I’ve been watching a good deal more TV than usual. This could have something to do with the return of AMC’s The Walking Dead, or my discovery of MeTV with its five-nights-a-week Dick Van Dyke Show, or perhaps it’s plain ol’ laziness induced by the onset of cold Chicago weather…but we’ll ignore the latter. In any case, watching so much TV—and feeling heartily guilty about it—has got me thinking a lot about the act of watching, the cheapest form of voyeurism that basic cable sustains. In that vein, our #fridayreads will involve writing on the topic of television.
David Foster Wallace’s “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction”
With the advent of Hulu, DVR, Netflix/Qwikster, YouTube, Megavideo, and all the other additional platforms through which to watch the Box today, I am confident that if Wallace had survived farther into the 21st century, we would have seen a hefty addendum to his 1990 essay on the transformation of culture by television, if not an entirely new collection on the issue. Considering that the piece is now 21 years old, though, its resonance remains intact; in fact, if you just swap the examples he provides for more modern ones (St. Elsewhere to Grey’s Anatomy, for example, or the “new generation” Pepsi commercials to “Pepsi refresh” ones), the logic and historiography within the essay stays sound. Maybe if I had even more to read on the subject in Wallace’s addictive, highly researched nonfiction, I’d be watching less TV myself, being less of a member of what Wallace cryptically titles Audience with a capital A.
George Saunders’ “The Braindead Megaphone”
What’s so great about this essay is that it’s not afraid to state as fact what we usually tiptoe around with equivocation: that we are, point-blank, influenced by the loudest mouths of media whether we like it or not. We don’t have to agree with whatever voice is influencing us—but it’s our responsibility to be aware of it. Saunders is keeping his ears open.
William Irwin and J.R. Lombardo’s “The Simpsons and Allusion: ‘Worst Essay Ever’”
Technically this isn’t about television as much as it’s a philosophical discussion about illusion, irony, and self-reference. But really, is the act of TV viewing based on anything more than these three foundations? It doesn’t hurt that the essay’s entire argument is built around minute references to a show I’ve been viewing since my 0th birthday. But it’s true, what Matt Groening says: “The Simpsons is a show that rewards you for paying attention.” Too bad every show can’t claim the same.
Oh no! A Taxi rerun just came on! Am I the only one who can’t stand how offensive Latka is?
On second thought, don’t answer that. There’s too much good TV reading to be had.
Kevin, here! Unlike Marnie, I’ve not been watching much television (and I promise that’s not a Bohemian swipe at the medium, rather a recognition of my having just moved out on my own; I MISS YOU ANTHONY BOURDAIN).
But, I have been reading Bruce Machart’s Men in the Making, a rough and hearty short story collection focused on men becoming men, failing to become men, aspiring to become men, and dead dogs. Review coming Monday!
Also, #fridaywatches! BONUS! Check out this video of David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, and a slightly overdressed Mark Leyner talking with Charlie Rose about the state of fiction in 1996. (Spoiler: Franzen acts like a haughty, pugnacious, elitist dipshit.) Television comes up, too!