Well, I was going to write a post about how silly and dated Infinite Jest’s conceit of “The Entertainment”–entertainment so entertaining that you stop entertaining everything else needed to keep you alive–until I found this essay: “On Irony, David Foster Wallace Wasn’t Wrong — but He Is Obsolete.” This essay says everything I thought and felt, but much more eloquently than me.
And, as it did in 1993, TV scholarship reflects the cultural mood: in 2014, it is active, earnest, and everywhere. Good writers write interesting things about practically every show that fits into the ongoing narrative about the current television golden age and even more that don’t; solid, unironic writing about How I Met Your Mother, which was a silly, inconsequential show, was only recently everywhere. The essays are published in places that range from In These Times to the National Review, and they appear at every Grantland in between. The very New York Times that, in 1993, was Wallace’s example of public contempt for television now publishes essays about how TV shows are the new novels, the heirs to Dickens, the form of U.S. fiction that’s actually bold and relevant. This sort of thing might be a kind of answer to Wallace’s call for writers to “treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction” — no longer derided by those who are addicted to it, TV gets treated with plenty of reverence and conviction.
Basically, the apparatus of literary criticism has decided that what David Foster Wallace once called a “low art” is now just art, even though a lot of pretty normal people still love it. The apparatus of literary criticism means this sincerely.
DFW lambasted television back in 1993. And television deserved the lambasting. But today, the only type of television that deserves that sort of criticism is broadcast TV. Everything else is pretty fucking awesome now. An example of the prevalence of that opinion can be found everywhere now, including weekly American football reviews:
I haven’t watched Making a Murderer yet, which means I am now behind on, oh, let’s say seven hundred episodes of quality television series out there. One of the reasons that cable series tend to be better than broadcast series is that they have shorter seasons, often less than half the number of episodes of a broadcast TV show’s season. That makes for better quality control. And now there are so MANY good and different cable and streaming series out there that it’s virtually impossible to fall into the Amazon-coined “showhole” (good word).
And that means you NEVER have to watch any broadcast TV show ever again. Which is good, because they’re all fucking terrible. Any time I watch a football game on a broadcast network and they show a room for some horrible sitcom like Superstore, it’s like I’m watching TV on a black and white set. Who the fuck is watching that show if they don’t have to? I got 40 hours of Game of Thrones locked and loaded over here. I don’t need your broadcast garbage. I have better ways of filling the time.
Alright, at this point, I’m just acting as a collector of different writings that support my opinion. Go read the original article, “On Irony, David Foster Wallace Wasn’t Wrong — but He Is Obsolete.”