Friday, September 26, 2008

Reading Television

Everyone who knows me knows I love TV. I watch lots; I used to write about it. I also used to teach a course called "Television as Literature" where I'd get students to do stuff like compare Sherlock Holmes to House. It was awesome. Some of the best student writing I have ever read came from that class. Thing is, lots of people (mostly late at night at parties) have intimated that my obsession with analysing TV is a little much. Though I'm not that big on authorial intent, I was still particularly happy to read this entry from Douglas Rushkoff over at Boing Boing:

I just got this email from John Langley, the guy who made the uber-reality show Cops. I see it as an acknowledgement of all of us who tend to read more into TV programs and their creators' intent than they might suggest on the surface.

Dear Mr. Rushkoff:

It was refreshing to recently read "Media Virus" and your take on "Cops," which I happen to produce and for which I'm responsible as the guy who created it. I can't tell you how tiresome it is to read traditional criticism and critiques of "Cops" as an expression of this or that, usually far from the mark (or at least in terms of my intentions). As a kid of the '60s, I was more likely to name the show "Pigs" than "Cops," so it was indeed rewarding to read that you positioned the program more accurately in its existential realm of relativism. All I do is feebly hack away at trying -- emphasis on trying -- to capture some version of "reality" that will speak for itself, including the echolalia of the very media influence that filters it by the act of recording it. (Viva Heisenberg!) Anyone with half a brain should recognize the social, political and philosophic issues it sometimes reveals in the quotidian pursuit of law and order and the meaning of street crime.

In any case, keep up the good work! And apologies for getting to you so late in the day. Your book is no less valid for the delay.


John Langley
Executive Producer - "Cops"

Not only does an email like that make my month, but restores my faith in the notion that absolutely mainstream programs might still be intended to have a rehabilitative or even noxious effect on the overculture. The fact that Langley made Cops in the spirit that Albert Maysles made Salesman means that we can cut through the clutter and expose mass audiences to virulent memes - even in the darkest of times.

Check it and all the reader comments out here.

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