually be surprised -- given how many of them there had to have been -- to learn that none were at least reaching for real greatness.

All that said -- to bring it back around to horror vs. more mainstream storytelling -- I think the higher effects of something like Deadwood are really only available to series that have drama as their main goal. Genre carries with it certain expectations, and expectations have limits built into them. You can't have a cop show without crime (except possibly The Andy Griffith Show), and you can't have a cop show where what cops do (solve crimes) isn't the show's bottom line. That's a limit. You can do other stuff within that framework (and you can certainly do great stuff that is not other stuff at all), but if you fail to satisfy the needs of the genre, you're finished. Buffy and The X-Files were both on long enough that you could see the creators butting their heads up against the limits of their genre, but their attempts to transcend it largely amounted to abandoning what made the shows work; they lost focus, and consequently lost viewers. While it could be argued that the creators maybe just didn't have the chops to go for these "transcendent" effects (though probably not successfully; Vince Gilligan, one of the leading lights on The X-Files, went on to create Breaking Bad, which is the only show on right now I think -- yes -- is as good or better than Deadwood), I think the shows just weren't built for them. That's okay: Six Feet Under, as great as it was, probably wasn't built to be a suspense film, and when it tried to be for an episode, it pretty much killed the show. Everything has limits. Put another way, I don't think it's fair to blame strawberry ice cream for not being steak tartare.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:47 PM on December 8, 2009


You can't have a cop show without crime (except possibly The Andy Griffith Show), and you can't have a cop show where what cops do (solve crimes) isn't the show's bottom line.

You could have a dramatic cop show with crime, but without any real crime-solving; for instance, a realistic show about a small-town police department. You'd have a corrupt asshole cop, and another that's not super-sharp, and them dealing with the social isolation being a cop in a small town brings, and always having to deal with the same group of people who get into trouble, but never really have to "solve" anything: the only murder that year is a man killing his wife; the rest is assault, drugs and moving violations.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:10 PM on December 8, 2009


That's okay: Six Feet Under, as great as it was, probably wasn't built to be a suspense film, and when it tried to be for an episode, it pretty much killed the show.

If you're thinking of the episode with the character of Jake in it, then I think you're dead wrong.

If you're thinking of a certain plot arc that ended in Season 4, then I partially agree with you, but Season 5 made everything groovy again.

Also, Six Feet Under is a favorite of mine, a show I compare favorably to the works of Chekov.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:11 PM on December 8, 2009


You can't have a cop show without crime (except possibly The Andy Griffith Show), and you can't have a cop show where what cops do (solve crimes) isn't the show's bottom line.

I may be mistaken, but wasn't this the premise of Bakersfield, PD?
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:12 PM on December 8, 2009


You can do other stuff within that framework (and you can certainly do great stuff that is not other stuff at all), but if you fail to satisfy the needs of the genre, you're finished.

Arguably one of the most creative shows for many seasons on television was Moonlighting, and it bounced outside its genre all the time. A detective show without anyone investigating anything? You got it, right there. Not every week, of course. But it was often the episodes where it really went beyond its own bounds which had everyone talking around the water cooler the next morning. It's chief failure was allowing David and Maddie to sleep together, which destroyed the tension between the characters which was its foundation.
posted by hippybear at 8:23 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not every week, of course. But it was often the episodes where it really went beyond its own bounds which had everyone talking around the water cooler the next morning. It's chief failure was allowing David and Maddie to sleep together, which destroyed the tension between the characters which was its foundation.

Yeah, sadly, this is the kind of thing I'm talking about.

If you're thinking of the episode with the character of Jake in it, then I think you're dead wrong.

If you're thinking of a certain plot arc that ended in Season 4, then I partially agree with you, but Season 5 made everything groovy again.


I'm kinda talking about both -- I like (well...I don't know if "like" is the right word, but...) "That's My Dog" more than a lot of people seemed to, but my understanding is the viscerally negative viewer reaction it got had a lot to do with Alan Ball deciding to end the show. My own experience of it was pretty unpleasant (bad date, then I come home and decide to watch the next episode of this neat little show I like to take the edge off and chill a little bit and HOLY FUCK WHAT), but it wasn't a dealbreaker. Nor was the S4 resolution, because...you know, obviously things like that do happen in real life, but wow did it seem so very contrived and out-of-whack. I agree, though, that the last season redeemed it.

Also, Six Feet Under is a favorite of mine, a show I compare favorably to the works of Chekov.

It really was a great show. I must admit it kinda gave me...um...a few unrealistic expectations for True Blood, I'm afraid. (I haven't seen the second season yet, though, so here's hoping...)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:34 PM on December 8, 2009


In any case, a), b), and c) are useless as definitions, because, from my perspective 1) they've already been endlessly critiqued and de-elaborated 2) they were always shallow in the first place, and never really reflected sophisticated thinking about what art was in the first place, only straw men that art itself had the original and primary hand in debunking and 3) even on their own shallow terms, they don't reflect any acquaintance with recent efforts to get at what "art" might be or what value, if any, it has left, as a term.

For 1), I share the view expressed above that, while it may be old hat to you as to how "art" used in that way has been endlessly etc.ed, only so many of us share your particular educational background. Lend a hand? I went to an art school where the question "what is art?" was surprisingly not asked as broadly as that, even though we had other critical readings in other, narrower areas. My subsequent work in the "art industry" took place in galleries, where of course no one questioned that what they were doing was not only art, but very fine art indeed (despite evidence to the contrary, herp derp lol).

I'm also a bit confused as to why it would be desirable to eliminate the colloquial use of the word "art," as opposed to using other words to modify the word. Actually, I've always found it useful in my thinking and work to use the word as broadly as possible (with no references to possible inclusions in galleries or acceptance by any particular elite) to the point where it is fairly meaningless without further elaboration. I've found that many people use "artful" as another word for "good" or "serious" anyway, even though many of the best things I've seen or heard have not been "well-made" or "serious" at all. I know, in my own idiolect, I allow myself to use the word "art" to refer to nearly any willfully expressive event or object, although I also confess that it hasn't occurred to me to restrict or refine with any precision my definition.

What is wrong with my perspective, which in this respect runs headlong in an opposite direction from yours? Honest question.

As for 2) and 3), I think my answer to 1) more or less explains how I feel about this one. I don't see why "art" as a term should be used to describe only those events or objects which are adjudicated, through some sophisticated examination, to be art. How is doing so more useful or truthful than letting art have a broad definition and then examining and describing the nature of individual events and objects on a case-by-case basis? Again, honest question.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:34 PM on December 8, 2009


I'm kinda talking about both -- I like (well...I don't know if "like" is the right word, but...) "That's My Dog" more than a lot of people seemed to, but my understanding is the viscerally negative viewer reaction it got had a lot to do with Alan Ball deciding to end the show. My own experience of it was pretty unpleasant (bad date, then I come home and decide to watch the next episode of this neat little show I like to take the edge off and chill a little bit and HOLY FUCK WHAT), but it wasn't a dealbreaker. Nor was the S4 resolution, because...you know, obviously things like that do happen in real life, but wow did it seem so very contrived and out-of-whack. I agree, though, that the last season redeemed it.

It's strange how both "That's My Dog" and the S4 resolution come screaming out of nowhere to a certain extent, but one of those plot threads, for us and others, falls flat. On the surface, they're both so very similar. I wonder if the harsh, atypical, sadistic "That's My Dog" works on the level that it does because it didn't really fit into any television genre cliche (except maybe in a parallel universe where Gaspar Noé runs a TV network). Also, many people have had something similar to that happen to them; that episode plays a bit like how that experience may have felt. I've only been assaulted in the street in a sort of frankly laughable way, but I know people who have been through very similar ordeals, and so I can relate, to a certain extent. It feels real.

The S4 resolution, however, felt so much like a plot thread in an Indiewood movie (or a L&O episode), where while technically that stuff does, as you say, happen all the time, for the vast majority of people, it does not, and so most people, including myself, don't relate to it. In a show that capitalized smartly on genuine human experience, it was a misfire.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:42 PM on December 8, 2009


Given a day to think about it, I realize that my biggest issue with singling out the past ten years as TV's greatest (when it became ART) is missing the key point that TV, from its inception, has always been a cultural warzone. Agents of control and exploitation versus agents of truth and beauty (or something like that) with our nervous systems the battleground where this war is ultimately waged. So if you're main concern is whether or not you're being amused, you're probably being eaten, a little bit at a time.

So, yeah, I buy what macross is trying to get across, just disapproving of the means.

And I'm rather nonplussed that no one's mentioned Reno 911 yet.
posted by philip-random at 8:45 PM on December 8, 2009


And I'm rather nonplussed that no one's mentioned Reno 911 yet.

Maybe that's because it's just not that good? *ducking*
posted by hippybear at 8:53 PM on December 8, 2009


It's strange how both "That's My Dog" and the S4 resolution come screaming out of nowhere to a certain extent, but one of those plot threads, for us and others, falls flat. On the surface, they're both so very similar. I wonder if the harsh, atypical, sadistic "That's My Dog" works on the level that it does because it didn't really fit into any television genre cliche (except maybe in a parallel universe where Gaspar Noé runs a TV network). Also, many people have had something similar to that happen to them; that episode plays a bit like how that experience may have felt. I've only been assaulted in the street in a sort of frankly laughable way, but I know people who have been through very similar ordeals, and so I can relate, to a certain extent. It feels real.

I think that's really it. The closest parallel to the end of S4 is probably Billy's freakout at the end of the first season, which is a little over-the-top, but...you know, I've been close to some bipolar people, and really it wasn't that over-the-top.* It's something you can imagine happening, anyway. The end of S4, though, feels inauthentic because...well...it's the kind of thing you see on TV all the time, and for the most part only ever see on TV, and it was handled exactly the way you'd expect to see it handled on TV. For all I know, that IS how something like that would play out in real life, but it feels like a false moment. (More realistic, probably, and more in keeping with the show, would be just never knowing.) "That's My Dog" works better for me because I can accept that horrible randomness exists in the world. And hell, the show itself pretty much says exactly that at the top of every episode! But when a show that served as comfort food for a lot of people (including me) drops something like that on you...man. I can see why people were put off by it. I basically crawled the walls waiting for the next disc to come in the mail, but I can see how not everyone would have had that reaction.

*Actually, Billy never struck me as unrealistic, except in the way that his pills magically made him charming and level-headed as opposed to bloated and lethargic...there's a reason they flush their medication. Or anyway, there is in my experience; maybe the meds are little kinder these days.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:12 PM on December 8, 2009


kittens for breakfast, thanks for elaborating further. Though I don't agree with your take I better see where you're coming from.

My argument is basically that rather than attempt to take their genres to new heights, Whedon and Carter chose to simply allow the strictures of their genres and of the format of episodic television to condemn them to create forgettable popcorn drama. I was serious when I compared both shows to Cosby in that their presentations were identical, only their topics were different. X-Files' and Buffy's appeal is because of their topic, not because of their quality, at least in my opinion.

I'm a little baffled both by the vehemence of your objection and to the objection itself.

I'll state again that I have no problem with popcorn drama as long as it's recognized as such. I eat a lot of fast food, but I don't kid myself by thinking it's haute cuisine.

Tell you what, though. Since no one's more aware of how often I'm wrong than I am, if you're able to recommend a single episode of X-Files that you think may sway me, or that you think is of a quality on par with any of the shows I suggested are above average, give me a season and episode number and I'll give it a watch.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:30 PM on December 8, 2009


Agents of control and exploitation versus agents of truth and beauty (or something like that) with our nervous systems the battleground where this war is ultimately waged. So if you're main concern is whether or not you're being amused, you're probably being eaten, a little bit at a time.

It's funny, because I'm one of those people who think class (in a classic leftist sense) is a strong operative concept, yet I have a hard time get arguments that, to me, seem to say "TV is a vast dominant-class conspirancy".

I do believe that, like written journalism, TV journalism (and I'm talking mainstream, not Fox) is done in a context where well-meaning people may be doing harm to their viewers. But this thread is about fiction.

And that's where my French Canadian upbringing may prevent me from understanding the American perspective.

There's an professor named Paul Warren at the University of Montreal; one of his courses on Hollywood cinema is perpeturally looping on Quebec's distance education channel. He tries to explain the incredible international success of US movies. Something about bringing the audience in the darkened room on the screen (through techniques like the reaction shot), and promoting American myths (rugged individualism, good neighborhood). For Warren, Capra was the first to really make a modern Hollywood movies. Wilder reached great heights, and Spielberg is a true master. And he admires them for their great skill.

But he argues that the classic Hollywood way of making movies is fundamentally manipulative, and that great skill is often subordinated to propaganda (even if, indeed, there is no central authority in Hollywood).

So, for me (I tend to agree with Warren), early American TV has been detrimental in the same way Hollywood movies were detrimental; to me, they really are two faces of the same coin.

I guess I'm not saying that fiction TV doesn't suck; I just mean that it sucks in the same way movies do.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:34 PM on December 8, 2009


"That's My Dog" works better for me because I can accept that horrible randomness exists in the world.

And that episode works because it is random, it is horrible and the show is literally hijacked by that story; in a series which was always intercutting between the various characters, by the midpoint of that episode we are stuck in that van with David. And the tension remains partly because we don't leave that story. It's a phenomenal piece of television, which I've watched twice now - once on TV and once on DVD. I may never watch it again because it is far too uncomfortable to enjoy, but damn... I really need to make a list of the best TV episodes of this decade!
posted by crossoverman at 10:10 PM on December 8, 2009


And I'm rather nonplussed that no one's mentioned Reno 911 yet.

Maybe that's because it's just not that good? *ducking*


It's too good. And people are afraid to admit it. Best TV since Batman, or perhaps the Prisoner. And Monty Python, of course.
posted by philip-random at 10:20 PM on December 8, 2009


X-Files' and Buffy's appeal is because of their topic, not because of their quality, at least in my opinion.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy


I know you said "in your opinion" but everyone I know who likes Buffy, it's not because of the topic. I'm sure SOME people like it because "Yay! Vampires!" However, I and everyone I know who enjoys it like it because- it injects humor (genuine, warm, unexpected) into dramatic situations, the dialogue has a pleasing rhythm, experiments with episode form and television convention, character arcs spanning multiple seasons (and multiple shows if you include Angel), likable characters (not Buffy herself, but many others), etc etc. I would say for myself that the primary element of enjoyment for me is the dialogue which yes, is very expository, but laced with humor and wit. For me that exposition doesn't both me, I'm more likely to complain about plot arcs and certain characters rather than the exposition. However, I don't/didn't like Kindred- The Embraced, Moonlight, The Vampire Diaries, Blade- The Series, or for that matter The Underworld Films, Twilight, etc etc etc. Obviously you are free to dislike the show and question its merits, but do understand that we don't just like it because Yay Vampires/Demons/Witches/etc! That's hardly a factor at all.

This is not to say that Deadwood isn't a better quality show as far as what it accomplishes, but I don't think Deadwood being amazing in any way diminishes other shows.
posted by haveanicesummer at 4:30 AM on December 9, 2009


My argument is basically that rather than attempt to take their genres to new heights, Whedon and Carter chose to simply allow the strictures of their genres and of the format of episodic television to condemn them to create forgettable popcorn drama. I was serious when I compared both shows to Cosby in that their presentations were identical, only their topics were different.

Ah, okay. Well, while I certainly wouldn't go that far, I do think Carter and Whedon both are more entrenched in traditional TV structures than are some people who, well, have kinda made better shows (like most of the shows from this decade that people have talked about herein), though I think the problem both share is trying to go for the (less traditional) novelistic approach and the (highly traditional) episodic approach at the same time. (In fairness, I should say that format is not something I imagine either one ever had a huge amount of control over; it's hard to say what either would do with the latitude that, say, HBO gives creators.) By which I mean to say, Buffy and The X-Files both present the viewer with overarching narratives that you expect to see come to some satisfactory conclusion, or at least advance significantly: Buffy has to grow up (and eventually, it's strongly implied, meet her death in the course of her duties), and Mulder and Scully have to solve this goddamn alien thing that never makes any fucking sense, ever. Problem is, these shows also have to stay on the air, because their mission, ultimately, is to keep their people employed and their advertisers selling soap. So really, Buffy can't grow up and Mulder and Scully can't solve the fucking alien thing that never makes any fucking sense ever, and so the narrative throughline of these shows -- what should make their episodes gel as a unified narrative -- is kind of bullshit. When Buffy (as character and show) tries to grow up anyway, the show goes off the rails, reaching for the brass ring of Drama (or at least Gilmore Girls) that it's really not made to handle at all, and The X-Files...um...well, whatever happened there was a lot more complicated, but suffice it to say, was even less successful.

In both cases, though, I think those late-series transitions might have worked had the shows been very different from the start -- shows intended as long-form single stories, as opposed to...well...short stories with the occasional nod to an overarching plot that could only advance so far and no farther, lest it end the show. Or, conversely, if the shows had had little to no overarching mythology at all. Buffy had much less than The X-Files, and so fell apart in a much less spectacular fashion (and did recover for a decent last season after a very dire wrong turn); but The X-Files, from very early on, worked best when it didn't pay any mind to its mythology in the slightest. It worked much better as a monster-of-the-week than as an endless handjob about conspiracy theories and shape-changing aliens and icepicks and...God, just really stupid shit that dragged it all down. Therefore --

Tell you what, though. Since no one's more aware of how often I'm wrong than I am, if you're able to recommend a single episode of X-Files that you think may sway me, or that you think is of a quality on par with any of the shows I suggested are above average, give me a season and episode number and I'll give it a watch.

You may like "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" (3.4), which the wikipedias tell me won two Emmys (Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series and Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series), which was written by a gentleman previously discussed on MeFi, and which is about as good an hour of TV as any I can think of just now. This is cheating a little, since I think this is the best thing The X-Files ever did, but You Asked, man.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:21 PM on December 9, 2009


"[the Wire] fails to adequately take on the logic of mass spectatorship that allows the cycle of poverty to continue"

Really? Really? I would say that the ENTIRE SHOW (season 5 most especially) was fundamentally about this issue.

Re: Six Feet Under, "That's My Dog"

The reason why I didn't like this episode was not because of the random, violent, or sadistic nature of it. It was because at one point, Jake gets out of the van to go around the back in order to dump the dead body. David is sitting in the driver's seat. Why he would not just HIT THE GAS PEDAL AND DRIVE LIKE CRAZY instead of getting out of the van to argue with psycho-kidnapper about respecting the dead boggles my mind. I mean, I get that Jake was a very conniving, twisted, and manipulative guy, that he read David like a book and played David throughout the entire episode, but at that one moment, it would seem like the fight or flight reflex would take over and he would say, "Bad guy not in car. DRIVE AWAY!"
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:00 AM on December 12, 2009


I mean, I get that Jake was a very conniving, twisted, and manipulative guy, that he read David like a book and played David throughout the entire episode, but at that one moment, it would seem like the fight or flight reflex would take over and he would say, "Bad guy not in car. DRIVE AWAY!"

David hated himself for probably the entire run of the show and, in part, probably felt he deserved what Jake was doing to him. His entire character arc is about trying to come to terms with himself - his daddy issues, following in his father's footsteps, his sexuality, his relationship with Keith (which was physically abusive at one point). His encounter with Jake serves as a punishment to himself for everything he felt he was doing wrong - it's a particular kind of cliche homosexual self-loathing story which the show transcends because David is a much more complicated character than that. (ie. we understand his self-loathing comes not solely from his sexuality) It's this incident that is the lowest point in David's character arc - he hits rock bottom here. And once he deals with his emotions surrounding this, he can build a real life for himself and really honestly love Keith and his family and - not to be too trite - himself.

Fight or flight instinct might seem obvious if you're a level-headed person, but David was often self-destructive, even (or particularly) in his button-down shirt, repressed kind of way. Plus the drugs he was on at the time probably didn't help.
posted by crossoverman at 4:00 AM on December 12, 2009


Fight or flight instinct might seem obvious if you're a level-headed person, but David was often self-destructive, even (or particularly) in his button-down shirt, repressed kind of way. Plus the drugs he was on at the time probably didn't help.

Also, paralysis is common in that sort of terrifying situation. Plus he may have felt so helpless in his fear that the thought he might get shot if he tried to escape at that moment. It might not be 100% rational, but it's completely in line with real life. This also plays in with the sort of self-blame that many victims of these sorts of incidents have to work through.

It's also interesting, with this event as a punishment for the character, that what triggers it all was his for-him uncharacteristic decision to take in a hitchhiker. David gets punished for his whimsy and willingness to take a risk.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:29 AM on December 12, 2009


Yeah, those are all plausible ways of looking at it, and I get that. I guess my problem with the episode boils down to the fact that it was emblematic of Season 4 as a whole. The characters became so mired in their personal bullshit that the show became tedious to watch. There wasn't the dynamism or conflict that and characterized, most especially, seasons 1 & 2 (and to a lesser extent, 3 & 5). Every member of the Fisher family just sucked, and not in any particularly interesting way. It wasn't so much that the season was a "downer," but it was a downer that I didn't care about.
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:33 PM on December 12, 2009


Just wanted to chime in that I liked the end of Season 4 of Six Feet Under. It was completely unexpected to me, and I am rarely surprised.

I think b/c it did take that conventional TV approach, and insert it nicely into a non-conventional TV situation, that it worked so well for me. Shrug.

I will agree (with those claiming it) that "That's My Dog" was pretty cheap and unaffecting for me, as was the whole Keith as bodyguard storyline.

It's too good. And people are afraid to admit it. Best TV since Batman, or perhaps the Prisoner. And Monty Python, of course.

I think it had scads of potential, and some of the early episodes are outstanding. However, I do think they got a bit lazy (e.g. homo jokes) in subsequent seasons, though my interest tailed off and I haven't watched much of it recently..
posted by mrgrimm at 1:17 PM on December 16, 2009


You may like "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" (3.4), which the wikipedias tell me won two Emmys (Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series and Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series), which was written by a gentleman previously discussed on MeFi, and which is about as good an hour of TV as any I can think of just now. This is cheating a little, since I think this is the best thing The X-Files ever did, but You Asked, man.
posted by kittens for breakfast


I was about to suggest another episode but then looked it up and saw it was by the same writer as this suggestion. "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'" (3.20) is also an amazing hour of television. I'd say it's certainly improved by knowing the show and the characters but I believe it'd probably hold up regardless.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:06 PM on December 17, 2009


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