TV and Podcasts as Pleasures, Guilty or not.
I used to feel that somehow television was an embarrassment, that only the uneducated or dull watched tv. However, I am admitting that besides my guilty pleasure of The Young and Restless, I do spend time in front of the tube.
Part of its legitimization arrived again- through my daughter. She is a writer, a most down to earth, erudite and knowledgeable, an every new- trend- kind of person. She was aware of NPR, Mark Maron and his WTFers, This American Life, The Moth and many other shows even before my husband. (These, by the way, are podcasts or what used to be called radio shows).
Because of her, last year I went to Massey Hall to hear Ira Glass from This American Life Show. As stated on their web site: ” There’s a theme to each episode, and a variety of stories on that theme. It’s mostly true stories of everyday people, though not always. For example: 477:
Getting Away With It
OCT 19, 2012Stories of people breaking the rules fully, completely and with no bad consequences. Some justify this by saying they’re doing it for others, or for a greater good. Some really don’t care. And, unlike the mealy weaklings you usually hear on this program: None of these wrongdoers seem regretful about what they’ve done in the slightest.”
Glass or another interviewer begins with the context, the overview, highlighting the theme that will pervade the three stories that will unfold. In each, a person retells their narrative that develops in some way the underlying motif for the episode. Sometimes the interviewer poses questions; sometimes not.
The results are often funny, witty, insightful, surprising and it makes you remember that life is, in deed, stranger than fiction.
So, back to Ira Glass at Massey Hall.
Glass regaled his listeners with amazing stories of the people he has culled for the show, almost like a Ripleys Believe It or Not. Wonderfully and unexpectedly, he begun this show at Massey Hall in total darkness, reminiscent, I suppose, of the old days of radio where the family gathered around the talking box in murky light.
But I can also imagine the power of FDR’s fireside chats between 1933- 1944 as people awaited some news or expression of hope to keep them going during black days.
Or maybe this is a television or movie- induced image I have incorporated into my fantasies. Likely not though, as even my parents remembered the impact of these communications between the cheery-voiced president and the fearful public.
At Massy Hall, I was amazed that there were so many young people in attendance and it was full to the rafters. Yet it should have come as no surprise: considering this younger generation lives with earbuds firmly attached like electrodes to their heads.
Nowadays of course, with technology stopping up their ears, they/we are multifocused, on hearing, seeing, walking or involving themselves/ourselves in athletic and aesthetic endeavours: we can exercise or via iphone, receive a description of a painting . It’s as if all of our senses are lit up at once, not only one sense focused and receiving full attention.
In any case, daughter #1 was listening to an Ipod discussion that featured well respected and well- known critics who were being asked who, in their opinion, was the most evil person ever. One said Hitler, the usual, but one actually contributed “Victor Newman”. For those who scorn Y&R, Victor is the archetype of evil, not of the Joseph Campbell variety exactly, But Victor does mangle, manipulate and manoeuver his kinfolk, especially his rival in Genoa City, Jack Abbott.
The others on Ipod radio show laughed, but all were quite aware of the name Victor Newman. I considered that if this high class group admits their awareness of the lowly soap opera, then who am I to demure, “Who?” and play innocent.
And just like being unable to eat one piece of chocolate cake, I opened the refrigerator door to other delicious and forbidden treats.
But I am not alone. Downton Abbey has been accepted as something people do and converse about, scurrying home from a family supper on Sunday nights, to ensure they discover what bon mot Maggie Smith will emit.
And that’s another validating point, MAGGIE SMITH, as in Dame Maggie Smith, British actress- and as we always take our theatrical leads from London who has legitimized base popular culture ( you baby boomers may remember her from “ all of them are Brodie girls”, especially hapless Mary MacGregor)– even in the privacy of our own homes.
So we pretend that fancy costumes, elegant abodes and the gift of the British actor elevates the lowly conflicts ( think of Lady Mary’s bed indisgression with Mathew’s friend from the middle east in one of the early shows) of a higher class of television show. Truthfully, popular culture has been infused with some great acting and excellent stories.
Last year Treme exposed corruption in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina. The performances were heartfelt and the jazz, especially the music by Elvis Costello, Kermit Ruffins the Marysalas and many other greats provided superior and entrancing viewing. The politics, the impact of the storm seen in various locales, the smell of the cooking, the buoyancy of the city and lesser environs to cope were all educational and riveting.
Of course, it is a show, not real life, but all the same, enough pieces are true enough to patch together a verisimilitude, a cross quilt of better understanding and exposure of issues and people.
And although Dexter was gory and double-edged as a serial murderer of only those who deserved death, there was a fascination with him as a character. Unlike the bang-bang way too much killing and violence on say, Boardwalk Empire where so much blood , bullets and babes become so de rigueur that the viewer becomes ( hideously) inured to the killing ( well, ho hum) as perhaps Bonnie and Clyde did along with Reservoir Dogs, the complexity of character, the Jekyll and Hydeness of Dexter’s torment as a feeling psychopath was, for me, intriguing.
My friend who gives the book talks hated Dexter and would not participate in watching the show. Like the holocaust books that I sought out as a child, the pull of the shivers, the capacity of people to commit evil drew me in. Will we ever forget John Lithgow’s mesmerizing Trinity Killer and not tremble at his coldness? I was transfixed by the ghastly as I awaited his nemesis and the denouement to remake the world in smiley faces and inflated pink hearts.
Perhaps that is why I am always disappointed as I anticipate that evil / the bad in the world will be avenged by the good as the merciful angel slays all the wrongdoers and justice will be done.
And Charlotte Rampling, that once gorgeous film actress as Dexter’s haggard psychiatrist Dr. Vogel who had developed Harry’s Code for good and evil? Even the once- so- sexy Charlootte Rampling reminded me again that time passes, and all things and people change and wither as they must. That baby boomers like Rampling will be ravaged by time, and that even ironically the most beautiful icons we revered in our youth will succumb, but also-
that personal and professional are distinct;
that hate and love are interwoven;
and that too often bad things happen to people who want to bring or are good.
Silly me. I find comfort in the Y&R. With my cup of herbal tea, I visit ,am often bored with, but still indulge my guilty pleasures.