It’s a sure-fire way to commit social suicide, or ruin a reputation at least. I casually mentioned watching something on television, at a drinks party recently, and the person beside me smiled – clearly revelling in the moment of one-upmanship – before smugly saying: “We don’t have a TV.” Another nodded: “I am just too busy to watch it.”
Had it been the latest Booker Prize novel, art-house film or exhibition, I am pretty sure that they would have jumped at the chance of claiming they had read or seen it.
Frankly, I didn’t believe them. If we are honest, most of us spend hours in front of the flickering screen. And yet it is the cultural form most derided, considered, at best, just light entertainment, a way to nod off on a Saturday night. At worst, it is portrayed as deadening the feelings. It is the “Drug of the Nation” after all, “Breeding ignorance and feeding radiation”, according to the band, the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. “Plug in, turn on, and cop out”, sung Gill Scott Heron.
But actually, right now, television is where some of the greatest dramatic, social commentary is on show. Far from lowbrow, the dramas of recent times – Breaking Bad, Homeland, Deadwood, Mad Men, The Wire, and Friday Night Lights, to name but a few are far better than any current novel or art work. And it’s not just American shows; the Scandinavians, with their crime and political dramas, are on a roll. I would go so far as to say that some of the greatest work – yes, art work – is on the box.