Greetings, Bloggers. I’ve just been thinking, thanks to Sean, about what I don’t like about Heroes (i.e. that everyone who likes it seems to think it’s “fast-paced”, when to me it seems like televisual fatware), and for some reason it’s forcefully reminded me of some stupid shit I’ve seen on the tube recently. OH NO I DIDN’T! I did NOT just call TV stupid, did I? ZING! Take that, airwaves…
But it’s bigger than that, I think. Because that TV is dumb, well whatever, that battle’s lost, if indeed it was ever fought in the first place…and so what? Who cares?
But “dumb” is not the same thing as “appallingly fucking stupid”, or at least it shouldn’t be. I can accept the salami tactics of TV’s gradual corporate dumbification project; however a thick slice is still a thick slice, and we shouldn’t act dumber than we are. This isn’t supposed to be Idiocracy yet, for God’s sake!
So, why does it look so much like it?
Here’s a couple of things I saw on TV recently. I saw an ad for Lindt chocolate that promised some kind of sensual embrace “for all your five senses”. Which is quite an amazing claim, because: really? Even hearing? I forget who said that all ads for chocolate are just thinly-veiled ads for masturbation (the young wife sneaks away from her football-watching hubby, into the bathroom with the Toblerone…), but wow, this is a step up even from that. You will fucking hear things.
But of course, no you won’t.
The next ad up was for Advil. You’re probably familiar with this campaign: “if you think a little thing like a soaring fever or a chest cold will stop me…then you don’t know me.” Oh, hardass credo of the suburban jogger, how I love you! Except, wait, once again it’s just gone one step too far, because the athletic self-betterment activity the woman uttering that remark is engaged in (and yes, of course it’s a woman, isn’t it?) is swimming. Swimming? My God, is there anyone on earth who thinks fucking swimming is a good idea when you’ve got a cold or the flu or something?
And anyway, since when did Advil become anything more than an analgesic? “Damn this persistent cough! Think I’ll take an aspirin and go for a freedive…”
This isn’t just dumb; this is simply vacant of sense. This is false advertising, damn it. And the funny thing is, it’s actually against the law.
Don’t believe me about the falseness? Witness, then, the latest commercial in the ongoing Lysol campaign, that encourages young mothers (always the women, for Christ’s sake!) to spray down their kids’ tricycles and birthday-party balloons in order to rid them of “viruses”…this newest abomination, this newest illegal lie, instructs the clean-limbed American hausfrau to spray Lysol in her bathroom so as to eliminate the “dangerous viruses” that threaten her children. The animation shows virulent-looking words floating in the air: Rotavirus, Rhinovirus. But then along comes the Lysol and dissolves them all, harmlessly.
By the way: Rhinovirus?
That’s the common cold.
And if it were as dangerous as all that, let’s face it, world population would be like a quarter of what it is now. Spraying Lysol in the bathroom, in that case, would be like dumping a pack of Jell-O into the Red River in spring, and expecting it to turn the whole watercourse into a harmlessly tasty dessert, that flood victims could then delightedly nibble their way out of. In other words: this is truly shameful stuff. This is snake oil. They might as well say it’ll grant you immortality; that’d be no more false an assertion. You will live forever! You will never grow old!
Thick slices. Thick. But we shouldn’t be here yet. We should still be getting gradually dumbed-down, still be in the world of the salami tactics. So something’s changed. I’m not going to say what, though. Not yet.
Because this aggressive stupid-headedness isn’t confined to commercials on TV. Oh, no. It’s in the dramatic programming, too. Heroes provides a pretty good example of this assaultive vacancy (although probably Bionic Woman is even better), where all that is unnecessary is painfully spelled out a dozen times an episode, and all that’s needful to know is buried ten miles deep under a basaltic blanket of dense-motherfuckerism. And Jerry Springer can’t touch this; this isn’t simply socially crass, this is intellectually corrosive. Because just as the famous distinction between lies and bullshit goes “liars at least care somewhat, if only negatively, about truth-values…but bullshitters consider the difference absolutely trivial”, so too does the plotline of your average modern television drama adhere only to its bullshit “tension”, gleefully rejecting as worthless any conclusion legitimately capable of paying it off. Real-world sense, even in its (heretofore necessary) manifestation in story-logic or internal consistency, is jettisoned as pure dead weight — because hey, who needs it? Who cares? I’m not even talking about about the “ten percent of our brains” thing…that’s just more dumb, not stick-stone stupid. No, I’m talking about when things just kind of happen. Dialogue just “happens”, action just “happens”, denouements just “happen”, tic-tac-toe it’s a tie, imagine that. Infodumps cease to dump any actual info. Effects are emptied of causes. Connective threads are hyperbolized. Because hey, if you think a little thing like any of this adding up to anything will stop me…well, then…
Hey, you don’t know me.
When the LA riots broke out, we heard a lot of talk about how TV was responsible, and also a lot of talk about how it wasn’t. And I always thought it was, but I didn’t blame it on the inuring effect of the old ultra-violence, you see. I blamed it on Frasier.
But of course when I say I blamed it on Frasier — on Frasier, floating high above the world in his little dream-bubble of romantic farce and perfect wealth and security! My God what a view he’s got, up there! — I’m not really being serious, I’m trying instead to be a little bit satirical. I’m playing the part of a guy who can’t see the absurdum for the reductio, and so I can’t possibly mean it, except I do mean I may not be the only one who’s saying stuff he can’t possibly mean. It decomposes like this, see: Frasier is what they now call in the marketing biz an “aspirational” comedy…but, wait, hey! What happened to all the aspiration that was supposed to be in that aspiration, you know?
And, my very point: after all, once you empty out or otherwise set about beggaring your aspirations, then what’s the point of not smashing everything in sight?
So pop, I sincerely hope, goes the balloon. But now back to Heroes, and Studio 60, and Bionic Woman, and oh just anything where the show doesn’t point anything out, but only presses it on you instead, like a bribe. Far, far worse stuff than the likeable Frasier, I assure you. Because plot, like character, isn’t necessary any longer to these shows. They may still cling to it a little bit — cling to the shreds of it — out of habit, but the interplay of plot and character no longer form the key to their appeal. Compliance does; as in “so long as we get to the part you tuned in to see, you damn well will not care about how we got there, you ungrateful swine.” In Studio 60 this was the walkabout Mamet-lite bantering…look, buddy, so long as you get to hear it, you shouldn’t complain about having to listen to it….and in Spider-Man 3 it was the willy-nilly jamming in of recognizable characters and their turnabouts, whether all that added up to a good story or not…look, you wanted to see it, buddy, so now you can just damn well sit there and look at it. In Bionic Woman it’s Smouldering Bionic Action, and never mind whether or not it’s appropriate for Jaime to be trapped in a blender with old pitches for Alias and Nikita…I swear I laugh when I think of how amazingly little she questions whether no-oversight off-the-books covert agencies are really that gee-whiz an idea in 2007, for Christ’s sake James Bond questions the morality of what he’s doing more than she does…
In the remake of Planet Of The Apes, it was “that image” that the director wanted so badly to see, the image of our hero face-to-face with Ape Lincoln…oh, anything for that “image”, my God! Anything!
At DC comics, it’s a dream of saving all established phenomena by creating a Total Universal Order…
At Marvel, it’s the somewhat-complementary dream of obliterating all established phenomena for the purpose of creating a Total Universal Order…
And for Heroes, it’s just…I wanna see superheroes on TV, but I want them to be cool.
But are any of these things worthwhile aspirations, if how you get to have them ceases to matter? Me, I’m thinking of writing the makers of Bionic Woman, and telling them “hey, your excellent chocolate sure tastes delicious, but I’ve got to tell you I didn’t hear jack shit when I ate it, and now I’ve caught pneumonia again. Also when I said I wanted superheroes to be cool, I didn’t mean they should also have to be boring as dirt, so how ’bout a refund?”
Oh…no refund, huh?
Well, damn you to hell, Ape Lincoln. You just went and you blew it all up, didn’t you.
Thick bastard. You’re gonna be yoghurt pretty soon, if you keep on like this.
On the bright side though, Bloggers, I really liked Death Note! Think I might start watching it regularly…