I just downloaded the new book by Brett Martin. It gives an insider’s view of how cable transformed television with shows like The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Deadwood, The Shield. (This transformation matters to an anthropologist because as TV goes so goes American culture.)
In particular, this is the story of “difficult men” like David Chase, David Simon, Ed Burns, Matthew Weiner, David Milch and Alan Ball. The implication is that it takes some unholy alliance of the cantankerous and a deep, enduring oddity to foment a revolution of this order.
As the publisher puts it on Amazon, these men gave us shows that gave us
“narrative inventiveness, emotional resonance, and artistic ambition. No longer necessarily concerned with creating always-likable characters, plots that wrapped up neatly every episode, or subjects that were deemed safe and appropriate, shows such as The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Deadwood, The Shield, and more tackled issues of life and death, love and sexuality, addiction, race, violence, and existential boredom.”
Well, that and better television. Way better television. Helmut Minnow’s “wasteland” is now producing something remarkable, and several intellectuals (below) owe us an apology.
But Martin’s book raises a question. Some of the new TV is being written and produced by women. Ann Biderman gave us Southland and most recently Ray Donovan. Shonda Rhimes isn’t “cable” but with shows like Scandal she takes advantage of (and pushes) the creative liberties the cable revolution makes possible. And then there is Bonnie Hammer now consumed, one guesses, by administrative responsibilities but in her day a creative force to be reckoned with. There are many others, I’m sure. (My memory stack holds three and no more.)
We need a companion piece, a gendered view. We need a look at the revolution in TV and American culture driven by the rest of the industry. There may be absolutely no difference between male and female creatives in this industry. And that would be a fantastic finding. Yes, but what are the chances. Almost surely there are tons of differences. And they await the young writer prepared to dive in and phone home.
Ewen, Stuart. 1976. Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Fussell, Paul. 1991. Bad, or the Dumbing of America. New York: Summit Books.
Galbraith, John Kenneth. 1967. The New Industrial State. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Klein, Naomi. 2000. No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. Picador.
Leavis, F. R. 1930. Mass Civilisation and Minority Culture. Cambridge: The Minority Press.
Minow, Newton. 1961. “Television and the Public Interest: An Address to the National Association of Broadcasters, Washington, D.C.” American Rhetoric. http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/newtonminow.htm (September 27, 2010).
Postman, Neil. 1985. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Showbusiness. New York: Penguin.
Seabrook, John. 2001. Nobrow: The Culture of Marketing, the Marketing of Culture. Vintage.
Sennett, Richard. 1978. The Fall of Public Man. New York: Vintage Books.
Trow, George W.S. 1997. Within the Context of No Context. Atlantic Monthly Press.
The Counter Argument may be found here:
Carey, John. 2002. The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice Among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939. Academy Chicago Publishers.
Johnson, Steven. 2005. Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter. Riverhead Books.
Nussbaum, Emily. 2009. “Emily Nussbaum on When TV Became Art: Good-bye Boob Tube, Hello Brain Food.” New York Magazine. http://nymag.com/arts/all/aughts/62513/ (August 7, 2010).
Poniewozik, James. 2003. “Why Reality TV Is Good for Us.” Time. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,421047-1,00.html (August 1, 2010).
Steinberg, Brian. 2010. “TV Crime Does Pay — the More Complex the Better.” Advertising Age. http://adage.com/mediaworks/article?article_id=147203 (November 23, 2010).