Pass the Remote: Catch and Release
by: Chris Terry and Cory Maclauchlin
Catch and Release
Welcome to Flow’s latest experiment in academic discourse, Pass the Remote. Over the course of each bi-weekly issue of Flow, three or more scholars will exchange open letters on a topic of shared interest. Check back to see the discussion’s progress, and feel free to comment below. If you are interested in contributing to Pass the Remote contact Christopher Lucas at email@example.com.
Dear Cate and Cory,
Away from my graduate studies and my radio career, I still manage to cobble together a bit of a personal life and one of my favorite “free time” activities is to go fishing. Living in Wisconsin, fishing season is only a few months long, so I pass the winter months by watching lots of fishing shows on the cable networks.
I find these shows fascinating despite their poor production value, obvious staging and cheesy dialogue. I’m a self-confessed news junkie, but throw in some edited hot fishing action by a guy who is as, if not more, overweight than me, and each episode is like a half-hour of pure mindless ecstasy. I often wish I could be that guy on the screen, living his full-size pickup truck dreams.
I’ve never quite been able to figure out why I am drawn to such low-brow entertainment. After all the characters in these shows are little more than caricatures. However, after some late night, third-shift thinking, I have come to the conclusion that fishing shows are just like pornography.
Think about it. Both porn and fishing shows portray something I’d rather be doing myself, done to a remarkable standard, by professionals in a staged setting. Both feature a “you are there” approach to the camera work that gets a viewer close enough to the action to appreciate what’s happening. And just for good measure, they both add in some barely audible grunts and a touch of bad theme music. In the end, you just have a matching pair of male-dominated fantasies. If you wanted to get down to the base level, one could even throw in a joke or two about “rods” or “mounting trophies.”
Therefore I’m compelled to pose the question, are fishing shows really just a form of clean pornography? Do these shows, by appealing to a masculine fantasy, serve as some sort of proxy testosterone? Are these shows appealing because they are simply about subjects/hobbies that men enjoy? Or is there something else about this programming that draws me in week after week?
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Dear Chris and Cory,
Wow, I did not see that topic coming…
Well, I don’t watch porn and I don’t watch fishing shows. So, where does that leave me to respond to your argument?
Part of me shrugs my shoulders and says, “Okay, I guess.” And it ends there.
Part of me wants to look past my immediate reader response shrug and put on my theoretical Lacanian lens and ask, “What is the objet petit a that we meaning you search for, desire in these shows?” But I think that is pretty obvious we desire what we can’t ever have
Part of me wants to say, “Well, if you are going to compare those two, then you need to continue on and make that same observation of any sort of visual entertainment.” As a reader already astutely commented in her post, we watch, not just makeover shows, cooking shows, and painting shows, but The OC and everything else.
I am here in NYC for a few days and in my social rounds yesterday, I asked a variety of gentlemen what they thought about your post, Chris, and asked (pleaded) for suggestions for possible responses. I got no suggestions and two responses. One: “You’re not going to find many guys in Manhattan who watch fishing shows.” The other, from a gentleman who resides in Vermont: “A friend who is a professional fly fisherman just gave me a fly fishing tape to watch. He called it ‘salmon porn.'” So, at least I had some verification of your argument there.
Now, I guess I will ask you, Cory: what about the people who don’t watch any of these shows? Are they living a fuller, richer life than the rest of us? Are they out there doing it, painting it, fishing it, sexing it while we are inside, sitting on our sofas, dreaming about it? Chris watching yet another hour of Bass Fishing with Phil, me watching back-to-back episodes of Ambush Makeover?
Dear Chris and Cate,
I am convinced that most people, especially those who spend their days cultivating their minds, have their moments of decompression, when the intellect takes a break. I know English professors who confess (only after a few drinks) to having a substantial collection of Harlequin novels; a fellow student recently admitted to me he was addicted to Dr. Phil; and my brother, while getting his PhD, regularly retreated to Fear Factor. For me, I need my regular dose of XMC, on SpikeTV, especially during exams. For those of you who don’t know XMC, it is an old Japanese game show where contestants undergo physical challenges that usually result in painful falls. The American version has comical English overdubs, reminiscent of Mystery Science Theatre 2000.
Much like Chris with his fishing shows, I usually watch it alone with much enjoyment. When my fiancée joins me she shakes her head in confusion as I laugh so hard I cry. I suppose I could use the same Freudian steps to analyze my attraction to the show. Perhaps it provides me with a masochistic outlet. But then what? What do we do with sexual undertones or overtones that we identify in media, other than calling them sexual? Does it enrich the experience? Does it detract from the experience? Does it ever lead us to meaning?
In answer to your question Cate, I’m not sure how to identify full or rich lives. We who watch television shows certainly want to indulge in a fantasy. And I suppose I would qualify fantasy as a factor in a full or rich life. From fishing to exercising, activities look better on television. But this holds true in other forms of entertainment: books, theatre, film, even our own imaginations.
I suppose the danger in every fantasy is actually construing it as a reality: the Don Quixote complex. If one accepts the experience of watching as doing then deficiencies take hold. Chris, if you completely stopped fishing so you could stay inside to watch your fishing shows that would indeed be sad. But whether you find it erotically titillating or blissfully mindless it seems it serves the same function. I pose a broader question in terms of television and fantasy: does the array of media output lead Americans to the Don Quixote condition? As a culture inundated with information and images, are the lines between fantasy and reality becoming blurred in the minds of Americans?
Dear Cory and Cate,
I apologize for my tardy response. Cory’s response has taken this discussion to a new level from its tongue in cheek approach.
In media, I believe the concept of reality itself is suspect. I have never quite understood this term “reality television.” If a bunch of backbiting, oversexed teenagers engaging in fiery challenges of physical skill is reality, I must have missed the train at some point.
Perhaps my questions about reality television are quite similar to my original comparison. The programming, be it fishing, pornography, or scantily dressed 20 somethings eating road kill, offers an escape that allows us to live beyond our abilities. At its most basic level, isn’t this what fantasy is?
As a long time radio producer, I find reality comes in two forms. The first is the public face; the one seen heard or read by the public. In my specific case, this involves a conservative talk radio station whose hosts represent the archetype of kool-aid drinking true believers. The other side of reality is the one I see that happens behind the microphone, the one where the loudmouth afternoon drivetime host is geeky, quiet and introverted.
But, I digress from the issue Cory passed to me. Has the line between reality and fantasy become blurred? I would argue, at least in the case of the media, there is no line to blur. Everything is a fantasy. Programs which are presented as reality are scripted and edited; even shows like Cops are cut to fit a mold. I myself haven’t abandoned reality for fantasy; I still go fishing as much as I can. But if Cory is right, and the line is blurring, two questions come to mind. Is the blurring of the fantasy and reality a bad thing? And if so, what do we need to do about it?
Dear Chris and Cory,
What can we do about it? Well, for one thing, I think we can do what we are doing here – talk, critique, question. And while we, ensconced in our graduate programs, can easily and willingly realize the blurring of the lines in visual entertainment between reality, staged reality, and fantasy, I think of my high school students that cannot and will not. Again, what can we do? Specifically, what can I do? As I move from my graduate programs at the university and into the high school classroom, I can introduce to this next generation of scholars to theory and to concepts of critical studies. I can show my students that popular culture is worthy of analysis and deconstruction. I can, in fact, introduce them to forums like this one as a model and mimic its format in class discussion and writings.
In Clueless in Academe (New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2003), Gerald Graff notes that college and high school students (and perhaps some readers of this particular post) will voice reluctance when asked to critique popular culture: “Hey, it’s just a movie.” (Or, more to the point, “Hey, it’s just a fishing show.”) Graff elaborates: “The view that popular culture products either have no meaning or none that is worth discussing is pervasive among academics as well as journalists, who periodically issue derisive editorials whenever an academic is caught attributing gender attitudes, say, to a performance of […] Madonna or an episode of […] Friends. To be sure, the elaborate allegories academic critics claim to find in popular or high culture do sometimes stretch the reasonable limits of credibility.
Nevertheless, analysts of popular culture seem to me right that such works influence our beliefs and behavior all the more powerfully because they come embedded in seemingly innocuous entertainment that is not thought worthy of close scrutiny” (51).
Again, I think we continue to do what we are doing here; we take another look at that “seemingly innocuous entertainment” and we discuss, analyze, and write angry letters to John Stossel. (Yes, I’ve done that. You haven’t?)
I agree with you Cate.
As a society I think we have an obligation to discuss, question, and critique the facets of our culture, be it opera or fishing shows. But while I agree that popular culture is a valuable topic to discuss, I hesitate to give it too much credence. How much cultural value do we place on the latest television shows? Coming from a literary perspective I despair at the corporate shadow that looms over most of the creative work that most Americans consume. They tend to impose a formula of sound bytes or plot twists regurgitated until the consumer gets bored. Does every episode of the OC have to include a posh soiree where someone publicly humiliates themselves? You bet it does!
I question at what point does media output become a part of our cultural fabric? Because the Fox Network executive decides to air a show does it become a cultural artifact? Or does the moment that we start discussing it make it a cultural artifact?
On this last posting I should not pose so many questions, but I can’t say I’m ready to offer answers either. Hopefully, as you point out Cate, discussion will make us more active as discriminating consumers. I think once we start questioning cultural value we start identifying the things we actually do value. Whether it is Porno fishing or Pavarotti, a questioning of “why do we like it” seems a beneficial exercise for the entire culture. But I say this hoping that we might not dwell too long on analyzing the sexual undertones or overtones of the hundreds of 30-minute cable shows currently airing. If anything, I think this questioning should be an exercise for tackling the more prevalent cultural artifacts, those that will last. However, maybe “Sport Fishing on the Fly” will prove one of our lasting cultural gems.
The Remote Passed:
April 1-15, 2005 Carnivale
April 15-29, 2005 Adult Swim
1. Catch and Release
Please feel free to comment.
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Fishing shows and porn
I would have never thought to relate the two, but then again I’m not a male and don’t think about things like that. I personally don’t think fishing shows are a form of clean pornography. I know (very few) males who watch fishing shows and why they watch them. What I have gathered from talking with these people is that the show is appealing because they are interested in the subject and it’s a hobby of theirs. To be more specific a friend of mine said that he learns where the good fishing spots are and what is the best stuff to use when he goes fishing. He also said it’s fun/interesting to see what types of fish they catch and the size of the fish. However, I can’t come to a conclusion about what all males think by the few people I’ve talked to about fishing shows. I’m sure there are some guys that agree with or can relate to Chris Terry and his conclusion about this “pair of male-dominated fantasies.” After reading this I wonder if my friends relate fishing and porn…
While I tend to sway towards extreme skepticism as to whether or not this article holds any great measures of substantial psychological validity, I found it to be fascinating and worthy of my investigation wholly on the basis of unabashed curiosity. I can see a stylized parallel between fishing programs that portray middle aged men living out their hyper-masculine fantasies and pornography; the nature of the appeal is unarguably similar, thus accounting for the overwhelming homogeneity of the target audiences . Perhaps one could stretch this little connection to include the existence of male dominance over both the fish and the porn stars featured in the programs. Perhaps Greenpeace organizations concerned with animal rights and overfishing should join hands with conservative groups and feminist movements trying to abolish the objectification of women. Perhaps Michael Eisner is behind all of this depravity. While these are all distinct possiblities that should be analyzed at length by more qualified essayists, I feel as if the world will survive in the meantime naively believing that fishing programs are low-brow attempts at informational programming and pornography is an ultra low-brow attempt at, well, ultra low-brow entertainment.
Collegiate Makes Confession
I still find it hard to talk about this even now as a young man in my early twenties. But, as a child, maybe 7 or 8 years old, I, too, watched bass fishing on television. Maybe it was the dynamic relationship between the host and the camera man, occasionally chatting outside the realm of liner-and-tank talk to mention the sports game on the night before; maybe it was whoopin’ and excitment these two men would share as the line finally bit, their patience and determination finally paying off; or maybe it was their humble nature when that prize fish was caught, as they slowly unhooked the catch and tossed it back into the water demonstating that fishing, like life, is a big cyclical competitive sport. Chris, Cate, and Cory , though you’re article has not made me ponder if the hours spent in front of the tube were not some unevolved yearning for pornographic satisfaction, it has left me to consider the varying reasons why many make the time in their busy schedules the watch TV. From the grad-student professot who makes the effort to watch Daily Show, to the teenager clicking on to catch the OC, end even to the post-50 year old father still recording reruns of Law and Order, television is the most narrowcasted medium we have. Capable of multiple interpretations and muliple views(thanks to TiVo), I often wonder if television is my supreme ‘catch and release?’
I, honestly, could care less about fishing. However, it is obvious that there is a demographic for these fishing shows which keep the program from going under. It is very interesting to point out that sex (porn) and fishing are both activities that are captured on film and cheaply made for its audience. I can see the link between the two, as they are both activities that people do not participate every waking moment of their lives…unless you are infact the porn star or fishing star. Because there is a need, or rather a want, to participate in these activities program producers have targeted these markets. This method of producing cheaply made programs with a main subject as its content is not limited to the fishing and porn industry. There are also mindless cooking shows, antique shows, decorating shows, and of course paint shows (the Bob Ross sensation of the 70s and 80s). People watch these shows because it is a subject they are interested in and practice themselves, or the cast and crew of the production possess an ability that we ourselves do not have. This is also evident in most tv sitcoms, melodramas, and so on. The lives these fictional characters lead are nothing like our own…their lives are constructed of drama after drama and the characters solve problems in ways that we ourselves wouldnot have. The point is, television is a fabrication of life that people do not relate to there for it remains entertaining. This goes for shows such as the OC to your local fishing show which contains cheesy lines and rehersed skits.
fishing & porn: object & Thing imploded
Zizek argues somewhere (well, probably in a few places) that the appeal of porn is its excessive literality, its supreme ob-scenity. Nothing is hidden, everything exposed. Whereas in normal sexual relations one differentiates to some degree between the real organ of one’s sexual partner and its inherent split into the Thing beyond the actual organ, in porn both the actual organ and the Thing beyond are imploded together. That’s why it’s no longer a scene, but ob-scene.
Now is something similar going on in fishing shows? Having never watched one, I really don’t know. But to the extent that the mystery of fishing is removed, in that one knows that these professionals are going to catch a big fish, there is equally no Thing beyond.
You know you’re going to get the fish, just like you know everyone in a porn is going to get off, on cue.
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