The Golden Age and Its Discontents

Getting an MA in Cinema Studies, which I did before switching to philosophy, was an exercise in shoddy methodology and intellectual bankruptcy. I would chalk it up as a waste of time, but I got three things out of it: 1) I met some pretty cool people, most of whom seemed to be named Katie, 2) saw some movies that I may not have otherwise, and 3) a certain credibility (albeit undeserved) in social situations when stating my opinions on moving image media. It's sort of like that scene in Annie Hall when Woody Allen pulls Marshall McLuhan out to respond to the bloviating idiot on his movie line. I can stand up confidently to those who would sneer!

So I feel more comfortable than do most people in urging everyone (including my students) to watch TV. There is still a "Kill Your Television" mentality which equates TV watching with idiocy and film with sophistication. Of course one should not watch unlimited amounts of TV, and there is plenty of bad TV out there. But we are living in a golden age of television. It has never been so good. It's the equivalent of living from 1935-1950 for movies (or 1965-1975, depending on your aesthetic cup of tea). Nothing in film and not much in literature recently has been nearly as good as The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, etc. There are also top notch non-scripted shows, such as the Daily Show. Innovations such as multiplying cable channels, the relaxation of decency standards that cable allows, and making television shows available for rental have all contributed to a burst of creativity in that medium. It's an exciting time to let your eyes glaze over!

In today's Times, Alan Sepinwall (who wrote a terrific critical series on The Sopranos some time back in the Star-Ledger) writes an op-ed about the demise of broadcast television. He gets at the downside of all the changes in television, which is simply this: the balkanization of television viewers. We no longer have a national conversation about culture (I think, too, that this is an underestimated problem with the proliferation of news sources). Most of my friends and I have all seen one or another of the HBO and Showtime shows, and maybe some Project Runway thrown in for good measure. But I'm pretty sure few of my neighbors have. It's one more conversation people of different socio-economic groups can't have with one another.

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