Cultural engagement

The cover of the September 20/27, 2013 Entertainment Weekly, its Fall TV Preview, says “get the scoop on 119 shows, PLUS the best new series.” If I need a reminder that the medium has diffused, that’ll do it.

Yet on two successive episodes of the Bat Segundo Show podcast, host Ed Champion declares that there is an “American epidemic of gravitating to mainstream culture in an age of limitless choice.” He and guest Kiese Laymon discuss “why America is terrified of rich and variegated cultural engagement.” Then Champion and Alissa Quart dissect “how outsiders and iconoclasts have been appropriated by institutional forces. Why have we shifted to a culture hostile to original voices? Why is it all about being liked?”

I found myself arguing and agreeing with the dialogues in about equal measure. On one hand, there’s no doubt that a lot of the “outsiders” get co-opted. And there’s the “you’re an idiot if you’re not watching this” meme that Jaquandor discussed, in this case, about Breaking Bad. He’s seen two episodes more than I have, and is disinclined not to see any more, which SHOULD be OK, but apparently is not, at least for some taste makers. (Hey, I haven’t seen either Game of Thrones (and won’t) or Downton Abbey (Bought the Wife the DVDs, so I probably will – eventually).

On the other hand, when there are so many movies, so many TV shows, and I have a finite amount of time and money, why CAN’T I at least look at Rotten Tomatoes, and get a sense of the critical mass of movie reviewers? Maybe I WILL go see that movie with the 12% positive reviews, though probably not.

There was this whole argument on one of those podcasts about finding the obscure films, it seems, for the sake of seeking them out, proving one is “cutting edge” or “outre”; it all felt a bit affected to me. I happened to have gone to a panel at FantaCon this month with Steve Bissette, Kris Gilpin and Dennis Daniel, all of whom used to swap bootleg horror films, fifth-generation recording dubbed in German or Dutch. THEY are ecstatic that those films are now available in a nice Criterion collection.
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Speaking of Mr. Byzantium Shores, he called BS on the Louis CK rant about smartphones. He may be correct about the inauthentic specifics, yet I found it oddly affecting theater. I think a commenter describing smartphones enabling “a sort of rude, in-the-bubble behavior” feels right. Or maybe it’s just my reaction to the people on the bus I see every day, about 2/3s of which are totally detached from the person sitting three feet from them, makes me more than a bit melancholy.
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Going back to that EW issue, one of the “best new shows” this season is supposed to be the FOX comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Our local social media maven posted one of those flippant comments on Facebook, “Where have all the sitcoms gone?” to which a guy noted that he was watching one at that moment, Brooklyn Nine-Nine. She wrote back, “Isn’t that a drama, and an hour?” Well, no, a simple Google search would reveal that was a new “ensemble comedy about what happens when a talented, but carefree, detective [Andy Samberg] and his diverse group of colleagues get a new captain [Andre Braugher of Homicide: Life on the Street] with a lot to prove.” I thought his information (which I augmented) required an acknowledgement at least to him, but I guess that’s just my projection.

Oh, and I can tell you that many of the sitcoms are now on the Disney Channel. I’ve seen several, none of which are particularly good.
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Lots of folks are upset that the Emmys had an individual tribute for, as one person put it, “that filthy drug addict Cory Monteith” by “that no talent Jane Lynch” (I actually read that, naturally on Facebook) while not doing so for Jack Klugman, who was one of my favorite actors, or for Larry Hagman. I thought Mark Evanier addressed this rather well, which is that these things are never “fair.”

4 thoughts on “Cultural engagement”

  1. For quirky culture: you make a good point. Another aspect is that if I enjoy something thought-provoking I want to talk about it.

    If I have no one to talk to about it, it makes me a little sad and discourages me from consuming more quirky culture.

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  2. Hm, this is one of those rare moments where I see things VERY differently: I left Chicago in 1995, well before cellphones, let alone smartphones, but when I rode public transport, people never engaged with anyone around them. Some had a cassette player (!), and many were reading (like me), and the LAST thing any of us would want or or accept is actually talking to another passenger.

    My point is, there’s nothing new about people disengaging using smartphones, apart from the technology: Most people don’t want to interact with other people. Smartphones merely give us another tool for keeping the hell away from those people we want nothing to do with. If smartphones didn’t exist, we’d still be disconnected form one another.

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    1. ARTHUR – THING IS, some of those people I saw on the bus DID talk to other people 7 years ago; not so much. And they are, in some cases, the same people.

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  3. I’m seeing the exact opposite happening. Before the internet (circa 2005) people in the US were developing ever-narrowing views of themselves and the world, the corporate media kept them isolated and misinformed. But with access to more unfiltered information, I’m seeing people wake up all over the place. Of course it is the younger people who are really waking up, they are more comfortable with modern technology. It’s the clueless Baby Boomers, still wanting their decisions and their information spoon-fed to them by their TV sets who seem to be as narrow minded as ever.

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