Television Merits Academic Analysis

by Shannon Baldo

Over this past winter break, I realized that I have spent nearly a year and a half writing this television column for The Rambler and that I have never once explained to the world why I am doing it, why it is so important to me to share my opinions on this particular medium. And now, as I enter into my last semester of taking up our favorite Arts & Entertainment page, I think it’s just about time to do that.

Over the years, I have gathered that the general consensus concerning television is that it is, essentially, a form of superficial entertainment and instant gratification. And I think this opinion is widely shared, not only throughout our campus but through the nation and the world; because we can access television programs so easily and because they take so little time from us, we carry the assumption and expectation that they cannot hold any significant depth or meaning.

Yet I, personally, believe this assumption to be inherently wrong — as well as rather disconcerting that everyone swallows this assumption so easily. If one accepts that written literature and cinema can carry complex, profound themes and meanings, that storytelling in any shape or form can be elevated into art, it is only logical that television has this potential as well.

Now, I cannot possibly disagree that television rarely lives up to this potential. To find a truly strong television series, one which holds the qualities which make a powerful and exquisite film, is incredibly, unfathomably hard. I analyze each series I watch in the same way I might analyze a text or a film, and the vast majority emerge utterly lacking.

And I think that the aforementioned assumption plays a big role in this. Because television is so easily accessible to us, because it is so easy for us to flip a channel, because we expect mindless entertainment when we begin watching, any television series is expected to immediately draw in its audience with cheap tricks. And, if the common audience is not instantly amused through the usual gratuitous action, comedy, or romance, the show is pulled. Television series must cater to the lowest common denominator of entertainment for the mere fact of their existence.

This, I think, makes television possibly one of the most difficult mediums in which one can write, for any good show must simultaneously appeal to those expecting mindless entertainment while maintaining at least some element of literary depth and artistic integrity. The combination is exceedingly hard to find, and for the mere fact of renewing their contracts most series lean towards the safety of bad writing and easy action.

However, not every series fails in this. Every once in a while I find one with the complexity and artistry to withstand even academic scrutiny, one which could easily stand beside some of the most literarily admired books and films of the past century, one which can been explored with the same depth and intellectualism as any other accepted piece of art. I have read academic papers on the philosophy exhibited in “Firefly,” critiques of satire in “Community” and analyses of the pointed social commentary in “Battlestar Galactica”; and since these discussions would be considered valid when concerning a more respected medium, it only makes sense that the discussions of this medium — as well as the medium itself — be considered equally valid.

This is why I watch far more television than I should, and this is why I take up The Rambler’s precious space each week with my opinions and recommendations. Every second I spend watching television I analyze it in the same ways I analyze everything from William Shakespeare to William Faulkner to the cinematic work of Darren Aranofsky; and every time I find something exquisite in such an unexpected medium, it takes my breath away.

I’m not asking you to watch bad television. I’m asking you, dear readers, to consider that there is such a thing as good television, television with intricate, clever writing, with substantial depth and meaning, with profound messages buried under the entertainment. And, even though that television is difficult to find, we simply cannot accept the assumption that it does not exist.


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