television in 2012 — where have we moved to? where have we remained stuck?

Okay, so I never thought I’d ever want to thoroughly discuss my love for a television show.  I must declare that “Homeland” is a pretty big fuckin’ deal to me.  Yes, I know Obama watches it, which is awesome, but there are a thousand qualities about it you’ll see for yourself — I like it for reasons that are different from friends who watch it.  Carrie Mathison, Claire’s character, is one of the best FEMALE television heroes written in ages!  It makes me want to say “Fuck yes, the good stuff is still out there — more than ever.”  “Homeland’s” writers wrote this character based on Claire Danes herself — thus, these collaborative television writers (who were under the pressure to impress Showtime with something original and new) drew inspiration from her because, well, we can all pretty much always trust in Claire.  She’s “trusty” Claire Danes, in my opinion.  Yes, the show first appealed to me because of Claire — and I didn’t care what the subject matter was — I was going to get involved in the fuss.

Well, Thank GOD for Claire Danes.  If it weren’t for her — there wouldn’t be that one, singular successful woman working in television and delivering to us top-notch stuff.  She’s an incomprehensibly good actor — if you really watch her you will see her abilities.  In “Homeland” though, she really comes alive as a grown woman who has developed now in the peak of herself as an actress, and her career.  It’s awesome watching her face be so young and familiar — but she inhabits a gravitas that is a grown-up woman, and you effortlessly respect her for this.

Claire reinvented people’s perceptions of female actresses with the classy and irreplaceable “My So-Called Life” which still stands strong with remarkable respect from its audience.  That stuff makes me smile.  She’s just captivating to watch — her performances are always just done in a “right” way that is graceful, quirky, elegant, and extremely sophisticated.  “Homeland” is yet another Showtime channel series that has changed my life.  Other shows include: “Weeds,” “United States of Tara”, and even “Queer as Folk!”  Pretty much, pay-cable channel shows are the best in their efforts to breathe life into television-watching.  HBO series were religious for me, specifically “Six Feet Under” — a show that truly shape-shifted what TV is capable of doing.  Thank God all of this stuff is pretty mainstream — especially “True Blood” — which has one of the most die-hard audiences of any show in history.  That makes me happy because the show has many redeeming qualities — entertainment being only ONE of them.

It’s weird because I grew up during time when, culturally, we all turned inward and began obsessed with reality television: reality TV claims to “redefine” TV, but really its cruel, simpleton vices and uncreative nature of “churn this out until the cash runs out, twist it around, churn out some more, and so on–” only really created an empty, greedy, pointless void in the TV industry.  I suppose that’s why I found it less respectable and I didn’t feel ashamed to admit that I’m not a TV-watcher, I guess because my excuse at times was that I had a brain.  Watching some of the shit can seriously make you feel brain-dead sometimes.

“Laguina Beach” in high school was so subliminally addictive that I would get lost inside of it and other stuff in my own teenage world it didn’t matter — and I naturally got very into it.  Today, I can’t understand why.  I suppose then it was trendy, and I was just one of many trendy teenagers “identifying” with Lauren Conrad?  No, I don’t think so…  but don’t get me wrong, I like her; she’s a pretty and sweet girl, but  nothing more than a TV personality… her talent is extremely finite.  And that was fine because it was how we started to observe females on TV: just there being pithy, self-involved, dramatic, causing drama, seeking attention, being neurotic, being “bitches” so, so needy for men, no sense of self, no sense of individuality — basically handcuffing themselves to gender roles to the point where it makes you go “COME ON.”  I had never even seen the beach yet I would perceive their interactions as “normal” and “common” even though I am not affluent, I live in Missouri, and I am not popular, I do not look like these people.  Yet, I’d still feel an interest that I couldn’t define.  And I was just one of the viewers contributing to its ongoing success.

I do not understand how “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” has enough money to keep being filmed, produced, and broadcast on a cable network.  I know I’m not the only one to ponder this, but really, where does the money come from?  Independent films struggle to complete their 30-day filming schedules with 18-hour days and shoestring budgets, where the actors don’t get paid shit but work harder than ever — and then, we have this reality TV show that is invincible and will never get canceled.  But why?  Where the fuck is its audience?  It’s the same shit with “Girls Next Door” and “Kendra” — a girl I love in the way that I love Lauren Conrad, she’s a great girl and very (conventionally) attractive — and her predecessors are endless.  Similar with Kim and Khloe, of course.  I was never a TV watcher because it was so obvious to me how silly it was!  It’s just obnoxious… what is there to watch or like?  I remember my parents making the show “Survivor” a religious experience: missing that show, along with its Friday night line-up, was just impossible and unheard of.  Maybe viewers saw a raw, outdoors-y show that explored the endurance of these people on the hunt for a big prize of money — that may or may not even exist.  Reality TV distorts reality in a strange paradox.  Reality television is an illusion — it gives off the idea that it has the power to be raw, unscripted, and the voyeurism is almost dangerous — but it’s still highly protected by scripted elements, there are still directors behind the concepts, etc.  Even if you’re bored and want to watch trashy television, at least find something on A&E that attempts to contrive humane themes… but our observation of the affluent is a huge element of this cultural craving for entertainment.  To me, it’s a craving for connection and escapism into a world you identify with & find yourself fully engaged with.  Truthfully, the concept of “entertainment” is bullshit.  It’s like a cheap, trashy motel with a quick fix of junk food waiting inside for you.  After you’re done consuming everything it is — you’re emptier than ever, and you are not left rewarded.  You’re just used.

Entertainment is purposeful, and I expressed that a lot in my previous post — but it should not be the sole, primary reason why a person watches something — not for every single time they arrange to watch it.  Video games make more sense to me in that case because at least you’re interacting your brain and your own interest.  Yet, aspects behind a show like the Kardashians deeply confuses me because I do not… know anyone… who would watch that show in a serious respect — to where they enjoy it beyond its entertaining qualities (which are pretty grim and nonexistent.)

So, it’s almost like this celebration of mindlessness: television, a form of film and cinema, suffers this the most.  Television does negative shit that not even films attempt to do!  Television’s history is a linear pattern of its marketable objectives: TV thrives to exploit, ridicule, intrude, over-dramatize, misconstrue, and even often essentially USING its audience!

TV shows thrive from their audience — ratings — the calculated number of people staring into their TVs, tuning in.  This collective action generates cash like we wouldn’t ever fucking believe.  The audience for most reality television shows are people who tune in to I guess… escape?  I could never escape into an argument/fight scene on “Jersey Shore” because I equate that show to “Jerry Springer” — it has no redeeming qualities in regard to changing anything about mainstream television.  It shockingly presents itself with NO artistic merit at all — it becomes fully about what it can sell and exploit.  MTV pushes the boundaries, and so does E! and even Lifetime has lost its way a long time ago.  It shocks me people have to be cable subscribers to see such mindlessness, too!  Because the big networks like ABC have “Grey’s Anatomy” which I’d much rather defend over “Teen Mom” because well… I respect the efforts of everyone in an ensemble cast like that show, which carries on the powerful reign of “E.R.” and “Chicago Hope” — and has thematic meanings and captures an audience emotionally — rather than through a production of appealing images — all derivative — inviting us to come inside and consume, consume.

Alright, anyway.  There’s my digression/analysis of my ongoing perception of TV and its short-leash with pop culture, or just North American culture altogether, really.

One thing that may be surprising about me is that I despise politics, political science — any film or show about these matters just leave me feeling… confused, disinterested — it’s just an extremely cerebral experience for me.  I get confused with productions that have a lot going on.  I don’t want to watch something that makes me feel dumb (for example “Eastern Promises” left a confused expression on my face for 30 minutes, as I was begging to love it like I had hoped for) and I think these politically-themed shows sort of fade together and their audiences become more obscured.  “Homeland” does not have a dummy-narrative where you have to be some sort of misinformed nomad to grasp its essentials: it’s just written a way that appeals to a large audience but still appropriately balances complexity that isn’t overdone.  That is how you should sell something to an audience: capture both their heart and head.  “Homeland” is a sophisticated show because it functions well with great character development and makes you feel thrilled, with its elements of being a “TV thriller” — but it’s best achievement is its drama and dramatic themes — it’s an extremely moving show.  Very, very moving.  Before watching the show, I was pretty ignorant to a lot of CIA/Middle Eastern conflict stuff.  Experienced the brunt of that in my liberal arts education, and it was brutal.  But that’s because that stuff is presently so dryly, I suppose.  I misconstrue my interpretation once I think I’ve obtained one — and then I get even more confused when someone tries to explain it to me.  “Homeland” thrives in beautiful multiplicity: you have this addictive storyline, plausible plot that’s creatively engineered so that it can keep consistency for several seasons, thus survive.  “Homeland” also survives because of Claire’s ownage-performance of Carrie, who is a brave yet unreliable narrative.  Carrie, surprisingly, playing a CIA-agent woman, is her own species — and dramatically original for something that has been developed in the past.  It’s taken to a new level, it’s developed into a real person through amazing character writing.  Structure is vital for this show’s production — and it’s so strongly built that it’s going to be a sturdily-standing show for many seasons to come.

“Homeland’s” Carrie Mathison suffers from bipolar disorder — and at first I thought this was a cheap tactic to create dramatic tension in the show — and I was expecting them to exploit the hell out of what has become a very mainstream mood disorder.  But… no.  It’s not that at all.  It’s masterful, accurate in subtlety, moving in its authenticity.  She’s not symptomatic in the way that it’s shoved in our face all that time.  I worried this woman was going to constantly exhibit non-stop bipolar characteristics, but most of them are so subtle that it takes a pretty smart audience to grasp the complexity of her performance capturing this mental illness.  She writhes around in bed, eyes teary, breathing heavy, listens to chaotic jazz music with her iPod — and eventually ends up doing odd, frantic stuff in her closet as she tries to get dressed.  Is she manic?  Is she the opposite?  You don’t need that to be answered if you just keep watching her.  I’m impressed with a show that is unafraid of showing bipolar disorder in a way that doesn’t make it an anchor.  They could have thrown a cheap shot and made her a lesbian or an ex-convict, or they could’ve picked a different mental disorder and afflict her with that.  Non-exploitative, just brilliant.  There are scenes in season 2 that are very dark, and Claire nuances every scene fearlessly — guiding us with a laser-searing focus, an internal, deep concentration where she exists in a space and provides a fearless delivery of bleakness that isn’t pithy.

Of course, it’s not a perfect television show.  Now, its audience is record-breaking, so the writers and the network have a whole new spectrum of expectations to fulfill.  I don’t care about that.  I don’t care if the show drags on a bit like “Weeds” did — I don’t think it’s long-haul result will check a box “YES” or “NO” whether or not it’s good television show.  No matter what, it’s redeemed itself just with a few episodes in the first season.  I’m just along for the ride uncondionally because I do not believe in picking it apart like everyone else.  I will go wherever they want to take me, I am a dedicated audience because I am not being used.  I am being entertained in a way that does not leave me void and blank.  I am not watching scripted arguments.  I am not watching girls text-fight with their boyfriends trapped in their I’m-a-man-you’re-a-bitch complex where the girls adhere to gender roles. All while endlessly showing co-dependency that is so unforgiving: depicting women as pathetic without the company of their overwrought personal lives.  We can watch career-women in the CIA who have it all AND the drama.  Then, it’s worth watching.  It’s got qualities to balance itself out and still attract a diverse audience.

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