Why Do I Love Television So Very Much?

by: Alan McKee / Queensland University of Technology

Federico Fellini 8 1/2

Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2

[This document is an RFC. The RFC–Request For Comment–was the mode by which information was shared in the design of the Internet. Designers put out proposals, not claiming that they were the absolute truth, but offering them as suggestions, for others to agree, disagree, or use to think with. The idea appeals to me as a model for discussion in the humanities. By disseminating my own way of seeing culture as an RFC, I can avoid both arrogant assertions that this is the truth about a medium on the one hand; and a solipsistic ‘anything goes’ attitude on the other. I’m not telling people that this is the truth; I’m asking if anybody else thinks the same way, or finds this a useful approach. If so, let’s get together and agree that this is how we see the world.]

Why is television my favourite medium? Moreso than cinema, radio, even than books? An evening on the couch, mug of tea in my hand and the TV guide in front of me, favourite programs marked in yellow highlighter … This I love more than anything.

Why is that?

Can I find any insight in my relationship with other cultural forms? With art, say? Why does art make me so angry, television so joyful? Why is it, for example, that my experiences of art make me want to sign a petition calling for all its public funding to be cut?

No, that’s not quite true. Not all art makes me angry. After all, I like The Simpsons and Buffyand The Amazing Race, all of which are clearly art. Rather, it’s Art that upsets me – the institutions of turning beautiful things in culture (The Simpsons, Buffy, The Amazing Race) into something that must be regarded with reverence. The museums and galleries and Art magazines, university courses on Art Theory and people who call themselves ‘Artists’ as though that were an identity – these are what upset me. They make me want to scream.

Why is that?

The cast of Battlestar Galactica

The cast of Battlestar Galactica

I try so hard not to be prejudiced. I try to approach Art with an open mind. But I find, over and over again, that lovers of Art resist explaining their affection in terms of their relationship with their love object. They won’t simply say, I love this, this moves me, this excites me, this makes my life better – the kinds of insights that show a person’s humanity and promote fellow feeling. Rather, so often, in telling me about their passions they want to frame them in terms of their own superiority. Not only do they want to say, ‘I love this’, but also – ‘and if you don’t love this, then there is something wrong with you’. Not only, ‘This moves me’, but also, ‘and it moves me in a way that entertainment doesn’t move you’. Not only ‘This makes my life better’, but also, ‘If your life doesn’t have this in it, your life is less worthwhile than mine’. And when I say, but Big Brother moves me in the same way as Fellini moves you, I have had Art lovers tell me that it doesn’t. That there is no way that my response to that text could possibly be as subtle, as profound, as meaningful as is theirs to 8½. When I tell them that Battlestar Galactica excites me just as much as Barbara Hammer’s films do them, they disagree. They tell me that I’m wrong. That I don’t know true sublimity. As though they have lived inside both of our heads, and they know from comparison that their sensibilities are more profound than mine. Which makes me want to swear.

Watching television makes me a better person. It reinforces my best qualities. When I’m watching television I’m genuinely interested in the lives it shows me and the ways that are different from mine. I am joyful in the encounters it offers with difference. Because television doesn’t make Art’s claims that those who have different pleasures are inferior. Television is, as John Hartley puts it so well, the ultimate ‘cross-demographic’ medium, the host of ‘the smiling professions’. Television doesn’t want to put anybody offside. Television wants to bring everybody into the audience, smiling. Come in, sit down, laugh with me (except, of course, for Fox News. That’s an exception. It doesn’t represent television). The Simpsons may, quite rightly, mock intellectuals who think they are superior to everyone else (‘But you can’t hate me!’, yells Homer after his retreating friends, when the removal of a crayon from his brain boosts his IQ to genius levels and renders him an unbearable snob: ‘I’m your better!’); but it also includes jokes that only Art lovers will get (Thomas Pynchon appears in the cartoon, but only with a paper bag over his head). It speaks to different people, in different ways, at the same time. Television likes it audience, and flatters its viewers that their opinions matter – tell us what you think, says television, performing the belief that democracy is true and that what the individual thinks is important. And for television, it is true. It is a generous, warm, inviting, kind medium–defined by its desire to reach out and draw communities together. It is the ultimately civilized medium in that sense.

Thomas Pynchon on The Simpsons

Thomas Pynchon on The Simpsons

Television is civilized. But Art isn’t. If television is the natural home of the smiling professions, then Art is the world of the scowling professions. If television flatters its audience, then Art shouts at us. It tells me that I’m stupid, that I’m vulgar, that I’m not as good as Art lovers. That I have no soul and no insight and that therefore my opinions and views and loves and passions don’t matter. That I should leave the business of running culture–and, in an ideal world, politics and the public sphere as well–to my betters. To the poets and Artists who hate me and who will tell me what is good for me and what I am allowed to consume. All the while frowning and saying ‘should’ and waving their fingers at me angrily. Art–as I have experienced it in my years of study and social interaction with Art lovers–is about divisions, drawing lines in the sand–here is Art, here is not–and telling people that they are stupid and shallow and insensitive if they don’t like the same things as the Art lovers do. Art is, in this sense, barbaric. It’s full of hatred and it’s looking for a fight. It does not show us the best of ourselves. It shows us the worst. It makes me angry–pouring out expletives and invective in a way that lowers me as a person. Art brings me down to its own level. It makes me no better than itself.

While television shows us love and joy and intimacy and domestic lives and people listening to others.

Which may be at least one reason that I love television so very, very much.

Image Credits:
1. Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2
2. The cast of Battlestar Galactica
3. Thomas Pynchon on The Simpsons

Please feel free to comment.

image_print

70 comments

  • Stephen Harrington

    Why is TV ‘easy’?

    As always Alan, a great article. Provocative to be sure – exactly what online journals like Flow should be publishing.

    While I was reading your article, I couldn’t help but think about the way in which this way TV invites the gaze of anyone and everyone actually often makes TV Studies as an academic discipline seem less ‘worthy’ to outsiders.

    I know I have often had to fend off the odd criticism (albeit often tounge-in-cheek) that I am doing ‘a doctorate in watching television’ – that, because watching TV is enjoyable, it is somehow an ‘easy’ object of study (far more so than, say, science). If only good research was as easy as putting the telly on!

    Like art, it seems, the intellectual prowess of certain disciplines is too often defined by their level of exclusivity: the degree to which they’re obscure (and obscured) to the public. I think that boosting the image of television as a legitimate object of research is important, but, for those who study of ‘high’ art, it might seem a bitter pill to swallow.

  • The Art problem

    Thanks Alan, for an unapologetic praise of television. My problem with ‘Art’, in most of its manifestations, it its language of explanation (or non-explanation?). I consider myself a reasonably well-educated bloke, who can handle reasonably complex languages but I am usually baffled by the texts which accompanies art objects (catalogues, journals, those small-font labels on gallery walls). Maybe I expect art to be about communication (between artist and individual) but that is seldom the case–it is more often about obscurism, confusion, gibberish?The art world also fails to engage much with art-as-commodity. Who assigns ‘value’ to art objects; who sets or justifies the prices charged? why is art so highly prized as accumulated capital? who buys art? who persuades them to buy? What is the ideology of ‘art’? why aren’t these questions asked more often?

  • Thanks for that Geoff. You raise two important points. The first is the dangerous impact of modernism on the artworld (and on literature). Modernist theory assumes that accessibility is bad – if something is ‘easy’ or ‘facile’ it cannot challenge individuals to think for themselves, or challenge capitalism. This line of thought has a respected pedigree in cultural theory, but I think it’s nonsense. Jonathan Rose, in his book “The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes”, points out that modernist literary theory emerges in the UK at the start of the twentieth century – exactly when the expansion of education was producing, for the first time ever, a literate mass population. Modernist theory, by rejecting accessible writing such as Dickens, effectively rendered the masses illiterate again, introducing a whole new level of education that was required in order to be literate. Rose suggests – and I have to agree – that this is not a coincidence. Rather, it’s a way of keeping the masses in their place when it looked like they might become too uppity.

  • art as constraint

    Your second point is also important. Too often cultural theory is happy to do exegesis of artworks – what is this video artist saying about capitalism?, what is this performance artist’s critique of mass culture? – but only looks at the political economy of mass culture. They fail to see that the methodologies can be swapped and that you can just as easily – and we should – write exegesis of mass culture (what does David E Kelley have to say about happiness?) – and write about the political economy of art (how do the institutions of art work as constraints to exclude voices from the discourses of art?)

  • When TV comments on Art

    Great piece, Alan. Full of passion, something Art lovers I have encountered often seem to lack.

    This discussion has gotten me thinking about one prominent moment when TV took a stab at addressing the questions “A”rt raises: Six Feet Under’s Claire and her ongoing interest in being an “A”rtist. That series did an excellent job raising many of the same issues you have, and I imagine in exactly the ways that makes you more excited about TV than Art–it was complex, multifaceted, funny, poignant, and entertaining.

  • Nice work, Alan. I always knew you would grow up to share my values. Jane

  • “Poor old television”

    Provocative piece, Alan, reminding me of Charlotte Brunsdon’s plenary talk at SCMS in London (in 2005). She lamented how television (and Television Studies) has always been marginalized by the humanities, first as a poor substitute for more established cultural forms, and most recently as an archaic remnant of 20th century popular aesthetics.

    Your piece effectively speaks from the heart, and challenges the “Art” world to get it. I especially like your take on the hoary idea that “hard” things are more worthy than “easy” ones.

    That said, and maybe this is a kind of midlife crisis brought on by teaching too many first-year survey courses, or by having my media consumption severely constrained by parenthood, but I find myself impatient with television these days. I really want to love it more, but I’m only finding that love in fleeting moments (and in only two ongoing series, Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who).

    That said, it still beats the hell out of contemporary film!

  • Loving Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica. I also get intense pleasure from Drawn Together, Southpark, My Name is Earl, The Simpsons, House, The Amazing Race, the Australian (not the American) Big Brother, Agatha Christie’s Marple, the Australian Biggest Loser, and Australian Idol. I often enjoy Desperate Housewives, CSI (but not CSI Miama or NY), Law and Order (and sometime SVU and CI), and Ugly Betty.

  • TV rules yes

    “Moreso than cinema, radio, even than books?”

    I like TV too most of all. Why does grammar so hard?!

  • I honestly do think that television, to a certain extent, is very entertaining and worthwhile, but there are other things that are much more beneficial and productive to do in those hours that you spend idle in front of a screen that flashes bright images, allowing your brain to do absolutely no work, and probably promoting ADD. Also, you made some pretty broad generalizations of what art is, in aesthetic and television form, that makes sense to some people, obviously you, and to others not. I do not feel that someone can state that something is clearly art, and other things clearly not. I am glad that you enjoy watching TV so much and that it makes you reevaluate yourself in context to what you see on TV. In some ways that can be very interesting because when you watch a season after season of a show you do get very involved the characters and their personalities, as if they were really people you were associating with, and the people you interact on a daily basis do very much so help shape some of your personality traits. One thing I did not agree with was the point about TV not putting anyone on their offside, because TV is not all smiles and fun, and even if it is a comical or light-hearted show, there are people that can be affected in negative ways. Take for example, shows like “I Love Lucy”, funny, witty, easy to watch, but for some women watching that show, in its time, it can be upsetting and frustrating in the ways that the woman is purely the object of comic relief and never allowed any real power of her own. Even though she tries hard to go against Ricky’s wishes at times, in the end we are laughing at her and she is once again with him. Also, “Beulah” that featured an African American star, which was revolutionary at the time, put other African Americans on edge because she was portrayed so safely and non controversially so that the white audience wouldn’t be threatened. She was large so as to have no sex appeal and not very intelligent, so that it was not uncomfortable for the white family she worked for. She was basically portrayed as part of the white family American Dream, but not fully included at all. The last point I want to make is about the fact that art makes the person feel lower than the artists and that TV doesn’t, because I feel that some News shows can make people feel pretty low. Take for example in the late 1980’s during Reagan, the news constantly portrayed the social and moral dilemmas of society as being rooted in the inner cities, where primarily African Americans and people of color were living, which I think could make them feel pretty low and targeted.

  • Kate – thanks for that! I really liked the way you wrote – “those hours that you spend idle in front of a screen that flashes bright images, allowing your brain to do absolutely no work, and probably promoting ADD. Also, you made some pretty broad generalizations of what art is” – as though what you wrote about watching television wasn’t a generalization!

  • grammatical query…

    Don’t get Tom’s point. Is there a problem with “moreso than” in American English?

  • why isn’t criticism fun?

    great piece, Alan. As someone who has never understood the artificial divide between art and popular culture (it’s all the latter for me), I agree with you whole-heartedly about the oppressiveness of deifying “Art” and dismissing the pleasures and lessons TV offers. What I wonder though — and this is a conversation you and I have had before — is how can we make the act of critical engagement with television pleasurable; the joy that comes not only from caring about the characters and stories we currently see on TV, but also from the desire to see other characters presently absent? Might the democratization of media truly come from expressing pleasure in acts of participation (and not merely consumption), rather than the more negatively-tinged criticism often lobbied againt TV’s failings as “bad object”?

  • You put a smile on my face!

    TV brings you joy and your column brought me some joy! Thank you! I must admit, I took some glee in the tongue-lashing you gave ‘Art’. I know I lack the critical vocabularly to explain why I like some works of arts and I always feel inferior around ‘artists’ because of it. It’s true that there isn’t enough discussion of art in relation to feeling, passion, and emotion. I guess sometimes I wonder why everything has to be explained with words? Why can’t we just ‘feel’ some things? I don’t know how else to explain why the most moving works of art make me want to cry…why isn’t that good enough? It probably has to do with the mind/body dualism. Bodily responses are devalued in our culture…which is probably why I too love TV so much! Within a few shows, heck, even within one show you can feel so many emotions – happiness, sadness, anger – it opens up a space for feeling in a world which often seems to lack any real feeling or connection to others…

  • Stephanie Sedhom

    TV as art??

    I have a few issues to respond to in this article. Firstly, when was the distinction made from TV and art? If TV is so revered as McKee claims, then why isn’t it categorized as an art form in itself? Also, a definition of what forms of art that are so infuriating to McKee would have been a helpful clarifying point because art can be appreciated at so many levels and in so many different capacities so it is hard to lump the whole spectrum into one criticism. Next, McKee claims that television asks audiences to “come in, sit down, laugh with me”. The first question to arise from this is what level of entertainment are you aiming for? I am not claiming that art is a more valuable or fulfilling outlet of entertainment, but it does provoke more than simple laughs. Also, we must then ask, what are we (as audiences of TV) laughing at? While the shows might be highly entertaining, we are subtly reinforcing the hegemonic codes of our society that have been instilled casually through the repetition of their presence in our entertainment.

  • Avi – the question about loving television or hating it is distinct from the question about participation versus non-participation. Many people who love TV also participate in its creation; as do some who hate TV. And some people who hate TV create nothing for broadcast; as do some who love it.For my favourite example of critical participation in TV – see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W01UJl5LOJs

    This is the critical creative work of massive TV fan Russell T Davies. He remakes Titanic for a radical queer audience and gets it broadcast at primetime to a mass audience. Gotta love it!

  • TV and ART

    I myself enjoy television. I based my whole schedule on TV shows, one after the other. Thus I do agree that TV is very entertaining and fun to watch. And I also think TV can be very educational, if touched and looked at the right way. For example, in my film class we watched several TV shows and movies that opened my eyes just how many hidden messages Television conveys. It conveys many different types of genres, which then show different types of stereotypes, racism, and political comedy. I do agree that Television is better than radio, and books, because it brings both into one. For example, the movie on Harry Potter, was even better than the books because it brought real live visuals to the text. However, I do believe that art is very complex and just as important. Art allows controversy and conversation, it allows ones education to explore different and abstract abilities to shine. Though artist and art can be frustrating and seem as if they “know it all”, some TV shows can make many frustrated as well. For example, Beauty on the Geek, how they portray white blonde women as “stupid,” and ugly short men as “geeks.” Also, Cops is another show that can frustrate and belittle the African American culture, by portraying white as “good” and Blacks as “evil.” I do agree with you that Television brings us to a non worrisome; however, I do believe that some TV shows can belittle people just like art can.

  • I found this article very interesting. I really liked how Alan compared television and art. When first reading this article I thought the author was going to make television seem beneath art, however I was wrong. I think television receives a lot of critism because television has changed so much. Not only has it changed but it has become more and more influential to our society. Television is a huge mass media. Television is also a huge part of everyday life. Because it is heavily used I think it is overlooked as a good thing. When talking about television, many focus on all the bad things on television. This article shows the other side of television. It shows television is a new and good light. I know that I love to watch television especially after a long day at school. It relaxs me and gets my mind off of things going on in my life. Television has so many different programs to watch. Television is made to engage and keep its viewers watching, what isn’t there to love about televison.

  • I don’t think questions of loving television should be marked from questions of participation. Too often, participation is encouraged only as an act of hatred, resistance, disdain, etc. toward what television already offers. Too often, the academic argument that is made suggests that audiences that love TV passively consume it and only those that hate TV actively seek to transform it. Your youtuber is a perfect example of how flawed that rationale is, since it clearly takes a great deal of love to critically engage in the way Davies does. All I am saying is that media scholars need not only to confess their love for TV — as you do here — but also to turn love into a transformative tool for encouraging students (and ourselves) to be proactive critics and producers rather than reactive nay-sayers.

  • TV as a hegemonic or liberating medium?

    You have presented many valid points about TV and art, which I will not negate. I agree that artists do not offer insight and do not promote fellow feelings. I also find it true that artist constantly divide what is art and what isn’t art. But there is a reason why TV is not usually considered art. You mentioned that TV is civilized; it is a warm and inviting medium and desires to bring people together; bring people together to conform to the hegemonic and dominant representations on TV. There are often subliminal messages on TV programs that go invisible because they have become so naturalized and we are often in a state of ease. The TV does that to the spectator; hence why it is called the ‘boob tube.’ I am victim to its ability of being able to keep you watching mindlessly for hours, but it is important to analyze what you are watching and what is being enforced. TV might not subjugate artists the way artists say that those who have different pleasures are inferior, but it does little to challenge the systems of domination: white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy, as Sut Jhally describes.

    The Cosby Show is a wholesome, family show. But its portrayal of a black family at the time is inaccurate. I find it hard to believe that such a family could exist. They were a middle-class, successful, black family, where Cliff was a doctor and his wife was a lawyer. Even though gender relations were fair, the depiction of race at the time was rather ideal.

    The show “Julia,” on the other hand, addressed race relations at the cost of gender. Julia was continually subjugated and suppressed by men.

    TV may show love, joy, intimacy, and domestic lives, but all of these elements reinforce a world of inequalities and inaccurate portrayals, which cause people to think a certain way. Domestic lives on TV have usually kept women in the kitchen or household and left the male to hold the lead role and be the hero. Women rarely hold both narrative and performative power. “I Love Lucy” is a perfect example of this because Lucy wins performatively by being funny, but loses narratively because she is constantly battling patriarchy. It is important to evaluate if our laughing at what we see on TV is actually an indication of the reinforcement of hegemony and dominant ideologies.

  • Dear Stephanie,

    You ask ‘Firstly, when was the distinction made from TV and art?’

    It’s not me who makes that distinction. I’m happy to call The Amazing Race “art”. But if you can find me one ‘History of Art’ degree at a University that includes a exegesis of a reality television program as part of the curriculum, I’ll give you a month’s wages.

    Alan

  • TV Or Art?

    I believe that art and television are two very complex matters that can’t be compared on such broad terms. However, I definitely agree that no one can tell you that you are wrong when you say something excites you just as much as art may excite some people. Everyone is different with what they enjoy and get excited about and just because one person gets excited about something that others might view as unimportant doesn’t mean anything about that person. They are just different people with different opinions and interests. TV is just another form of art. it is creative, insightful, interesting, and entertaining and it should be respected as such. Just because some art lovers don’t see it as art doesn’t mean it is not.

  • Dear Avi,

    an interesting point – what counts as participation in the public sphere? Is teaching a class participation in the distribution of ideas? Writing a newspaper article? talking to friends? Making a video which is only ever seen by family? Or is it only participation when it’s broadcast to two million people? I address these questions in two recent book chapters – • (2004) ‘How to tell the difference between production and consumption: a case study in Doctor Who fandom’, in Sara Gwenllian Jones and Roberta E Pearson (eds) Worlds Apart: Essays on Cult Television, Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, pp167-186.

    • (2007) ‘Theory fans’ in Jonathan Gray, Cornel Sandvoss and C. Lee Harrington eds, Fan Audiences: Cultural Consumption andIdentities in a Mediated World, NYU, in press.

  • Dear Sofia,

    I would say that Art is more hegemonic than mass culture – it certainly Others and Orientalises the working classes. We should definitely not hold it up as an example of good cultural practice! There is a far wider range of voices heard on television than is heard in Art!

    Alan

  • Peter Martino-Beer

    TV as ART

    I recently ran into a pompous artist who measured the quality of his Art by how much money some wealthy pig would pay for it. Art can not be measured in dollars and cents, nor should it be regarded to for its material value. Art is a representation coming from the time from which it was conceived, it consists of emotions, intentions, and historical representations. Art is the way we ‘see’ things, either imaginative or existent. Art should not stand in for its representational value, but can stand as a subjective comment on its workings.

    TV as a cross demographic medium is a brilliant point! TV is a domestic tool used to “civilize” one’s house especially here in the US. It is important to note the differences between TV and “real” life. Especially in “reality” TV programs. In Alan McKee’s article he suggests that the differences between his own life and the one’s represented on TV are part of his love for TV. I also find it interesting to note the representations that are not shown on TV. Is it according to these representations that TV creates that we begin to understand our own cultural ideologies? What are our options if we do not fit into the realm of the televisual world? Do these people just go unaccounted for?

    It is oftentimes through TV that we refer to the past as it “was.” Leave it to Beaver, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett; these shows created “real” representations of the model family, that of which American families aspired to. Television is a form of societal, historical Art. “Television itself also constituted a significant social site for shaping, defining, contesting, and representing claims about American Society.” -Herman Gray from his book “Watching Race.” In the same sense that Art relates to the time from which it was conceived, TV works to comment on and explain society from the time from which it was produced.

    Being a “piece of historical evidence” leaves the idea of Television in the past, while it is still quite a new medium of mass communication. Television, since its introduction in the late 1880’s has become an essential part of the every American’s household. TV is able to communicate to billions of people on a national level, making it one of the most useful forms of mass communication. I believe that progress created Television, however progressive representations fail to permeate. What do you think? Is Television progressive or representative? Is Art progressive or is it merely historical?

  • Art Versus Television

    While I understand your point, and certainly find it quite captivating, I find your discussion of television to be similar to the superiority you seem to have found expressed by all artists. Furthermore, art as a whole is comprised of so many things (television included) that I can only assume you mean art in its traditional sense (which is not necessarily specified).

    I also must point out that I believe television can be just as exclusive, and perhaps just as unwelcoming, as some of the art and artists you mentioned. Programs and advertisements saturated with ideologies dictate what to think, what or who is superior, how to act, etc. etc. In fact, I believe it does so even more frequently than art. Television is exceedingly more blunt and certainly harsher.

    Again however, your discussion is appreciated and definitely interesting.

  • Here’s to televison…well at least some televison

    This article brings to light the notions of high culture and low culture. High culture, described in this article, is what typically hangs on museum walls; low culture is described as a more universal and accessible art form-like television. Television is often sneered at,regarded as a mindless,unproductive form of entertainment/art. It is easy to see how negative opinions regarding television are generated; while flipping through basic cable on a weekday, one encounters a lot of garbage television (lacking in aesthetic appeal and primarily there to sell some stupid product, etc.). Yes, a majority of television is of rather poor quality-but then again one could say this about art. An infomercial seems like television’s version of paint aimlessly thrown across a canavas (to each his/her own opinion about art). I feel that a lot of people who deem television as “low culture” have not broadened their television horizon enough to properly formulate an opinion. There is a small demographic (cough, cough HBO)of television that I view as “high culture”. It takes a tremendous amount of ingenuity and artistic vision to have a successful show on television today. So much has been done throughout the history , that it takes something really artistic and clever to grab the attention of the American (and global) audience. This brings me back to my earlier point about HBO. HBO, since the late 1970’s, has redefined the television art form and standard. Current programs like The Sopranos, The Wire, Entourage, and last but certainly not least Curb Your Enthusiasm all exhibit a level of sophistication, that in my opinion labels them as “high culture”. The writing, film aesthetics, and production needed to perpetuate these series are top of the line. These programs are basically 30-60 minute mini films. The topics and character development require a level of mental sophistication needed to say…insightfully comment on a piece of modern art. Perhaps television is the new,descendant of traditional art. Paintings of the Renaissance depicted topics and lifestyles of the era, much like television does today. “Good” television, like the aforementioned examples, is a new(er) form of high culture/art. So before you dismiss all television as low culture and mindless entertainment, think about future generations. On top of traditional art, future generations will look at the art form of television as an insightful and creative art form that speaks volumes about a period’s social, political, economic, and popular climate.

  • Art as uncivilized?

    I must say Alan that I found your article very interesting. I agree with many of your positions on the relationship between art and television. However, I would not necessarily say art is “uncivilized.” Perhaps it has more to do with the way civilization has become. In the past, before the introduction of television into American culture, the public much more commonly viewed art. However once televisions became household items, many forms of art began to decrease. Whether it was traditional “art”, theatre or even film. People of today’s society have not had the same interaction with traditional art that generations before may have had. They grew up with television instead of paintings, Homer Simpson instead of Picasso. In recent years, society has become even more drawn to television with the popularity of reality television. These shows allow the viewer to become intrigued being that they can relate to these situations, perhaps having been in the same sort of situation before. With art though, many people do not understand it. They have not had the same constant bombardment of classical renaissance paintings that they have had with television programming. Also, Television allows viewers to be involved and make a difference. With shows such as American Idol, viewers can send in their votes and in turn control the outcome. With art, people typically do not have a say. They can not decide which pieces of art stay and go, therefore they must deal with the ones they do not like along with the ones they may enjoy. At the end of the day, when people are done with work and all of the other hassles of their life, they want an escape. Whereas some people may find this escape by viewing art, this is not the case with most of society. Viewing fancy paintings and traditional art may seem like a hassle and a mental workout for lots of people. They do not want to deal with such artistic and mentally stimulating subjects after a long day. They want something that they can turn off their brains while viewing. This perhaps explains why the art community looks down upon television and feels they are ‘superior’, due to the fact that people indulge in such ‘trashy’ shows. But in the end, perhaps people can relate better to trash. This is not to say that American society has become ‘trash’, but rather perhaps viewing shows of such nature makes them feel better about themselves. I agree very much with what you were saying about the way you deal with art. While looking at art, people may feel intimidated, perhaps even less intelligent. While watching shows of more trashy nature however, they feel superior. A good example of this would be the USA Network’s recent campaign for their program WWE Raw. Wrestling has notoriously been labeled as trashy television. However in recent commercials they have shown real life viewers explaining the reasons they enjoy watching the show. These include doctors, firemen, EMT’s and other established members of society. They are not what most people would consider trashy, but like everyone else, they occasionally like something fun that doesn’t require too much brainpower. Perhaps one day we can find a balance between the traditional art community and television.

  • TV is for the people

    Television is definitely the art that I spend the most time watching or looking at, but before this article I never really wondered why. All summer between high school and college, I watched television, but why did I choose to do this over other things. I have come up with the idea that one of the reasons is one the same reasons you stated, TV does not judge the viewer (in most cases), it allows us to watch with the comfort that nothing “unexpected” will happen. Another reason I believe television to be so culturally dominant is that what is being watched is what people want to watch, in a sense it is a viewer controlled medium. If an audience does not like a show it records low ratings and is cancelled. We are watching something we want to to watch. It mirrors the values of democracy that other art forms do not. A movie is made because a company thinks it will make money, but the content of what movies are made is not controlled by popular demand. An example is “The Fantastic Four” a film that grossed 150 million dollars in the United States, but in my opinion was not accepted as a good film. However, because the movie made so much money a sequal is being made. In TV if the audience rejects the content, then the content does not get continued. My final reason for TV as such a popular medium is escapism. Through certain television shows people can escape their lives weekly, possibly 7 days a week if there is a show on every night that the person likes and trusts. For an hour or a half hour a day someone can escape their lives and their problems and laugh or cry at someone else’s life.

  • Marcelino Guzman

    Television has now become a hegemonic source of art because is has provided the world with entertainment and information. It has so much power to send different types of messages through the form of entertainment. I really enjoyed reading about the relationship between television and art and the way in which he demonstrated that for him television was his form of art. It gave me a different perspective of how television is a form of art I always saw it as a medium of entertainment and nothing more.

    To me television has become bombarded with forms of media that are biased with different their own opinions that it doesn’t bring out the truth anymore. Different sources of news give different portrayal of events that have happened, they only give us some facts and not all of them. They also always tend to highlight events that are of race related. (i.e. black guy robbing a store or a rapping) They tend to shy away from crimes that have been committed by Caucasian individuals. I just think that television has power to do so much but because of what they think is intriguing to viewers. In reality, it’s the truth that we are seeking.

  • Ryoji Yoshimura

    TV is Idealized

    I agree what you say. “Television is civilized. But Art isn’…If television flatters its audience, then Art shouts at us.”

    I think TV has to be idealized to acquire many audiences. Not like movies or paintings, TV shows are sponsored by commercial companies. If the show can’t get the audience, the sponsor stops funding. Naturally, producers try to make ideal TV shows that can attract as many audiences as possible.

    Thus, TV shows, especially sitcoms, often illustrate upper middle-class families. They contain wealth, laughs, and family loves. And people want to see such happy life on the TV. The basic narratives are usually same in all sitcoms; they are all happy endings. That’s why TV doesn’t have strong opinions. It isn’t aggressive but idealized.

  • Megg Sicotte-Kelly

    Are We Being Fair to Art?

    When I was first reading your article I felt that I agreed whole-heartedly. For once it seemed that someone in the public sphere was validating my love of television. However, after reading through the comments and thinking more about the point of the piece, I realized that I hold a slightly different opinion. As someone who has progressed through academia by beginning with a focus on literature, then on theatre and “fine art,” and at long last deciding upon becoming a film major, I feel that I have some measure of insight into the comparison of “art” and television.

    While it is true that there is a high level of pompousness and elitism among actors and artists (which is one of the many reasons why I left the field) I feel that there is an injustice being done to “art” in your piece, and by the same measure, television. Although many creators of “art” often fancy themselves above the general population, this not necessarily true of all artists. In the past many have faced public disdain, and their works have been viewed in the same way that we view television. Take Jane Austen, for example. She is simply the writer of romance novels. Or look at Charles Dickens, who was paid by the word to write an episodic story for a newspaper. To me, this seems very similar to the format of television. It is time that has given the great pieces of art their importance, and it is time that has allowed us to forget all the mediocre works that were produced alongside of them. Because television is such a young medium, it has not had time to become recognized as an established art form. Think of how movies were received when they were first released–they were viewed as entertainment for the uneducated and the poor. I feel that as time passes we will be able to view television as the art form that it is. I believe that shows such as Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, The Riches (although it is perhaps too soon to tell) and Heroes will be acknowledged as the amazing works of “art” and not just television that they are.

    However, I do agree that the popularity and accessibility of television is one of the ways in which it outshines more traditional art. It’s rare that I’ve heard someone say that they saw a painting which made them question their values by showing them a different side of a situation, but it is a comment I’ve often heard made of television. By working in a medium that has more verisimilitude to life, we are able to make clear points about the way that people live. Take Battlestar Galactica, for example. Although it is set in a futuristic world in which robotic Cylons are the enemy, it shows the American people what it is like to be on the weaker side of a war, and live with enemy occupation. It puts us in a situation where we must question whether what we view as terrorist actions might in fact be the right thing to do when viewed by the weaker side. In short, it puts us in the situation of the Iraqi people.

    I don’t know that I could say the same thing about a painting.

  • Art and television are two very different, unique genres. Both allow one to escape from reality and enter a world where fantasy prevails. To me, these two genres should not be compared on the levels that Alan Mckee is comparing them on, since they bring such different emotion to my mind. When watching television I am able to escape from what is going on in my life at the time, focusing in on someone else’s life, crying, laughing, and being afraid with the characters on the television program, allows me to connect with the people on TV. When looking at a piece of art I feel a connection more with the artist rather than with the subject of the painting. Both of these genres can appear uncivilized. For example, on television one could say that the reality television program, The Real World is uncivilized, promoting sex and drinking. In the art world, one could say that Jackson Pollack’s art is uncivilized and just a bunch of paint splattered on a canvas. Both The Real World, and Jackson Pollack are entertainment for some and not entertaining for others. I feel as though we should take into account that everyone has different feelings on what is entertainment and what is considered pointless. Personally, I love both art and television and feel as though they entertain me on different levels, affecting me in different ways.

  • Genevieve Brown

    Alan Mckee loves television so much that he compares it to art, and I have to agree. I’m a Television junky and I could watch over 8 hours of television and feel like it’s important in life. I believe that Television is a form of art because it’s through of expression of on going images, just like art. Alan Mckee compares televison to art, and artist doesn’t agree to what he is saying. Television is a non stop market that needs the audience to parcipant in the revenue of watching their shows. Television just like Art have fans who watch and owns shows.

  • Zachary Williams

    “objective” art snobs and deconstructing pleasure…

    I can’t agree that television can actually make one a better person but it definitely reinforces underlying cultural morals. However in order to fully understand the ways in which television does this it is necessary to deconstruct ones pleasure they receive from the television while at the same time maintaining that same opiate like feeling from watching the array of pixels which that most Americans receive every day for hours on end. I believe that if you have the ability to simultaneously do both at once you can get your money’s worth (in a sense, from the constant advertising) by being entertained by T.V. and at the same time have a greater comprehension of how modern day media monopolies are the sole proprietors of these cultural values, myths and morals.I must agree that the notion in many art critic and art conisours head’s that they are all but too objective in their dissection of taste is actually one of the most SUBJECTIVE thing one can ever do! It must arise from a type of passion they have regarding whatever art piece if form they are focusing on.

  • I guess when it comes to TV and Art I would agree that they are way different from each but I do believe that they work well together. Art undoubtedly influences a lot of what is on TV from the ways in which cartoons are made to the emotions that they invoke. For the most part I would agree that TV is more entertaining at times but art is what you make it and it makes different people feel different things they connect in different ways. For the most part TV would do the same but it’s made to seem more active you can put a name to a face in a sense characters drawings come to life and seem more relatable.

  • TV as art?

    Television is a viable art form at this point in time. While the main focus of any television network is getting people to watch, a plethora of quality programming has managed to make it to the mainstream through the years. I can think of a number of shows that have challenged the viewers’ perception of the medium, shows that “draw lines in the sand” so to speak. This is not to say that every program that tries something new should be considered art, but at least works to push television as an art form forward.

  • Why is TV degraded?

    TV is degraded because it appeals to mass audiences. TV is the essence of popular culture, and anything that has been liked by the masses has been degraded by the elite. Degrading popular culture is an easy way to control the masses. If people do not value their own opinions then they are inclined to follow the opinions of others. Other forms of art are a perfectly fine medium for displaying emotion, but it should not degrade TV.

    Although TV is a powerful art form that has potential to speak to the masses. We should never forget that TV is controlled by the networks. TV has a purpose, and its purpose is to shove advertisements into people’s heads. TV is an amazing medium, but we must always be aware of the people controlling TV.

  • Dumbing down/Smarting up television.

    Your article makes me wonder whether or not your preference to television over other mediums of art is purely based on bad experiences with pompous elitists that have shunned their superiority complexes onto you. Of course television’s influence on society in instilling certain values and ideals is ever-present, but to say that it “makes me a better person” seems somewhat contrived. Your personal connection with TV, as it works to makes you a better person, and reinforce your best qualities is not a bad thing – but to disregard other forms of art because of the people that are associated with it does not make for a credible point. I agree that television should not be projected as a mindless form of entertainment, that there is quality programming significant to and relevant to society and its conditions. However, there is a plethora of programming that works against and manipulates viewers. Representations present on TV might prove to be important in reinforcing your “best” qualities, but do you take into account the huge amount of representations not present on television? It’s unfortunate that ostentatious “art-lovers” are have corrupted your view of the true beauty and value of art, but I don’t believe that that presence should hold such an influence on your perception of art. I respect your opinion of Big Brother as being able to move you the same way that 8 1⁄2 does, but for me, to express that is doing so for the sake of ‘getting back’ at those snooty art-lovers that have discredited your opinions of television. 8 1⁄2‘s aesthetic characteristics, for me, contain some of the most beautiful imagery on film, while my idea of Big Brother has always been critical, particularly of the writers and producers who I find to be manipulative of the general public. I don’t understand how a surrealistic narrative such as 8 1⁄2 can really be compared in the same way as Big Brother. Perhaps your assertion that television works to “bring everyone together” is right – a show like The Simpsons is evidence of a program that has evolved into a large part of high culture and has done so by critiquing that culture. But a show like Big Brother, to me, seems to be manipulative of television viewers, exploiting certain aspects of ‘reality’ for your pure entertainment.

  • Neidi Dominguez

    TV as a form of Art…

    Your points and examples are very clear and understandable; however I feel that by generalizing the image of an “art lover”, you overlook the importance of explaining why we enjoy something, and rather you emphasize the personality of those you have encountered which do not represent every “art lover”. You referred to this art lovers and stated, “they won’t simply say, I love this, this moves me, this excites me, this makes my life better – the kinds of insights that show a person’s humanity and promote fellow feeling”, but instead would say, “I love this’, but also – ‘and if you don’t love this, then there is something wrong with you’. Not only, ‘This moves me’, but also, ‘and it moves me in a way that entertainment doesn’t move you’. Not only ‘This makes my life better’, but also, ‘If your life doesn’t have this in it, your life is less worthwhile than mine”. This might be true but it is important that ‘we’ as the audience or viewers can and should explain why we enjoy or dislike something. Rather than just watch something for the sake of watching, and just complacently digest everything we watch without questioning why we ‘love’ it and or ‘hate’ it, or just completely could careless. I think it is important to engage and invest ourselves in what we are watching and most importantly if we enjoy it and consume so much of it. I am paying for extra channels I would like to be able to explain why, not just because everyone else has 1000-something channels, so I should have them too and its ‘cool’. I feel that TV is a form of art and just as much as enjoy Frida Kahlo’s art and also enjoy the Food Network, and I can tell you why!

  • Television as a medium for the marginilzed

    In regards to the discussion above of television as a medium being hegemonic I would have to agree with Alan. (As well as on the point of The Simpsons as an art form–indeed it is.)

    My specific reason for feeling that television acts counter-hegemonically is that it traditionally has been a medium that has allowed people marginalized by society to broadcast subversive messages. For instance, in regards to the liberal news media, television provides us with The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, the only example of its kind, although it would be better classified as fair and balanced rather than “liberal.” The New York Times could be regarded as a very sophisticated and therefor “artful” newspaper, but it promotes the intellectual superiority complex displayed by Homer Simpson in the “crayon lodged in brain” episode, and therefore The Times isn’t providing a non-biased viewpoint in the way that The Daily Show/Colbert Report do because it operates under the pretense that only the very well educated will consume it.

    But apart from delivering subversive political views, the most important counter-hegemonic trait of television in my opinion is that in its comparatively short history been a feminist medium. I say this because of shows such as Buffy and Alias with female heroines and also because of the earlier performances of Lucille Ball and Gracie Allen (in “I Love Lucy and “The George Burns and Gracie Allen shows respectively). Although the production techniques of both of these shows served to undermine the performances of Gracie and Lucy, they were nonetheless allowed a certain performative freedom that has women have historically been denied. (As objects of “the male gaze” in nude paintings and sculptures for instance.)

    While it could be argued that women have an equal chance to excel in art, as a hegemonic institution most great female artists have been suppressed, and the only artists that the average joe can recall by name are, “uhh I dunno Leonardo (he’s the purple one) Davinci and Michelangelo (the yellow one).” Both male.

    But then there’s Buffy.

  • Robert DiPersio

    Why I Love Art SO MUch!

    I don’t find this article fair to many artists whom work hard to bring a real message to an audience rather than the mindless entertainment that T.V. tends to represent. The author claims to approach art with an open mind but it seems like he has never listened to a good record, or been to an amazing museum. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but there comes a point when it becomes offensive. He talks about being moved and changed by television which I almost never experience so i resort to my itunes or youtube in which I can access my desires. He says “Watching television makes me a better person. It reinforces my best qualities. When I’m watching television I’m genuinely interested in the lives it shows me and the ways that are different from mine.” Wow, this makes me laugh becasue I feel exactly the opposite. Characters on television are always represented unrealisticly unless it is a documentary. Listening to a good poet or “rapper” over a funky hip-hop beat makes me a better person because I’m listening to a real life persepctive that intriques me rather than watching stereotypes of society. Non-fiction art represents reality and helps me become a better person in a truer sense than fictional T.V. I’d much rather read a good book than watch T.V. Television seems to be an easy form of escape requiring little effort to experience but again its just my opinion. Open your eyes and step outside!

  • Nicholas Rigopoulos

    TV and Art: One in the same or vastly different?

    I would just like to comment that television, like high Art, is simply a method of expression…of communicating a message or group of messages from an author to an audience. The value of such messages is calculated solely by the audience: the author, again, is simply communicating an idea. High Art lovers, those who claim superiority over those who enjoy more ‘vulgar’ methods of entertainment, such as television, film, or even comic books, generally frame that superiority on circumstantial qualities their Art possesses: its old age and the time period it was created in, for example. Or maybe the importance of its author to history. I would argue these things are irrelevant to the Art itself; only the appreciation Art inspires in its audience is of importance. Whether the Art in question is Family Guy, or a Todd McFarlane Batman book, or a Rembrandt, it is the feelings engendered in its viewing audience that truly designate the importance of the piece.

  • Why is art the target here?

    I think the REAL target in the whole media theory debate ought to be politics. I find myself negatively disposed toward politics for all the same reasons Alan points out: people are always drawing lines and making distinctions and telling you that if you don’t know, for example, THEIR version of the entire history of the Middle East you’re not entitled to your own opinion about the wars taking place over there.

    I have plenty of friends, and they’re usually the ones who lord it over me and the rest of you with their “art” and how it’s so much richer and more meaningful than mine, who tell me that I don’t know enough about politics because I don’t know what they know. Because I haven’t done the “work” that they’ve done. Since when is democratic politics supposed to be work.

    THAT’S undemocratic, as far as I’m concerned: to impose some kind of labor litmus test on people, to expect that their opinions reflect some arbitrary level of “being informed” and then to discount their opinions if they don’t attain that imagined standard.

    Whereas watching Laguna Beach lets me hang out and relax with my friends — to feel with them their small triumphs and setbacks, to expand my sphere of human caring; politics always feels like an accusation in the same way “art” functions in Alan’s piece. Politics makes demands and is self-righteous, politics tells me I don’t know enough, politics polarizes and hierarchizes. It’s the opposite of Laguna Beach.

    My TV studies dream would be if we could take the politics off the TV and out of the debate…Then TV studies could be just like Laguna Beach: a place for me to hang out with my friends. Thanks to Alan for nudging us in that direction. I think that’s why he’s received so many responses.

  • Is elitism not elitism if it’s inverted?

    McKee merely finds a way to usurp the position of the snobs and turn their scorn back upon them. Not sure what the point of that is except to justify his own tastes by denigrating theirs — something that he ought to reject out of hand instead of reproducing. And if he thinks he’s being somehow subversive through this inversion, I fear he’s much mistaken. Power is not on the side of the cultural elites, pace Bush, Rove and John Howard. The elites are the people who have real economic and political power and they’re the ones who are only to happy to foment hatred toward artists and intellectuals. Maybe a piece like this can imagine itself subversive in the context of the university, but don’t confuse that with the world at large, in which all it’s doing is serving the purveyors of popular culture. I hope McKee is at least getting a cut…

    I read McKee’s piece and it feels just as elitist — in the sense of being judgemental, overbearing, and intolerant — as the elitism he ostensibly contests in the name of “democracy.” Lighten up and let people have their art…does your TV have to be better than their art for you to appreciate it.

  • Erin Elizabeth Schreiner

    Thank you, Allen, for sharing your feelings. I am one of those creepy people who actually feels exhilerated in Museums, and I have something to say about Art.

    The fact is that Art is a system that is in dialogue with itself as much as, if not more than, it is with the rest of cultural activity, and that makes it difficult to understand because it requires so much background information. If you don’t care about the 1913 Armory Show, that’s fine with me, but please don’t hate on me for caring. I don’t know a thing about televion history, but television is a medium that doesn’t ask anything of me. I’m free to sit down with a mug of tea and enjoy Six Feet Under (and I do) because it’s about people in the world that I can relate to because I am also a person in the world. I never even thought of the things mentioned in another post about Claire the aritst, I just liked watching her and her family. Does that make my experience incomplete? I would argue no based on your article.

    I like that Art asks a lot of me as a consumer. It makes my relationship with it more meaningful because I’ve worked hard to get to where I’m at. I’m sorry that there are people like me it who feel the need to define their identity through what is essentially a religious experience with Art and forget that they are just people in the world. I agree with you that people who call themselves “Artists” are annoying and pretentious, but the fact is that so are a lot of actors/writers/producers/etc. Los Angeles is full of just as many idiots as Williamsburg is, they’re just different breeds. Is one better than the other? Quite honestly, I don’t care. I’m just glad that there are people like you who make me think about TV, because otherwise I wouldn’t do it. TV makes me feel like it’s told me everything I need to know. Art asks me to figure it out. I like doing that, and I don’t think that I need to apologize for it.

  • That was great. Reading the piece, thinking about what you were referring to, hearing similar thoughts bounce lightly in my head, and lots of other things made me happy. I can say I loved reading it, I can tell you what about it (honesty and complexity) captivated me most, what (clever turns of phrase) I reread and why.
    I do think, however, that I can have (both?)an emotional, “human” response, and one that is rewarded by analysis. I am sure you employ as much a twosome when you write.
    An earlier point in the comments is well made: the definition of art you use is unclear. Academic interrogation, even definition, of Art is varied and fractured, and all that is still just the academic notion of it. Great piece, but don’t you think at least a part of what makes something art is the possibility and nature of rewards discussion (including watercooler talk)and analysis would bring? Which would include a lot more than I think you are allowing for here.

  • Television does not bring us closer together or make our lives more meaningful or make us freer, smarter, or wiser human beings. It dulls the senses, does not ask difficult questions, smothers the imagination in brightly coloured images and advertises products that we ultimately don’t need. If you want diversity or excitement in your life, you can find all of that by simply going outside and meeting people. Travel, read a book, try something new. TV is a waste of time. Life is already short enough. Go out and live your life and stop watching fictional characters live theirs.

  • this is so stupid and this blog with that tv desing is so cheap .. pleae change that .. if you want to make money out of a blog be creative dont take us back to the 40’s when the rainbo..w tv screen this is pure shit ,,

  • fuck you bitc hhhhhh se me hace q hasta en la carcel has de estar infeliz por andar de enredadora y piojosa y no te digo mas por que no quiero !!

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