Thursday, 9 September 2010

Is there anything important on television?

I recently watched these people prattle on about how good The Wire is. They seem to quite like it. And they're right. It's very good. But they go as far as to suggest that it's so significant it's actually your cultural and civic duty to watch it. You have to. No choice. Without it you would be a lesser human. Now I wonder what television dramas, if any, are actually required viewing. If any have become such an essential part of culture that you have to watch them. In the case of The Wire, it definitely does things differently. It's a novelistic picture of a city, with a sprawling cast of characters and no intention to rest in a comfort zone. The second season shifted from the first and introduced a different world within the city, with a whole new set of characters. There's still all the familiar faces, but now they've moved around the city and care about different things. With each season new characters are piled on until all of Baltimore has come into focus. Here the number of main characters is approaching thirty, where most shows only have about ten. It wants to show you something. But do I feel different because I've seen it? Apart from it's structure, it comes full of messages about the state of the American inner city. David Simon describes it as a 'treatise on the end of the American empire, and who we are as a people and what we've come to'. See, important.

But is it required that you watch it? I definitely feel like I know a lot more about Baltimore now, so at the very least it's taught me things. David Simon also says that 'we've treated television as if it's not a mass medium, and we've been rewarded in kind'. I think this means that we now don't expect television to show us anything worthwhile, or teach us anything at all. So what shows hold up to this sort of thinking? That aren't just entertaining, but actually demand your attention. Everyone loves The West Wing, but does it change the way you look at American politics? I think it does, but I'm biased. Does The Sopranos count for anything? Does Doctor Who matter? I'm not saying everything has to be this significant. Entertainment is entertaining, there's no need for everything to be about the real world. But there has to be some. Maybe most of them just haven't been made. Outside of all the hyperbole, which pieces of television are actually that important? Like with most things, I don't know.

1 comment:

  1. Television important - yes, sometimes, but it's the documentaries, in my opinion. The rest is entertainment, and can be thought-provoking and challenging for the individual but not to the mass audience, methinks.

    As an insomniac, I spend 2pm onwards each night listening to the World Service with my sneaky-don't-disturb-the-husband-device that links an under the pillow speaker with the radio. Now that news, and those shows, are important. World, sleep less and hear more of what's happening where you don't live. Rape education of soldiers in the Congo last night. Shattering.