Television


Once, the idiots were just the fools gawping in through the windows. Now they’ve entered the building. You can hear them everywhere. They use the word ” cool”. It is their favourite word.

The idiot does not think about what it is saying. Thinking is rubbish. And rubbish isn’t cool. Stuff & shit is cool. The idiots are self-regarding consumer slaves, oblivious to the paradox of their uniform individuality. They sculpt their hair to casual perfection, they wear their waistbands below their balls, they babble into hand-held twit machines about that cool email of the woman being bummed by a wolf. Their cool friend made it. He’s an idiot too. Welcome to the age of stupidity. Hail to the rise of the idiots.

The Rise of the Idiots by Dan Ashcroft from Nathan Barley, Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker

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Entirely possible that my plangent cries against the possibility of rebelling against an aura that promotes and attenuates all rebellion says more about my residency inside that aura, my own lack of vision, than it does about any exhaustion of U.S. fiction’s possibilities. The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of “anti-rebels,” born oglers who dare to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall to actually endorse single-entendre values. Who treat old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point, why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk things. Risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, outrage, disgust, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. The new rebels might be the ones willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “How banal”. Accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Credulity. Willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows. Today’s most engaged young fiction does seem like some kind of line’s end’s end. I guess that means we all get to draw our own conclusions. Have to. Are you immensely pleased.

– For M.M. Karr

E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction, David Foster Wallace

As Hyde puts it, “Irony has only emergency use.. Carried over time, it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage.” This is because irony, entertaining as it is, serves an exclusively negative function. It’s critical and destructive, a ground-clearing. Surely this is the way our postmodern fathers saw it. But irony is singularly unuseful when it comes to constructing anything to replace the hypocrisies it debunks. This is why Hyde seems right about persistent irony being tiresome. It is unmeaty. Even gifted ironists work best in sound bites. I find them sort of wickedly fun to listen to at parties, but I always walk away feeling like I’ve had several radical surgical procedures. And as for actually driving cross-country with a gifted ironist, or sitting through a 300-page novel full of nothing but trendy sardonic exhaustion, one ends up feeling not only empty but somehow… oppressed.

E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction, David Foster Wallace

Indifference is actually just the contemporary version of frugality, for U.S young people: wooed for several gorgeous hours a day for nothing but our attention, we regard that attention as our chief commodity, our social capital, and we are loath to fritter it. In the same regard, see that in 1990, flatness, numbness, and cynicism in one’s demeanor are clear ways to transmit the televisual attitude of stand-out transcendence — flatness is transcendence of melodrama, numbness transcends sentimentality, and cynicism announces that one knows the score, was last naive about something at like age four.

E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction, David Foster Wallace

Americans seemed no longer united so much by common feelings as by common images: what binds us became what we stood witness to. No one did or does see this as a good change. In fact, pop-cultural references have become such potent metaphors in U.S. fiction not only because of how united Americans are in their exposure to mass images but because of our guilty indulgent psychology with respect to that exposure. Put simply, the pop reference works so well in contemporary fiction because (1) we all recognize such a reference, and (2) we’re all a little uneasy about how we all recognize such a reference.

E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction, David Foster Wallace

If it’s true that many Americans are lonely, and if it’s true that many lonely people are prodigious TV-watchers, and if it’s true that lonely people find in telelvision’s 2D images relief from the pain of their reluctance to be around real humans, then it’s also obvious that the more time spent watching TV, the less time spent in the real human world, and  the less time spent in the real human world, the harder it becomes not to become alienated from real humans, solipsistic, lonely. It’s also true that to the extent one begins to view pseudo-relationships with Bud Bundy and Jane Pauley as acceptable alternatives to relationships with real humans, one has commensurately less conscious incentive even to try to connect with real 3D persons, connections that are pretty important to mental health. For Joe Briefcase, as for many addicts, the “special treat” of TV begins to substitute for something nourishing and needed, and the original hunger subsides to a strange objectless unease.

E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction, David Foster Wallace

TV is the epitome of low art in its desire to appeal to and enjoy the attention of unprecedented numbers of people. But TV is not low because it is vulgar or prurient or stupid. It is often all these things, but this is a logical function of its need to please Audience. And I’m not saying that television is vulgar and dumb because the people who compose Audience are vulgar and dumb. Television is the way it is because people tend to be really similar in their vulgar and prurient and stupid interests and wildly different in their refined and moral and intelligent interests. It’s all about syncretic diversity; neither medium nor viewers are responsible for quality.

E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction, David Foster Wallace

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