i Need Media

i Need Media

Last year in these pages, I made a painful confession for an avid TV watcher: I don’t watch Game of Thrones. It was part of larger discussion about my lifelong aversion to anything herded under the umbrella of “epic fantasy.” Well, here’s another admission: I hate British people. Not all British people, per se, but, you know, British people. Hoity-toity types with powdered wigs and wooden teeth, the scent of figgy pudding fresh on their breath. In other words, I hate old-timey British stereotypes. In even more specific terms, I hate Downton Abbey.

OK, I don’t really hate Downton Abbey. Like Game of Thrones, I’ve only seen a handful of scenes. And yes, I’m aware that no one on the show wears a powdered wig. (The wooden teeth I’m unsure about.) But the show — or at least, the idea of it — triggers another deeply held aversion I don’t have an obvious explanation for: period pieces.

Yeah, yeah. Typical male, right? That’s really not it, though. My masculinity does not feel threatened by chaste sexual tension and Victorian manners. And anyway, I just wrote about my love of The Bachelor, so forget that heteronormative stuff. Frankly, much like my distaste for wizards and orcs, I can’t say why I’m put off by opulent ballgowns and prewar estates. I wouldn’t try to argue that I’m somehow more advanced because of it, either — that I reject traditional values regarding class and race, which that kind of entertainment tends to uphold. In fact, unlike my lack of interest in Game of Thrones, in which I tend to believe I’m not really missing out on anything, I actually kind of feel bad that I can’t bring myself to watch a full episode of Downton Abbey. I think it means I’m woefully uncultured. And not in the modern sense that says PBS is somehow the height of culture. I think it means that I’m a self-absorbed, solipsistic asshole.

The truth is, I’m much more interested in depictions of the world I currently live in than in those that existed before I came into being. It’s not a conscious feeling. But the more I think about it, the more it seems to be truth. It’s not even the early and mid-20th century that turns me off. Although I made the commitment to watching Mad Men, and don’t regret it, it took quite a while to take. It eventually became entrancing, but I can’t say I’m as invested as I am in something like The Wire or even Walking Dead. The ’80s don’t particularly intrigue me, either, even though, technically, I lived through them. (Let’s just not bring up my feelings for John Hughes here, please.) I suppose the ’90s hold some novelty value, but really, it’s the here and now that grabs me.

Following Downton’s recent finale, a national conversation is taking place, and I’m outside of it. I’d like to say it’s because I prefer to look forward, not backward, but that’s not true. Mostly, I think I just like looking in the mirror.

i Need Media is a biweekly media column by Matthew Singer. Follow him on Twitter@mpsinger.


i Need Media

i Need Media

Last week, Liz Lemon went gently into that good night. After seven years, NBC pushed 30 Rock off the air, with an abbreviated season and a finale that, for those of us who lost track of the show a while ago, felt awfully anticlimactic; I hardly even knew it was happening until a day before the last episode aired. For a series that racked up more awards and critical acclaim than just about any other network sitcom of the last decade, it was a rather inauspicious end. But then, perhaps that should’ve been expected: I can’t think of another program for which the gulf between its accolades and its ratings has been quite so famously large.

It can’t be honestly said that 30 Rock met a premature demise. In the last two or three seasons, the show had grown so meta and self-referential, it started to become a snake choking on its own tail. As with The Simpsons, it continued to show occasional flashes of brilliance, but it started running out of gas around 2009, and in all truth probably concluded a year too late. But the fact that it disappeared with seemingly little fanfare — aside from blogs and Twitter, which tried valiantly to imbue the finale with grand cultural significance — shows us that, when it comes to televised comedy, we live in a deeply divided country.

It’s only going to get worse. In the next year, it’s entirely possible that both Community and Parks and Rec — two other shows with cults so devoted you’d think they were actually popular — are going to be canceled, and the vast majority of the country, too busy watching DVR’d Two and a Half Men episodes, won’t even notice. And just wait until the Arrested Development movie comes out and bombs at the box office, to the bewilderment of the small section of the population who will treat it as the greatest cultural event of whatever year it happens to get released.

Observers often talk about how the Internet has homogenized the planet into a monoculture. That’s clearly not true. And I’m glad it’s not. Because 30 Rock and Community and Parks and Rec are on a major network, and win Emmys and adulation from critics, there’s an assumption that those are the shows everyone is watching. But they turn out to be the shows that no one is watching, and that are struggling to stay afloat. And that makes me appreciate them even more. A part of me — the part left over from my idealist punk youth — still distrusts mainstream groupthink. I tend to value the things the majority often rejects, and though it’s a bit selfish, I enjoy having that validated, even if it means shows I cherish become martyrs. Besides, look at what popularity gets you: Maybe 30 Rock was a bit past its prime, but it died with greater dignity than The Simpsons and The Office have been allowed, kept alive only because of their ratings. As someone once said, it’s better to burn out than fade away, and that’s true, even on television.

I Need Media is a biweekly media column by Matthew Singer. Follow him on Twitter@mpsinger.







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