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Thursday, February 24, 2005
As usual, I got a lot of enjoyment out of Heather's I Like To Watch column this week, but the intro and outro she's gone with this time around struck me. It's not necessarily different in tone from stuff she's done previously, but never has she been quite this explicit in presenting television as a sort of decadent distraction from our own degredation before an inevitable downfall. I used to be unsure how much of this should be taken at face value, but from posts on her blog, which tend towards the super-bleak, I think at the very least she's serious about the idea that the modern world is corrupt in some ways, but accepting of this as well, and adament in her stance that it's better to deal with it than to complain about it, while never shying away from it as a reality, as a fact. And yet the tone of her Salon columns is inevitably cheery, grinning, affable--Falstaffian, you might say. While it does take TV seriously, engaging with it on its own terms, it also holds steady in the view of television as being the repository of our most self-indulgent impulses, as exhibit A in all the ways we've all fucked up, which is, of course, the best possible way to do this. It's deeply black humor, real whistling-past-the-bomb-site stuff, and it's amazingly effective.

But what I want to talk about it the way it's reflective of an odd present trend of self-deprecating genres, of people talking about their craft from essentially a defensive stance because of either their or our refusal to acknowledge the differential quality across mediums. For instance, mailing list member Dean Costello sends this anecdote:

Something to consider: I took a class in college called something like "The History of Television", which was taught by Nancy Kulp, Ms. Jane Hathaway from "The Beverely Hillbillies". She said that whenever she was at a gathering of friends, party, et al, invariably people would come up to her and say, "You know, all telelvision is crap--I won't have it in the house". Which is fine from her point of view since she said the sheer amount of crap on TV is fairly huge, but she was constantly put into the position of having to defend television, which is difficult.

I'm also talking about comics here, about the interminable whinges by artist/writers about how no one takes "sequential art" (thanks, guys, "graphic novels" wasn't retarded enough) seriously as art, which while I had a certain ID with at first, has now grown not only old but intensely annoying. Because it's never presented in righteous terms, i.e. "This deserves to be taken seriously as an art form!" but, as I say, as a whine, which is I suppose not surprising given the socially-anxious-middle-class-males demographic that most comic book artists reside in. It's couched in terms of sarcasm, the last refuge of the self-conscious, and it's deeply self-depricating.

This seems like a particularly modern phenomenon to me, spurred by the univerality of criticism and self-reflexiveness; at the point of being creators or critics, we're all aware of what most people think about what we're doing, or at least what our peers think most people think about what we're doing, if that makes any sense. It's that weird combination of populism and elitism that defines the, for lack of a better term, indie sensibility, which is not in and of itself problematic, but which does produce some pretty questionable outcomes.

Well, time to get dinner, but more on this tomorrow. Discuss amongst yourselves, as they say.