I can’t decide if TV is getting better or not. Sure, there are more things on that I enjoy, but there are more things happening, period.
Even if I think the new Muppets TV show is the best thing since sliced bread and the new Fox lineup is the hardiest it’s been in years, there are still things like Dancing With the Stars and Keeping Up With the Kardashians that kind of make me want to vomit. Maybe I just have a problem with gerunds. I’ll think on that.
In the meantime, is it possible that things are getting better and better? It seems that, according to the general principle of increasing complexity, we know that everything gets more complex, more evolved. That’s what makes it better, stronger, faster, tastier, stickier, shapelier … etc.
So we have all this history and experience as a culture making stories, and all this technology to share these stories in new and interesting ways. Since Philo Farnsworth invented the television, we’ve had decades to perfect our storytelling techniques, so you would think that, by now, we’ve got it down pat, right? Right!?!
Well, we all know that’s not true. You ask anyone, and he’ll say there are tons of unwatchable trash being broadcast these days. And when I say “broadcast,” I mean that in the loosest terms. It’s broadcast on air; saved on people’s DVRs; put on the internet for people to watch on their smartphones, smart TVs, laptops and desktops, iPads and bachelor pads.
How could we appreciate how good the first season of True Detective was if it weren’t for crap TV shows?
Maybe that’s just taste. We could be talking about subjective differences in what a human being wants to enjoy. Some people actually enjoyed Dawson’s Creek. Some people enjoy the feeling they get watching American Horror Story. Some people juggle geese. Some people call me the space cowboy.
That can’t be the whole story, subjective quality. Yes, folks enjoy different things. I’m a little bit country; she’s a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.
However, it is necessary for things to exist at different quality levels. How could we appreciate how good the first season of True Detective was if it weren’t for crap TV shows?
Think about how many hours of television you’ve watched in your life. Now think about how many hours you’ve really, REALLY enjoyed. Do you wish those times of pure, utter enjoyment were the only television you’d known?
Hogwash! Of course not! If they were all great hours of TV, then you wouldn’t appreciate them. You’d only think about the ones that were the top 10 percent or so of that viewing pleasure, and you’d raise your personal standards of TV such that you would hate even the hundreds of esteemed and celebrated shows you watched that would have been pure and utter enjoyment otherwise.
So now, because you’ve been spoiled by all these shows that would objectively rate 8 out of 10 or higher, next to your top favorites, they’re trash! So, even though you’ve endeavored to fill your viewing life with quality, you’ve created a world where you still really enjoy only a fraction of what you see.
Let’s adjust this hypothetical. Let’s say you still enjoy all of it. Why would you ever stop watching? You’d inundate yourself with all of these shows that you love, love, love! And when you had to tear yourself away (for work, or to buy groceries, or to attend a funeral), you’d be preoccupied with what all these characters are doing on all these shows that you enjoy.
There needs to be crap on TV. If all of it were good, we wouldn’t appreciate most of it, or we’d overappreciate all of it.
Your boss would ask you if you have the numbers for the Forman account, and you’d say “Jon Snow’s not dead!” because you can’t tell real life from Game of Thrones. Soon, you’d become a recluse, a hermit who only leaves the house to go to the coffee shop for the regular “Let’s talk about what the hell happened on Scandal last week” and to occasionally walk your dog.
That’s why there needs to be crap on TV. If all of it were good, we wouldn’t appreciate most of it, or we’d overappreciate all of it. There needs to be stuff you can ignore, stuff you don’t mind missing. You don’t want to go mad trying to see every single show. Let some of them fall, and be glad about it, because, by every law in the known universe, some of it has to suck.
If it were all good, and you were missing some of it, you’d feel bad because you’d know you were missing a good show. If some of it sucks, and you miss a few shows here and there, you can say to yourself with some degree of certainty, “That show was probably no good, anyhow.”
Yeah, those grapes were probably sour.
Long live bad television.