Something That No One Wants Any Part Of
Traveling, I have the opportunity to watch cable TV, something I haven’t had at home for over a decade. The only thing I really miss about cable is being able to watch sports. I’m a New Englander, and I like my teams. I can’t help it.
In a hotel, I can actually watch a football game or two, maybe even catch the Celtics.1 Basketball was always my favorite sport both to watch and to play, and it still is. Bonus when it’s a really big, HD TV. I’m not a huge TV watcher anyway, and I can live with my outdated TV at home, but there is something to be said for a high-quality monitor and the sumptuous feast for the eyes it provides. Everything really just pops.
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TV, as with most things in life, requires you to take the bad with the good. The proportions might not be skewed how you like, but ideally you remember the enjoyable parts more. With cable TV: The program—Good! The advertisements—Bad!
As a kid, I remember ad breaks lasting way longer than they do now. Maybe it’s because in 2023 I have my phone to distract me with things I want to be distracted by instead of suffering through whatever nonsense the people who paid for the airtime want to subject me to. Advertisements were also the time to take a bathroom break, get a drink of water, brush your teeth, and so on. My kids are blown away by the fact that, while watching live TV, you can’t just pause it or pick whatever show you want, when you want it. Times change.
So ads. Yes, I’m aware of the phenomenon that is American advertising. I’ve heard it all before: “If people with no familiarity with America watched American TV, whether they be aliens of the foreign or extraterrestrial variety, they’d walk away thinking that 48% of America is black, the other 48% his Hispanic, and the remaining 2% are stupid white guys,” and so on. And I mean, yeah, it’s glaringly obvious when you watch cable TV that advertising agencies portray this skewed demographic portrait, and that almost all relationships that aren’t two blacks, two Hispanics, or two Asians involve a white woman and a black man (though you’ll see a black woman and a white man every once in a while). Whatever. I honestly don’t care. Interracial relationships don’t bother me, and I know that there are focus groups and consultants and psychologists telling advertisers, who tell their clients, that this is what sells product, it’s what people want, all of that. And yes, I know that whatever you see on TV is there to shape society as much as, if not more, as it is to reflect it. I don’t care.
None of that was interesting to me. I grew up in the 80s and 90s when TV was omnipresent and parents did not have the same worries or awareness of what was on as we do now because they grew up in an era of ridiculously high social trust and cohesion, where you had faith in your institutions because they hadn’t let you down! Fast forward to us Gen X, Gen Y, whatever you want to call us, who have been nothing if not lied to for so long by so many about so much, that when it comes time to monitor the media our children consume, we watch it like hawks because messages are being pushed and they reflect a very specific worldview.
What was far more interesting was observing the degree to which everything—the ads, the news breaks, the sports broadcasts themselves—tried to push a level of social cohesion, of shared culture, of connection, that just wasn’t there.
All the game shows, the movie ads, the sitcoms, everything tries to be an EVENT that people CARE ABOUT and will TALK ABOUT AROUND THE WATER COOLER. Remember watercoolers? Those things where you got water, that kept your water cool, that you had at your office? The last office I worked in had one. It wasn’t provided to us (lots of government rules about water and the expenditure of tax dollars on it like you wouldn’t believe), so anyone who wanted to drink from the water cooler had to pitch in to buy the water. I kid you not. We would talk around it if we ran into colleagues while filling up our water bottles, but I don’t remember a single conversation about TV shows or any other EVENT. We mostly talked about or families. You see, I was in my mid-30s and had one child at the time, and everyone at my office in those days was either in the 50+ or the just-out-of-law-school age range. I had more in common with the older crew. I’ve always had more in common with older people, even when I was in my 20s. Some may say that makes you an “old soul,” but I take issue with that because they say it like it’s a good thing. It’s not. I wish I could relate to people my age more, then and now. Anyway, what were we talking about?
Seinfeld was a water cooler show. I guess back in the 90s when I was but a young pup straining at the constraints of childhood, people would talk about the latest episode around the water cooler. Or so I was told. My dad is a doctor so he didn’t have a normal office doing paper-pushing stuff—he was actually really really busy doing important stuff. Imagine that!
Game of Thrones was described as a “water cooler show” (see here). The last one, apparently. Oh my goodness, sound the alarm! We have a national crisis on our hands!
The Super Bowl is a water cooler EVENT as well, I think.
What do all of these modern EVENTS have in common? They involve the consumption of product.2 [Note to self: Insert overused Jay Greenbaum meme here.]
It’s all so tiresome.4
Obviously, I haven’t conducted a comprehensive survey of America, which is pretty big, but I observe things both offline and on, and it seems that this attempt to create a shared culture just isn’t taking. Nobody seems to care. It does all seem so tiresome because it all seems so tired. Exhausted. Spent. My friendmade a similar observation after seeing the most recent Disney movie:
One thing I’ve noticed these past few weeks is that there seems to be an overall malaise going around. Nobody seems excited about anything; everyone seems to be just going through the motions. Halloween, which I usually enjoy was a bit of a letdown, even my daughter was disappointed, and she’s always a ball of positivity. I know I’m not the only one, friends both in person and online seem to feel the same. There’s a general air of dissatisfaction.
On Thanksgiving morning we went to the movie theater and watched the new Disney movie Wish. It was a complete turd, a vile piece of shit, easily Disney’s crappiest movie of all time and I had the displeasure of watching Adventure Planet earlier this year. It was so bad that my wife, who has an extreme level of tolerance for garbage movies, kept on making excuses to go to the bathroom so she wouldn’t have to watch the damn thing.
Yakubian Ape wrote up a good review, Wish-A Pseudo-Review, which honestly is more effort than that movie deserves. But that’s not my point. My point is that nobody cares. Everyone knew Wish was going to suck. The same goes for Napoleon. I was interested in it for about a day, wanted to go, saw that it was ahistorical garbage, and forgot about it. I don’t know one person who even bothered with it. So many in our sphere have exited the mainstream cultural sphere or just downright don’t give a shit. Everything being put out by the mainstream is garbage, worst of all, it’s garbage that is hostile to what most of us believe and uphold as truth. Why even bother?
It’s dawning on me that we have entered or are about to enter on a mass scale the final stage of cultural grief, acceptance. There is no longer a mass American culture, with maybe the sociopathic Swiftie craze which comes off as some sort of Jungian subconscious pathology as an exception, that all of us share. Nobody cares about new movies, new shows, new anything. Everyone seems to be logging off, tuning out, and not giving a fuck about the greater world outside their immediate sphere, and honestly the more I think about it the better I feel about it.
I differ only that I wouldn’t call it an air of dissatisfaction, but an air of ennui. Nobody is really dissatisfied because nobody cares. These non-events, these marketing ploys, are so patently synthetic they seem to bounce off most people, and thank God they do. Nobody cares because the product is lame, tired, a rehash, boring, uninteresting, insipid, uninspired, limp, lackadaisical, unoriginal, and bad.5 You can’t force a culture to exist when the raw material is brown and kind of smelly.
Here's a quarter for the phone
Why don't you call someone and find out how it is we can all belong to something that no one wants any part of?
— Matthew Good, “Advertising on Police Cars”
There is a great resignation going on with more than just people’s jobs. It’s going on with our culture as well. There is no one, single American culture anymore because there is no one, single America. There is no “American people” beyond the fact that we all live in the same geographical boundary called “The United States of America.” What do we all have in common other than that we all get paid in dollars and we buy stuff? I guess to the powers that be, if line goes up then everything is all right, but that level of obsession with economics—materialism, really—is more like a mind virus than a viable national policy.
In light of this, it’s no wonder that the efforts to create EVENTS are really just creating
that are over before they begin.6
Who are, once again, wildly talented and wildly underperforming. Yes, they’re 15-5 right now, but displaying the same worrying trends that doomed their last several playoff runs to ignominy.
Another meme! This is a big part of the problem of modernity, the ennui. We communicate with images most often gleaned from social media and/or consumer culture. Yes, sharing the memes can be a funny stress relief, many portray truth and can even piss off all the right people, but at the end of they day a meme is just repurposed trash.
I.e., The Marvels.
I’ll grant that the Barbie and Oppenheimer twin event was a thing, and was actually kind of weird, but the thing is that it wasn’t planned. Nobody expected either movie to become gigantic cultural touchstones. It happened organically, the standard Hollywood production marketing pushes aside. That’s why they were bona fide EVENTS: because they weren’t prefabricated.