Dec 20, 2007

A Popular Jamie Lynn Spears Culture About Nothing

NBC's "Seinfeld" was supposed to be about nothing.""Nothing happens on the show. You see, it's just like life. You know, you eat, you go shopping, you read.. You eat, you read, You go shopping."- George Costanza

Of course, Seinfeld was actually about everything. It was about every tiny detail that goes on in our lives. A book was written about the deeper meaning in Seinfeld, "Seinfeld and Philosophy". "How is Jerry like Socrates? Is it rational for George to "do the opposite?" Would Simone de Beauvoir say that Elaine is a feminist? Is Kramer stuck in Kierkegaard's aesthetic stage?"

Compare this show about nothing to a popular media and culture that today is obsessed with an out-of-control Britney Spears and her newly pregnant sixteen year old sister Jamie Lynn Spears. Sure, you say- popular culture has always driven by television! Think about it! Gilligan's Island. Star Trek. DALLAS. 90210. Desperate Housewives.

But ask yourself this question: Do you ever recall the local or network news shows during television's "golden age" of the 50's through the 70's running stories about a Paris Hilton, or a Britney Spears?

Local station KPTV considered the Jamie Lynn Spears pregnancy story worthy of local coverage.
So did KATU.

As a matter of fact, I began thinking about the nothingness of today's popular culture when I watched KATU run the story on its local news show. Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy was given the same legitimacy as the floods in Cowlitz County, the Iraq war, and the 2008 Presidential race.

Television's version of popular culture has been criticized from the beginning. In 1961, FCC Chair Newton Minov gave his famous "Vast Wasteland" speech, where he said,

"When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit-and-loss sheet or rating book to distract you — and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland."

And this was when there were only three TV networks to choose from!

Don't get me wrong. I love my awfully empty-headed TV. I was, after all, the Gong Show's #1 fan. I haven't missed many episodes of "24". I've shared more than one lunch with "Matlock". And I've watched a few episodes of "America's Next Top Model" (you have too. admit it.)

But the dividing line between serious news and infotainment was erased many, many years ago. I guess it's why I rarely watch the local news shows anymore. Or the network news shows. Or the cable news shows. I guess it's why so many people say they get their news from the Daily Show.

A couple of weeks ago, the Mrs. and I watched the movie "Broadcast News". The character played by Holly Hunter gave a speech criticizing the "Entertainment Tonight"-ism of TV news:
I was going to talk about other
trends but...
...the magazine shows, news at
profit, influence of
Entertainment Tonight, the danger, the
hope, the dream, the question...Oh, I
was going to show you a tape -- a story
that was carried by all networks on the
same night -- the same night -- not one
network noted a major policy change in
Salt Two nuclear disarmament talks...
Here's what they ran instead...Go ahead.
Show the tape.


Showing the Japanese Domino Championships as broadcast by all
networks in the Spring of 1985. It is quite spectacular -- the
dominoes falling into one another provoking waves, crossing tiny
bridges, setting off little fireworks. JANE'S AUDIENCE applauds
loudly and squeals with delight.


Jane between the two monitors. She begins to speak loudly OVER
the AUDIENCE NOISES of approval.

I know it's good film. I know it's
fun. I like fun. It's just not news.
(as they continue
to applaud)
Well, you're lucky you love it --
you're going to get a lot more just
like it.


Do you know what I wish? I wish TV news was about news. And entertainment shows were about the vast wasteland.. I want the "something" to be on the news shows. And I want the "nothing" of TV's vast wasteland to to be proudly featured outside of TV news.

This is something. This is nothing. This is something. This is nothing. Got it? Good.

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