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Watch More TV!

We're having a conference—sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute—at Berry College next Friday and Saturday on POP CULTURE and REAL CULTURE.  All the details can be found here.  YOU are certainly invited.  The conference will be attended by and directed toward students from a variety of colleges in the region. Let me share with you my message to these students:

Here’s my advice to young people these days:  Watch more TV!

I don’t mean, of course, the reality shows and talent competitions you find on network TV.  The only bigger loser than THE BIGGEST LOSER (an ambiguous title referring to both the guy who lost the most weight on the show and any really fat guy who is so desperately out of control that he signs up for that show) is anyone who watches THE BIGGEST LOSER.

Well, there are a few good shows on network TV.   I pause only to mention The Big Bang Theory,  where we can learn in some maliciously witty depth the psychological differences between the THEORETICAL PHYSICIST and THE EXPERIMENTAL PHYSICIST,  between someone who thinks himself as a big brain located in a machine and a smart—but not world-class smart—but otherwise clueless nerd who, like us all, is obsessed with comic books and girls.

The best shows on TV are the various multi-year series on cable, as in the phrase HBO SERIES.  The first of these, if I remember correctly, was The Sopranos, which featured scripts and performances—not to mention raw language, nudity, explicit sex, and graphic murders—of a consistently high quality not previously associated with television.  One reason for the new birth of quality, of course, is the new technology that allows episodes to easily be viewed repeatedly and whole seasons to be viewed in one sitting.  And the distance between the size of the movie theatre’s big screen and the screens people have at home is narrowing all the time.  The best of the TV shows are now, because they have all the advantages of films without the time constraints, on the whole superior even to the Oscar-winning films. Many of the best actresses and actors now even seem to prefer them.

These masterpieces aren’t only or even mainly found on HBO these days; they’re found all over cable.  Let me mention some of the most illustrious examples:  Mad Men,  Breaking Bad,  Homeland,  Entourage, The Wire, Deadwood, Sons of Anarchy,  Treme,  and  Boardwalk Empire, Girls, Big Love, and Friday Night Lights.  I could list another dozen with excellent reps that I’ve never seen.  For lovers of the finest art our nation is capable of producing these days, it’s harder to keep up with TV than with novels or plays or even music.  I have to admit I myself can’t find nearly enough time to really be an expert on classy or at least brilliant TV.

Here’s one reason I should find the time.  These highly intelligent and savvy shows provide some of the most penetrating social and political commentary found today.  Let me consider three of them in subsequent posts in the context of the meaning of the 2012 election: Girls, Big Love, and Friday Night Lights. 

Why those three?  Well, to begin with, the creator, star, and director of Girls—Lena Dunhammade a controversial campaign spot for the president with the show’s demographic of liberated and privileged single women in mind, one that encouraged girls to have their first time (voting) with the president.  Big Love pointed toward and highlighted some of the dilemmas associated with “the Mormon moment” in American political life.  And Friday Night Lights—about an admirable coach and his noble players in a west Texas town with nothing much going for it but high-school football—is surely the anti-Girls.  Romney, knowing that, appropriated (and sort of mangled) Coach Eric Taylor’s genuinely inspirational “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose” for his campaign.   Mitt’s version:  “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, America Can’t Lose.”

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