Tuesday, October 2, 2012
On the Importance of American TV Series.
OK, "an important event" might be slightly overstating it but whether you like them or not - and of course I happen to love 'em - TV shows offer a great window onto today's American society.
If you think of it, beyond its entertainment value, American TV fiction is remarkable for its ability to address controversial issues.
Is there any other country that... in the midst of its war in Iraq, would broadcast a TV show (Battlestar Galactica) in which the occupation force is the bad guys and the insurgency the good guys? (see here)
Or where a Supreme Court Justice (Judge Scalia) would use a fictional hero (Jack Bauer) to make a legal point (that torture is OK)? (here)
Or where a TV fiction (the Newsroom) would use the name of real powerful industrialists (the Koch Brothers) and portray them in a negative light? (here)
Or, to take one last example, where a personality as high as the Vice-president would credit a TV comedy (Will and Grace) for educating him on the question of gay marriage? (here)
And the list goes on...
Whether these examples are scary or hopeful, one thing is certain: U.S. TV series not only reflect the discussions in the nation, but they also influence the society as a whole... well actually even the entire world.
For example, in the last few years, some French high school students have organized 'proms': which they call "ball de promo"- a direct import from the U.S. after watching their American peers in TV series.
The good outcome is that it has become a great tool for teaching English since most of my students watch TV series either on French TV but more likely online through streaming.
The downside: they only see an America made mostly of lawyers, doctors, cops or occasionally idle housewives. No one ever seems to work hard or have regular problems. I suppose that comes with the territory.
Also, these shows are so prevailing outside north America that it gives foreign audiences a strange sense of familiarity, especially if you take into account the already dominant position of the United States in the news.
So TV shows also account for a great tool of American soft power by partaking in the propagation of American myths.
That being said, one can also recognize not only the entertaining value of those shows, which can only explain their success, but also, their esthetic dimension, visually and narratively. What makes shows like Game of Thrones, Homeland or The Wire so powerful is their excellent writing and the character development, over several weeks, which, because of its format, no movie can ever accomplish.
In this respect, I would dare compare some of today's TV shows to the writings of Emile Zola, Honoré de Balzac, Alexandre Dumas, or Henry James, Herman Melville, Conan Doyle, or Charles Dickens who, after all, ALL wrote serialized novels published in newspapers, which were social commentary on the issues of the time.
This is why I have decided to try to write more on this blog about my take on many of the TV shows I like watching. This will not be exclusive but hopefully, it will offer a new angle on Americana from a French perspective.
Or this may simply be a made-up pretext to justify writing more often about what I like when I have my night off.