Thank you, Alessandra Stanley, for writing an essay a lot of New York Times readers are probably going to flip right over with zero hesitation and a little laugh.
“What do you watch?”
It is no longer a lazy way to redirect a boring conversation. Questions about viewing preferences have become fraught; the topic is as intimate, revealing and potentially off-putting as discussing how much money you make.
It’s a rich television age and a demanding one. The selection is now so plentiful and fragmented and good. And deciding among hundreds of channels, on-demand options, DVR, Internet streaming and iPhones requires so much research, planning and commitment that viewers have become proprietary about their choices. Alliances are formed, and so are antipathies. Snobbery takes root. Preferences turn totemic. The mass audience splintered long ago; now viewers are divided into tribes with their own rituals and rites of passage.
Many people in the culture department of this newspaper never watch television unless it’s an adaptation of a George Eliot novel on Masterpiece Theater. But one of the smartest editors I know once admitted, after a few drinks, to going into his study when no one else was around and watching “Reba.” I am paid to watch television, and proudly keep one television set on at all times as a kind of eternal flame, a memorial to all the shows that were canceled. The critic’s code of honor is “no show left behind.”
Television used to be dismissed by elitists as the idiot box, a sea of mediocrity that drowns thought and intelligent debate. Now people who ignore its pools and eddies of excellence do so at their own peril. They are missing out on the main topic of conversation at their own table.
That’s what I’m talking about, people, the Everything Bad Is Good For You way of thinking. People who assume television and video games can in no way increase the intelligence of a person are foolish, living in a draconian world unaware of the great choices available to them.
Of course, a lot of people that watch television do watch mind-numbingly stupid stuff, as David Cross will tell you. RIP, Arrested Development.
We’ll do a run through of the pilots once more of them have been digested, but this is going to be a busy, busy week with a couple of papers and a presentation due on Thursday. Early reaction is KidNation is looking decent and Gossip Girl might be the wonderful love child of Veronica Mars and The OC, only pretty accurate. So this is like