I was listening to sportsball radio off the interwebs the other days and I kept hearing ads for the fall television lineup from CBS. The sportball station is affiliated with CBS Sports, so they do cross marketing of their content. Like most people, commercials of all kinds are just background noise to me most of the time. Maybe radio ads have some sort of subliminal effect, but my suspicion is they are just a waste of money. I barely listen to the content. Like most people, radio is just background noise for me.
Anyway, I was about to turn off the radio and do something else when they were going through the “great new shows” on CBS. Having dropped television, I stopped to listen to the promos out of curiosity. I can’t remember the last time I followed a network TV show like a sitcom or serial drama. Probably Seinfeld 20 years ago. Anyway, the ad was long and ran through a list of shows, describing each one in exited tones. What was striking is that each sounded more horrible than the next. Here’s the list.
I can’t help but notice the number of shows dedicated to defending the realm. Some of the shows could be anything, but 12 are clearly about agents of the state defending the state against the bad people. Most of these are shows about the sorts of people our social media overlords are trying to create on-line. That is, they use their super goodness powers to magically identify the crime-thinker. Rather than having a tough guy doing the hard work of policing the streets, its a dork using brain waves to zap the bad thinkers.
Looking at the other networks, it’s a slightly different trend. ABC shows are mostly about unconventional families, non-whites and women. Fox is full of blacks and race mixers, but with a low-brow comedy theme. NBC is heavy on the fire department shows for some reason. Maybe they struck a deal with CBS. Again, these are shows about defending the realm against threats. If you were observing America from another planet, just using television, you would think America is riddle with crime and fire bugs,
As a cord cutter, I have no occasion to see any of these shows, so I could be all wrong about the quality and content. I just know that the only network show I hear mentioned in my daily life is Big Bang Theory. I do hear plenty of people talk about shows they follow on cable or service providers like Amazon and NetFlix. Maybe the people I interact with on a daily basis are not the typical network TV viewers, but my guess is the audiences for network shows have shrunk quite a bit over the last decade.
My other hunch, and I may be way off base on this, but I suspect these shows are written by women or at least have lots of female writers. Shows like The Good Fight and Madame Secretary are obviously aimed at cat ladies. The latter was clearly an infomercial for Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign. It is a safe bet they had shows written about how the main character wins the White House, so they could retool the show to be about the wonderfulness of having the first female President. Thank you Donald Trump.
On the other hand, the apparent crappiness of television shows could simply be a part of the general crappiness of the mass media culture. The movie business is suffering from a season of very expensive flops. So much so the whole business model is being called into question. Bad movies are getting yanked from theaters and the theaters are offering incentives to people to watch the bad movies. Maybe it is just a blip, but the big studios are treating this like a sea change in the business. Something big is happening.
Or, maybe it already happened. The last time “everyone watched” a network show was probably the 90’s with Seinfeld or maybe the Simpsons. When was the last time you heard someone use a pop culture referenced to a sitcom or network drama? What’s happening to the movie business, may have happened to network TV and no one noticed because of the cable shows and cord cutting phenomenon. Put another way, the root cause of all of these phenomenon may be a change in who runs the media business.
It could also be the radical feminization and politicization of the business, rather than the product. The sexual harassment hysteria gripping both Hollywood and the news entertainment rackets suggest the cat ladies are staging a final takeover. Someone named Mark Halperin is the latest male to be hurled into the void by the ladies. The general awfulness of our mass media could simply be the result of diving off the talent and replacing it with social justice warriors and their crazed enablers.
I watched the HBO series Rome recently. It was on about ten years ago and covered the period from the rise of Julius Caesar to the triumph of Octavian over Antony. It was a big budget affair with lots of well done costumes. The story, on the other hand, was mostly about the catty women and their intrigues. That and overly long sex scenes that were unrealistic and stupid. Feminist love this stuff, which is why every tackle-faced cat lady in America camped out to see the film adaptation of 50 Shades of Gray.
I’ve argued on and off for a while now that we are at the end of a great cultural cycle. The old culture that was born and flourished in the 20 century is dead. We still have the structures and institutions from that era, but they are husks of themselves. There is no cultural energy to animate them and give them vibrancy. The collapse of Hollywood may be a sign of it. Movies and TV are artifacts of the last century. Like zombies, these institutions shuffle along, searching for brains, but they are finally collapsing into dust.