An admission of snobbery

A while back, Elizabeth wrote a piece about our current golden age of television:
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!
Guilty as charged on that "Kill Your Television" mentality! This probably has more to do with my own bad habits of watching Low Entertainments than with the quality of the medium per se. However, today Julian Sanchez has a post about the ways in which the medium is changing.
Watching the TV show Fringe over the past few months, however, it occurs to me that technology is changing that somewhat—that new expectations about how viewers engage with television programs are enabling creators to make use of more comics-like techniques. Fringe is packed with little Easter eggs that take for granted the viewer’s ability to pause the program in progress to examine it frame by frame, and indeed, to freely move forward and backward both within and between episodes. Indeed, every episode’s opening sequence includes the hidden message “Observers are here,” which flickers by too quickly to be detected by a human eye unaided by pause button. Fans play a sort of “Where’s Waldo” game each episode, hunting for the pale, hairless Observer himself—he, too, may appear for only a fraction of a second—and for the subtle shot that hints at the subject of the next episode, though it’s typically only possible to recognize it as such by going back after the later show has aired.
My first response to this was to sniff to myself that television doesn't deserve this kind of attention and devotion. Who has time to pause and rewind and watch again? This is, of course, rank snobbery on my part.

Just as Laurence Sterne used the print medium in new and remarkable ways with "Tristram Shandy," or MGM did with color film and "The Wizard of Oz," why shouldn't the producers of Fringe use the technology of digital video recorders to enlarge the art form of television? Silly me, and my disdain. This is an admirable step for the evolution of the TV show, and I'm chagrined that my first response was knee-jerk derision.

(Tune in later for another post in what is shaping up to be Julian Sanchez Week here at Bleakonomy.)


  1. [literature and film haven't been] nearly as good as [some TV shows]."

    I think this says more about the abysmal state of film and literature these days than it does about the high quality of TV.

  2. Surprisingly, since I'm such a lit. snob, I'm also a diehard defender of (good) TV. It is out there!