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Although I have not paid for cable in years, and though I couldn’t tell you what the top shows have been for the past ten years, and even though I have frequently proclaimed “Kill Your Television” as a panacea to our collective North American spiritual crisis (highest level of depression in the world) I felt I had to comment on an article that appeared at Gawker.com titled “The End of Television As We Know It”today that said:

“For decades now, the networks and production studios have held a creative stranglehold over the industry. If you were a writer with a brilliant idea for a new show, you had to go through “the system” if you held any hope for your idea to see the light of day and come to fruition as an actual television show. “The system” meaning everything so frustrating and wrong and cliched with modern day Hollywood—-An endless clusterfuck of pitch meetings to tone-deaf underlings, countless script re-writes birthed from asinine notes from dunderhead executives (“I see on page 16 you have Sally eating a peanut…shouldn’t she be eating a cashew instead?!”) who’d never written a thing in their lives but love handing out business cards to aspiring starlets with the word “Producer” under their names, a dizzying array of focus groups and trend research studies so the higher-ups can get their fingers on the “pulse” of the modern viewer and force the creator to change accordingly, and everybody and their wife and cousin has got a fucking opinion to the point where the whole thing gets utterly mutilated. Someone could have the most brilliant idea and these people will more often than not find new and innovative ways to destroy it, all in the hopes of making it more appealing to Harriet and Clarence McAverage in Des Moines, Iowa.”

My response:

Not really.  I mean, it would be nice to think the internet, the platform that made you “famous,” Gawker,  was all that, but not yet. Last year 99% of television was still watched on a “TV.” I was surprised myself by that number, but guess what – Hulu+YouTube+Piratebay+Demonoid and all of it still equals less than 1% of the viewing audience.

People have been crying “Kill Your Television” since it began. And every year we declare its death, but it won’t go away.  Next year when all those new xmas-gift HDTVs start broadcasting 3D content, Lost in 3D, UFC in 3D and the rest of it (sure YouTube 3D is coming soon too) the internet will still be a relative drop in the bucket. Perhaps it is for the same reason radio won’t die; sometimes people don’t WANT to think, they don’t want to make their own choices. Sometimes they just want to sit back and have their entertainment programmed for them by a curator, by a collective group of people who are experts in storytelling, lighting, editing, acting, post-production etc.

“User-created content” may find ways of reaching large audiences, it may even prove to be innovative and of high standard, but what makes television relevant is that it concentrates an audience and its collective experience. The internet lets anyone watch anything anytime – but they do not share in the moment and TV, as the modern campfire creates a certain sense of social unity. You can watch the Superbowl a week later on Hulu, but that kind of misses the point doesn’t it? The collective excitement is gone, the dueling sides, the excitement of participation is lacking in this regard.

Sure this idea of choose-your-own-adventure is neat, but it is still time-intensive and requires research and thus actual work. TV is a passive sport and so long as we work and get tired and just want to chill on the couch and be entertained, TV will be around.

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Comments ( 5 )

  • Jill says:

    I consider myself a heavy consumer of Internet video (both streaming and downloading), but I still find myself relying on traditional TV. I am one of the consumers that you mentioned – I enjoy traditional TV passively, and sometimes I just want to watch something random yet reliable that doesn’t require too much effort on my part. Online video is frustrating at times; there can be connection issues, service issues, source issues, and just the fact that I have to sift through a lot of irrelevant stuff to find a video. Also, even in the era of prolific DVR usage there are many television shows that still cannot be found online (and might never be), so I have to “tune in” if I want to watch something in particular that interests me. Although I do prefer to watch video online at times, I still like my TV watching experience. Maybe this is a result of growing up with TV as opposed to being a digital native? Maybe future generations will boycott traditional TV entirely, but not quite yet.

  • BonnyM says:

    You’re right… even though the idea of organic culture (for the people by the people, rather than by this ‘system’) is a great idea and should be encouraged, it’s not feasible in today’s society. Television is often seen as an escape (to just occupy your mind without active thought for a while) from reality for viewers. They have to deal with multiple stresses in their everyday lives and need a break from that, and for many people sitting in front of the television for an hour or two with family members, friends, or alone, is a way to experience without the stress of the situations they’re viewing. Then of course, there is the compulsion to be able to participate in the conversation at work on Monday regarding what happened on Flashpoint on Friday night, or who’s dating who on whatever program is popular around the office. Watching the show three days after you heard about it at work deflates the experience a bit.
    I also think it should be mentioned that even though the producers, directors or writers (or anyone else related to the production of said television program for that matter), assign a certain meaning to the text (the program), there is no guarantee that the audience will interpret it as such. Perhaps the cashew would send a different message than a peanut… (uh, due to the large peanut allergy plaguing North American children?), but is the audience going to pick up on that? Maybe some will, obviously, but most aren’t going to. There are multiple ways of reading/viewing a text, and the producers are only hoping that the majority of the audience will truly read it the way they intended. Now, unless you sit down with the intention of actually breaking down the interactions and dialogue, you’re probably going to read it the way it was meant to be read. And in that case (not intending to analyze it), television serves its purpose as a very mindless way to escape from whatever it is that the viewer wishes to forget about for an hour.
    Not to mention computers and the internet involve a slight learning curve, and even though I can and do operate at least one program on the computer that most people have never heard of (and they should be glad of it), I still find that it takes a couple of days to pick up on the workings of different sites… where’s the relaxation in that? And, on top of it all… there is the never failing message “this video is not available in your area”.
    I don’t pay for cable either, and don’t intend to anytime soon… it’s a gateway to laziness.

    This was much longer than I meant it to be, I apologize. I do realize it would have been much easier, and perhaps more appropriate to have merely said that I agree with you. Again, this novella was not intentional, I’m very sorry.

  • KMS says:

    Oh gosh, I would never need an apology for hearing your thoughts. Isn’t that the point? A dialogue? Before all this internet business got started, the ironically titled “social media” I bemoaned television’s destruction of the art of conversation. That is not to say, however, in the spirit of the article to which you are replying, that TV in itself does not engender much discussion – but one wonders about the homogeneity of that discussion when we are all referencing the same damn thing.

    My interest is in the variety that culture should bring to our lives. This thing we call Pop Culture is in fact quite the opposite – a popularity contest fraught with status anxiety (a term coined by and the title of an excellent book by Alain de Boton) that is much smaller than we would ever care to admit.

  • BonnyM says:

    Sorry. I’m willing to admit that apologizing is a psychological habit of mine… and I believe I just did again. Yes, discussion about TV is rather lacking in diversity, and interest for that matter… everyone saw the show, so what about the discussion is going to peak the interest? You certainly learn nothing new in the process, but I suppose the act of conversing with ‘like-minded’ people is enough for many.

    In my opinion, popular culture isn’t truly culture as there is no diversity, no defining elements that make a society unique. It’s a means for Westernization more than anything, and a way in which those of status (in the typical use of the word status, not the sociological sense) can reinforce their dominant ideologies of what should be the goal of every person… wealth, power, and prestige (as Max Weber deducted back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries). Everyone feels pressure that has been created by this ‘pop culture’ to be important in the world, while fitting into what is deemed popular. What I find intriguing is that here in North America and northern Europe (where pop culture is so prevalent), there is a major emphasis placed on personal attainment and status within the society, while areas of Asia, Africa and South America (where the North American phenomina of ‘pop culture’ isn’t so present) focus on group goals and the society as a whole, or connectedness if you will. I think that says a lot about the influence of something that shouldn’t be considered culture. I feel it sort of strips us of our true culture… the different elements we bring from our heritage and history, and how we go about our daily lives. Now, since this so called pop culture is literally everywhere, from print media, to TV, on the internet, books, news papers, journals, music, film, and even food (McDonalds… Starbucks) it’s kind of hard to escape it… blanketing our world with meaningless things that have been created to enforce a sort of uniform ‘culture’. I’d like to turn on a TV and see something that enriches my knowledge of the world… especially since we live in a society that claims diversity.

    I rambled again…

  • KMS says:

    Ramble on 🙂 I’ll take it over zombie-ing out to Conan anyday.

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