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Essay : The Tragic Nature of Television

Essay : The Tragic Nature of Television

Legendary French chemist Antoine Lavoisier discovered something called law of conservation of mass shortly before getting executed, which can more or less explain the universe: "nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed." It applies to everything, even our existences from a strictly biological point of view. So, you always have to take pundits who keep declaring the end of things with a grain of salt. Music, for example, doesn't cease to exist because its predatory and exploitative industry couldn't survive the advent of the internet. Same goes for television, which was condemned to a painful death at the turn of the millennium. 

The advent of reality shows was the death knell of intelligent television and a new brand of hollow celebrity was going to take over. Then, HBO took a chance on The Sopranos and the "golden era of television" was born. People abandoned movie theaters for the comfort of their own home and the satisfaction of dozens of hours of profound and engaging content, complex characters and challenging narratives. The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Homeland, they captured our hearts and made us closer to each other. They were an unexpected and fascinating cultural shift.

But guess what? I don't watch television anymore.

Since January, I have watched a grand total of nine episodes of Better Call Saul and that's it. I have a busy schedule like any normal adult, but I have more than enough time. I just can't gather enough enthusiasm to sign up for such massive amounts of entertainment. I've had the willingness in the past. I have my favorites like most of you: Lost, Breaking Bad, Justified, HomelandTrue DetectiveI spent the most exciting evenings you can possibly spend lying on a couch watching these shows. These series ended like everything great always does and I'm thankful for the memories.

I've dealt with a sense of loss and tried filling the void by watching anything I could find on Netflix. I cannot give enough of a fuck to even bother trying anything since last winter though and it's been bugging me. Better Call Saul is a great, Coenesque series, but I could not press play for episode 10 with a gun to my head. This is like a disease. What has television done to me to beat my enthusiastic viewership so senseless. There are many possible explanation to my condition, but I don't know which one is likelier: 

1) The emergence of television series is officially over. They took the medium by force and established themselves as a profitable industry, so now every broadcasting outlet is trying to profit from its own series. Profitability has become the main factor that gets series financed and no mass entertainment is more profitable than recycled ideas.

2) There is an increasingly bigger output of television series and therefore the standout material becomes increasingly rarer. The increased demand causes more series to be quickly written and quickly produced, churning mediocre and unsatisfying content in the process. This one is probably true to some extent. Even superstar writers like Nic Pizzolatto and Vince Gilligan have been bound by tight deadlines in recent past.

3) Cutters (such as myself) are chalked as revenue loss by television channels, so they are taking less risks with their investments and choose concepts they know will please a maximum of viewers although it's been proved in the past a maximum of viewers loved new and challenging ideas.

4) I'm hipster scum and I can't admit loving what everybody else loves. Montreal is full of people like me, but I'm probably the only one obsessive enough to scrutinize my own consumerism like this.

I think HBO is still doing a great job at keeping its flagship series exciting and I would probably watch Game of Thrones if I didn't think dragons and incest were fucked up. I spent my teenage years getting my head shoved in a toilet bowl for playing Dungeons & Dragons because it was the only table-top role playing game I knew back then and while I'm sure it is tremendously written, I think that bros who post Tyrion Lannister memes and fantasize on Emilia Clarke are lame. But kudos to HBO for creating such a buzz in an age where you just have to turn Netflix on to find a simulacrum of stimulation.

I don't hate television, I just don't watch it anymore. I've heard great things about Fargo and Mr. Robot and I would probably tune-in if seasons 4 and 5 of Homeland ever end up on fucking Netflix, but I can't think of any reason to go back otherwise, unless new and genuinely exciting ideas emerge.  It hasn't been such a purgatory to be honest. I've watched a lot of movies, worked on this blog quite a bit (I'm sure you've noticed) and read a metric fuckton of books. Lots of you are asking me how is it humanly possible to read so many books, well there you go. Keep your television set closed at night.

But I'll probably drift back to television. Whether it's under its current form, on the web or even on the Oculus. It's mass entertainment and it's not going away. It's going to be periodically amazing and terrible because of innovation, creativity and its inescapable need for profitability. Every time a medium starts wanting to sell more than it wants to create, it's going to become boring and we need to better understand and accept that. Takes a lot of resources to entertain masses and the need for profitable return on investment will eventually soil everything it touches because it is a reality alien and counterproductive to art.

I'm getting bored of television series, but I'm oddly at peace with it. These things are cyclical. Nothing is lost. Nothing is gained. Everything is transformed.

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