TV becomes a celebrated medium
Three and a half months ago, my first tack in trying to come up with a name for this column involved attempting to riff off some of televisionâs more colorful nicknames. Dispiriting as it was to discard a slew of admittedly horrible ideas, it wasnât nearly as disheartening as the realization of what some of TVâs most ingrained nicknamesÂ â boob tube, idiot box, etc. â seemed to have in common:
None of them were terribly flattering.
Speaking poorly of television is nothing new, but itâs indicative of a broader perception of the entire medium as a guilty pleasure, not just specific shows. Most of us have a program or two that we donât readily confess to watching, but the fact of the matter is weâre conditioned from very early on to regard television on the whole as one big indulgence, the consumption of which should universally inspire guilt.
Not having cable is sometimes looked at as a marker of intelligence, as if only greater minds are capable of making the radical decision to abstain from the acknowledged brain-rotter that is TV; itâs seen as a badge of honor to go without.
But those who elect to forgo other outlets of entertainment are hardly regarded with comparable reverence. Learning that someone refuses to access the Internet would only draw perplexed stares, just as discovering that someone doesnât go to the movies on principle would almost certainly inspire pity.
So why is television almost uniquely lavished with disdain, and its devotees shamed within an inch of their lives? Thereâs no good explanation, but it could stem from the fact that most peopleâs early interactions with TV are a study in excess. Children, not yet instructed that all good things are best in moderation, are wont to overindulge. (For whatever reason, binge-watching Hey Arnold! as a child will cost you your TV privileges for a week, but binge-watching Breaking Bad as a college student will simply cost you your weekend.)
Early relationships with television tend to get off to a rocky start. They can be unhealthy, abusive or emotionally unfulfilling. But once youâre able to cultivate a mature relationship with TV, itâs hard to remember why anyone ever painted it as a bad thing. The pros grow more numerous, as the cons fall away.
Thankfully, the tide has begun to turn in televisionâs favor in recent years. The phrase ânew Golden Age of televisionâ is now regularly bandied about. Some of the film industryâs finest talents are either returning to or foraying into small screen projects.
The cover of Vanity Fairâs May issue bears the provocation âAdmit it… You love TV more than movies.â Los Angeles Times film critic Mark Olsen even felt compelled to write âa defense of moviesâ in response for Sundayâs Calendar section.
Many of todayâs premium cable options, basic cable and even some broadcast networks are as good as anything thatâs ever been produced for the small screen.
Todayâs best dramas are as beautifully wrought as any form of storytelling could reasonably aspire to, while todayâs best comedies are quick, quirky, offbeat and genuinely funny.
Today, a TV habit isnât merely defensible, itâs sensible: Why on Earth wouldnât you be watching Mad Men? Can you really justify not catching up on Friday Night Lights when the whole series is on Netflix Instant? Will you be able to live with yourself if Community is canceled because you couldnât be bothered to tune in for half an hour once a week?
Thatâs not to say that watching television should ever turn into an obligation. Weâll know for sure that TV has really made it once a new strain of sneering TV snobs emerges to look down on anyone not familiar with the haughty micro-dramas of Downton Abbey. Insufferable superciliousness, now almost exclusively the province of cinephiles, is on its way to the world of television, you can count on it.
Keep in mind, television is a populist medium. Though it is not âbyâ the people, itâs most certainly âforâ the people. TV viewers have more choices than ever before, and every show on television is fighting tooth and nail for your attention.
As an audience member, you are king or queen, and thereâs nothing whatsoever to keep you from getting drunk with power. Sample as many shows as you can; give them a few episodes to reel you in (or donât); watch on any â legal â platform you please (thatâs my future livelihood, after all).
More than anything, make sure to wear your fandom with pride. There are no good or bad shows, only shows that you like and shows that you donât. Whatever you watch, remember that you are a de facto person of taste â personal taste.
Louis Lucero II is a senior majoring in environmental studies. His column âSmall Screen, Big Pictureâ ran Tuesdays.