The Thanksgiving Week Tradition of Foodin’ Sexin’ and, errrr, Carrin’ returns next week, and we are as pumped as ever for it. The scenarios are as brain bending as ever and the prizes are out of sight.
But that’s next week. Never ones to make you wait too long, we’ve got our regular Thursday feature to tide you over.
And what better way to prepare for your annual Thanksgiving food coma than talking about television? And this year when you hunker down for a nice post-gorge veg session, here’s some food for your thoughts. We’ve got three half-cooked television theories that have been rolling around in our heads for the past few weeks. So when you’re watching these shows in the coming weeks, maybe consider…
The Walking Dead is nothing more than a meditation on modern economic reality.
Our economy is fucked. Europe’s economy is fuckeder. Every big four-eyed lame-o who gets paid to pontificate on television predicts nothing but more doom and gloom for the foreseeable future as home prices somehow have yet to hit bottom, job growth continues to stagnate, and Congress enjoys lower approval ratings than the Kardashians.
If you’re in the thick of the muck, it kinda feels like the apocalypse, doesn’t it?
I’m in no position to bitch (thankfully), but I know more than a few people sitting at the bottom of the well looking up and feeling like the daylight gets further and further away each day. The feeling of dread is pervasive and even as glimmers of hope sometimes flicker, they’re ultimately snuffed and you’re left with no solutions and things that are often even worse than before.
The Walking Dead is one of the most popular shows on cable, and the highest rated show in the history of AMC. It features a band of survivors living in a world populated only by a precious few other living souls and a shitload of stark raving zombies. It’s a thoroughly engrossing character study filled with armrest-tearing tension and top flight action sequences. And when you spend five minutes thinking about it philosophically, it’s grim as hell.
Each episode features at least one character wondering out loud what the point is of even going on in a world where you’re basically waiting to get eaten alive by craven sub-humans. Slowly but surely, the band of survivors continues to whittle down as the characters are forced to watch their friends and loved ones fall to the walkers. Like the hopelessness many feel when facing a job hunt that’s lasted over a year, an upside down mortgage or crippling mountain of student loans, The Walking Dead, if only for an hour each week, reminds us, I suppose, that it could be much, much worse and that we’re not alone.
I’ve thought about this a lot, and I cannot figure out why I don’t feel worse after watching The Walking Dead. Good people basically continue to either make impossible, heartrending choices, or just continue to fuck up in wild and unpredictable ways.
Take poor Andrea, for instance. She lost her sister last season to “the fever” and had to shoot her from point blank range. Understandably depressed, she thought about ending it all, but was forcibly saved by a middling Dale and his ugly bucket hat. [SPOILER ALERT] This season she’s bitched the whole time about wanting to carry a gun, finally gets one, and instead of heeding the advice to wait to shoot a supposed walker, she fires anyway and shoots poor Darryl in the head after he fell off a horse looking for a missing girl. If I were her, I might think about ending it all too.
And even when things seem good, like they do at kindly veterinarian Hershel’s house, you’re going to end up disappointed and find out you’re trusting just another crazy old guy who keeps more zombies in his barn.
I suppose the other angle from which to think about this is the pro-apocalypse sentiment that floated around right after Lehman Brothers failed. Common refrains of “Let it all burn” were heard regularly. Maybe that’s what Occupy Wall Street is all about. Maybe this show is wish fulfillment showing what letting it all burn really looks like. I don’t know. What I do know is that while The Walking Dead probably isn’t trying intentionally to comment on the current economic crisis, we’re always drawn to culture that reflects our reality.
Or we want to go back to when things made sense. Hence…
The return of Beavis & Butthead signifies wish fulfillment of a return to life before 9/11.
Beavis & Butthead is back, and it’s just as good as (if not better than) ever. Our intrepid heroes have not changed at all since they left us all those 14 years ago. They’re still in high school, still wearing their now hilariously outdated AC/DC and Metallica t-shirts, and still planted firmly on their ratty couch commenting on MTV’s shitty programming.
Having never been a King of the Hill fan, I ached for this show. I understand the satire of King of the Hill, but just didn’t give a shit. I recognize why people think it’s funny, but it never ever tickled me. Beavis & Butthead has a direct line to my funny bone, and I think it’s because while these two are unmistakably dipshits, they’re also sort of right on in their cultural commentary. And that’s what makes their return so much more important.
Even in 1996, MTV didn’t show many music videos. People bitched about it then, and people continue to bitch about it now for reasons I will never understand. Wanna watch music videos? The internet exists. Problem solved.
In Beavis & Butthead’s world, not only were music videos on all day, acts like Crowbar and L7 found their way into regular rotation. Our boys were reliably there to intellectually undress pretentious musicians for indulging their worst creative impulses in a way that not only condemned the artists, but the Gestapo record companies for forcing all manner of stupid crap on us that we’d have to overpay for. Remember paying $18 for a shitty Silverchair CD? No wonder we enjoyed watching these guys dismiss these artists so summarily and hilariously.
Then Beavis & Butthead went off the air, Napster was invented, and the music industry took it hard in the ass. Music’s pretty much free everywhere, the concert business is booming, and you can create a whole internet radio station for yourself based on one song you like. We won the music war.
With music criticism a lot less fun now (read any review at Pitchfork.com for evidence of that), we need our boys for other entertainments. And in these last 14 years, one universal truth has revealed itself and it’s that every niche cable channel (MTV – music; A&E – art, stage, culture; History – history; TLC – education; etc.) will devolve from its original noble intent into making shitty reality shows. On MTV alone, shows with premises that were unfathomable 15 years ago air without anyone batting an eyelash – “16 and Pregnant,” “Teen Mom,” “My Super Sweet 16” and a whole ton of other unconscionable godawfulness I can’t be bothered to name here.
Thankfully, our stalwart commenters have returned to cast some dryly delivered sanity in the form of low-key, subtle eviscerations to these monstrosities and prove that we’re not crazy, and yes, in fact, these shows suck. Mike Judge, as the voice of both Beavis and Butthead, has such razor sharp insights delivered with a bare minimum of vocabulary, sometimes you can’t believe how on point he is because you’re laughing too fucking hard.
We need Beavis and Butthead more than we ever have because rather than taking down stuffy recording artists, we need them to hopefully shame a television industry that produces not only some of the best shows in the medium’s history, but also unquestionably the worst of the worst.
I think they will make television better and increase the quality of its product overall, whereas…
ESPN’s SportsCenter will decrease interest in American sports.
SportsCenter has become an American institution. I’m in the middle of reading Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN and I’m currently somewhere in the 90s when guys like Rich Eisen, Kenny Mayne, Stuart Scott and Rece Davis were the main anchors. They followed Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Bob Ley, Charley Steiner and the others who made SportsCenter what it became when it launched into the stratosphere. My favorite era was the Eisen/Mayne/Scott/Davis era because I found them to be impossibly clever, and I was in high school which meant anyone who was clever (e.g. Chandler Bing) was like a god to me.
Fast forward 15 years, and ESPN is the biggest sports entity in the entire world. It’s no longer a news organization, it’s a product delivery platform. ESPN shows the NFL, NBA, MLB, NCAA Football, NCAA Basketball, World Series of Poker and several others. When you begin to have a financial stake on the things you ostensibly report, that’s generally defined as a conflict of interest and the integrity of the news division suffers. And things like “The Decision” happen.
SportsCenter has had the most precipitous decline in quality because instead of following its traditional model of success – highlight, highlight, joke, highlight, clever intro, highlight, highlight, highlight – SportsCenter has adopted the cable news model of programming – quasi-news story, analysis, talking head, talking head, talking head, quasi-news story, opinion, talking head, let’s update you on our top story, vomit.
There are like 10-15 hockey games a night, and maybe one of them will get coverage on SportsCenter. Why? ESPN doesn’t have an NHL contract, so as far as they’re concerned, the NHL can fall on a spike and fucking die. Yet we’ll get 20 goddamn people an hour dissecting this week’s Monday Night Football matchup. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need Ron Jaworski, Jon Gruden, Trent Dilfer, Cris Carter, Sal Paolontonio, Chris Mortensen, Tom Jackson and 12 other dipshits telling me in a slightly different phrasing how Matt Cassel’s injury will affect the Chiefs’ chances against the Patriots next week.
Sports is a finite universe, and there are only so many ways to cover a very small amount of conversational real estate. That hasn’t stopped ESPN from trying, however, and I suspect until we vote with our remotes, it’ll be more of the same bloviating about the day’s top 4 stories from here on out.
What’s even worse is when ESPN just goes full on cable news like it did when the Jerry Sandusky thing broke. All night it was nothing but “updates” from Happy Valley, which amount to a handful of assholes reporting the same limited facts over and over again. If I wanted this type of programming, I’d watch CNN, which I don’t.
The point is this. We don’t need 24 hour coverage of sports, and eventually you are going to burn out your audience with the drip-drip-drip of non-news and turn them off. All this coverage of the NBA lockout has certainly turned American sports fans into a ragingly apathetic group of meh. Everyone I’ve talked to couldn’t care less if the NBA ever comes back, and I suspect seeing David Stern and Billy Hunter act like a couple of recalcitrant jagoffs has hurt the sport immensely.
People generally don’t trust mainstream news. The 24-hour news cycle has burned out our bullshit detector with the ceaseless onslaught of ratings grabbing shock proclamations to the point we’ve largely tuned it all out. And ESPN has chosen to emulate this model. This will decrease interest in American sports.
Of course, each of these theories needs more time in the oven, which is why they’re only half-cooked. We’ll see you all next week for Food, Sex, or Cars? Enjoy the weekend, everyone. And come back ready to indulge all your weirdest appetites.
17 Nov 2011 E Dagger