I’ve never been much of a TV watcher. I’ve gone through some major parts of my life with no TV at all, and many more not really watching any.
But over the last eight months or so, via the miracle of Netflix, I’ve caught up on some of the shows everyone says “you just gotta see” - House of Cards, Mad Men, The Killing, Walking Dead, Lilyhammer, Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, Battlestar Galactica (at least the first three seasons; it crashed to a halt in Season 4) and a few others.
It’s commonly said that we’re in a third “Golden Age of Television”. And if you are a picker and chooser, the amount of quality TV out there is pretty amazing (although given how much TV there is out there compared with 40 years ago, I’m not sure the quality-to-dreck ratio is that much better).
But something’s always nagged at me about this boom in quality – from the Sopranos’ New Jersey full of strip clubs and body dumping grounds to Breaking Bad’s Albuquerque full of tweakers, TV is focusing on flyoverland like it never, ever did in its earlier eras (Mary Tyler Moore’s Minneapolis and Happy Days’ Milwaukee were thematic window-dressing)…
…and it’s pretty alarming.
John Podhoretz identifies it:
[Brett Martin, author of the book "Difficult Men", about the producers behind the current era in TV] notes that there was something explicitly political at work in the early days of what he calls television’s “Third Golden Age.” Americans “on the losing side” of the 2000 election, Martin writes, “were left groping to come to terms with the Beast lurking in their own body politic.” As it happened, “that side happened to track very closely with the viewerships of networks like AMC, FX, and HBO: coastal, liberal, educated, ‘blue state.’ And what the Third Golden Age brought them was a humanized red state. . . . This was the ascendant Right being presented to the disempowered Left—as if to reassure it that those in charge were still recognizably human.”
Of course, the “recognizably human” people who dared vote for George W. Bush were all sociopathic or psychopathic crooks: Tony Soprano, Walter White (note the name) of Breaking Bad, the polygamous Mormon Bill Henrickson on Big Love, and others. They were the characters at the center, and they were indeed fully human.
Less human, but no less emblematic? ”Peter Griffin”.
Anyway, J-Po finds the part that’d been nagging at me:
It’s the depiction of the worlds in which they live that is so striking, even more so in the series that have come along since the body politic’s shift to the left, beginning in 2006. The canvas on which these characters are brought to three-dimensional life isn’t a “humanized red state” at all, but rather the red state of liberal horror fantasy.
The whole thing is worth a read.