i Need Media

i Need Media

As of this writing, I’m only about two-thirds through the second season of House of Cards. In media critic circles, that is simply unacceptable. The entire season has been on Netflix for more than a month now. What possible excuse could I have for not seeing the whole thing yet? Well, I’ve been busy. I’ve got a time consuming job, a girlfriend, a fairly active social calendar and a very needy cat. Still, in the era of the binge-watch, life is never supposed to get in the way of entertainment. Either you consume the culture that’s in front of you right now, or the rest of the world moves on without you.

That bums me out.

It’s been said that excessive choice makes people depressed. I used to think that was bullshit. I’m old enough to remember the time just before the Internet placed the entirety of human existence at our fingertips. Even those born just a few years after me can’t fathom how positively mind-blowing the notion of file sharing was when it first came into being. I spent my mid-teens through my 20s downloading every album that seemed remotely interesting, amassing a digital music collection of around 200 gigabytes. I don’t know if I’ve listened to even half of that. There are times when I stare at my iTunes or iPod completely frozen: “Do I listen to this album I’ve heard a million times, or this album I haven’t played once? Do I follow what my ears want in this moment, or do I act out of obligation?”
A lot of times, I end up just sitting in silence.

As I’ve crossed over into my 30s, I’ve tried to get back to buying actual records again. Not because I’m one of those people who cherishes “the tangible object,” or that I’m any sort of audiophile, but because I want limitations again.

I’m starting to feel the same way about television. Any show we could possibly want to see is attainable, one way or another, to watch at our leisure. But the problem with personal leisure is that it breeds alienation. People talk about the millennial monoculture, but when everyone is consuming at their own pace, just how connected are we, really? We’ve created a society in which casual conversation is embedded with clear and present dangers; deflecting spoilers has become an art unto itself. I don’t necessarily pine for the pre-DVR days of water-cooler chitchat, but what is a TV show — or any art, really — if it can’t be discussed? Then it becomes just a thing in a box, projected at us in isolation. That’s depressing. 

And then there’s simply the pressure. Look, I love TV almost as much as music and film, but if you’ve read this column, you’ll see there are plenty of classic shows I haven’t watched. I wish I had the time to properly catch up on everything, but there are stories I have to write and a cat to feed. Omar Little, Tony Soprano and Frank Underwood will just have to wait.

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


i Need Media

i Need Media

When it comes to stomach-knotting, avert-your-eyes anxiety television, the last episode of HBO’s True Detective had nothing on the season finale of The Bachelor.

Writer Nic Pizzolatto’s zeitgeist-gripping creep-noir came to a conclusion last Sunday, bringing all the violence, depravity and dread of the previous seven episodes together in a climax that, in its final moments, nonetheless managed to let a ray of hope slip through the morass. The Bachelor was not so kind. Airing the next night, ABC’s reality-competition juggernaut was every bit an uneasy watch, except it offered nothing in the way of optimism or faith in the universe. Romantic degradation reigned, and there was no Rust Cohle around to stop it.

Maybe it seems like a silly or belabored comparison, but True Detective and The Bachelor really aren’t so different. The former is a highly cinematic crime drama wrapped in dense existentialist themes, while the latter is a game show whose competitors vie for the affections of a stranger and spend an inordinate amount of time in helicopters. But both shows take what they do very seriously. Both are utterly devoid of irony. Both are pretty mean to women. And, in their concurrent seasons at least, both involved chasing a monster. Except, with The Bachelor, the monster was the star.

A Venezuelan soccer player and single father, Juan Pablo was the Creed Bratton of the last Bachelorette season, making the most of limited screen time by saying something goofy in a thick accent whenever he showed up. He earned “fan favorite” status because — let’s be honest — suburban housewives can’t resist a Latin soccer player. But then, the producers made the mistake of thinking that meant viewers wanted more of him. Did fans of The Office ever want a full episode dedicated to Creed, let alone a whole season?

 It turned out to be a huge mistake. Very quickly, Juan Pablo revealed himself to be a himbo of epic proportions. He’d say offensive things and either blame his “honesty” or hide behind the language barrier. He used his daughter’s pride as an excuse for not making out with someone on camera, yet had no problem being filmed basically having sex in the ocean. He sent home any woman who challenged him; two left of their own accord. Even his own parents called him a sketchy asshole (more or less). In the finale, he upset one of the last two women with an off-mic sexual comment, assuaged her concerns by saying they’d be having a baby together in the next year, then dumped her for a skinny blonde pediatric nurse. On the live post-mortem wrap-up, he bickered with host Chris Harrison and refused to tell the woman he chose — but did not propose to — that he loved her. At that point, even the suburban housewives turned on him.

For most of True Detective, the villain was largely a boogeyman, talked about but never glimpsed. The Bachelor, inadvertently, brought us face-to-face with its monster — a jerk so douche-y he shattered the false “reality” of reality television, becoming palpably, irritatingly real. We know this guy. He’s probably at your gym right now.

Y’know, now that I write this out, maybe Juan Pablo’s fall from grace is actually closer to Walter White’s. Anyone want to read my “Breaking Bachelor” piece? Anyone?

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







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