If you were asked by someone ‘what are your plans for this weekend’ and you answered ‘I’m going to a literary festival’, they’d probably congratulate you. The same might be true if you said ‘I’m going to a film festival’ or ‘I’m going to see some off-Broadway plays’. But if you said ‘I’m going to get caught up on Mad Men’, a scathing quip about not having better plans would often be the result.
In the US – as well as much of the western world it seems – has a love-hate relationship with television. TV remains the most dominant form of entertainment (despite what the film and video game industries might say), and yet TV is also looked down upon culturally and artistically. And it doesn’t take much to get a sense of why. The recent fiasco regarding the Mermaids show on Animal Planet put a bad taste in everybody’s mouth. The trend of abuse-masquerading-as-a-reality-TV-show seems to only be getting stronger. The list of ‘the worst’ TV has to offer always seems to be readily available at the slightest mention.
And yet, TV also has a lot of good to offer. I’ve been researching both Japanese and US cartoons recently, in preparation for Anime Mid-Atlantic and it astounded me to see how much fine art has been made in the world of animation; art that is largely forgotten about. Did you know the most popular and successful animated series in Japan in the late 70s/early 80s weren’t mecha shows about giant robots, but were adaptations of classic literature? The anime adaptation of Huck Finn and Heidi were huge successes in Japan, and subsequently worldwide.
The same is true of American animation. Did you know that the first Lord of the Rings adaptation was in 1978, a full two decades before Peter Jackson’s version?
And today, there’s amazing television to have and enjoy. There’s a tremendous amount of crap, to be sure. And many of the shows that are good do have to do a little pandering and bill-paying to stay on the air. But I defy anyone to watch Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Hannibal, or any other shows that are available right now, and tell me they aren’t art. Modern classics are being aired every season and it’s a shame to miss out on them just because they’re on TV. Listen to the dialogue of Elementary. Watch the cinematography of CSI. Magnificent!
Television has a bad wrap of being the lowest form of entertainment there is, and it’s a derision television doesn’t deserve. Television is an art form, with the shameful lows and dizzying highs of any other. And it’s an art form that should be enjoyed openly and cheerfully.