Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A New Look for Blogcritics--and a Possible New Direction for TV
Regular readers of this blog (both of you, in fact) know that much of it consists of reprints of articles I originally wrote for Blogcritics. BC just went through a redesign, which I find quite exciting. Rather than go into a lengthy dissertation about the redesign, I'll just sharewith you some comments I left in a letter to the writers' group:
I'd call this more a relaunch than a redesign. And it's long overdue. I was a never a big fan of the 2nd generation page-- it was staid at best. It certainly didn't look like a "magazine"--more like a table of contents. The new look is hip, a little edgy, and gives newcomers a second pause. It's not "busy" at all--if anything,it's a look of controlled chaos that's perfect in keeping with the "sinister cabal"core idea of Blogcritics.
The word baloon header is a great idea, and I hope it sticks. I instantly lets the viewer know they've stumbled upon a site that may deal with convoluted issues, but doesn't take iteself overly seriously. After all, BC is not a scholarly journal-- it's about pop culture in one form or another when all is said and done.
For a first-timer, navigation is intuitive--I think BC regulars may be resistant to change. I'm glad to see the "Fresh Comments" bar disappear-- it had gotten to the point where it was a private playgroung among regulars, and didn't do much to enhance the site's overall image. There was also no reason to list each writer individually on the front page, so that's an improvement, also.
I dig the new look immensely. Finally, the Blogcritis splash page looks like the magazine it's always claimed to be. Expect a lot more attention in the future!
In short, check it out! Now! Blogcritics
I was very pleased to be a part of the lead piece of the relaunch, in which Eric Olsen asked writers to submit ideas about the Obama's administration's impact on pop culture. This ia what I wrote:
The Nation Has a New Face--So Does TV
President Obama knows how to work a room—and well he should. Born in 1961, he’s the first President of the United States who cannot remember a time before television. I Love Lucy was already in syndication when he was born. NBC was experimenting with color TV, most notably via Bonanza. And on a related pop culture note, the so-called Marvel Age of comics was born when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby released the first issue of The Fantastic Four. JFK may have been the first president to utilize the power of the then new medium (notably in his televised debate with Nixon), but Obama is the first to be a child of it, fully immersed in it, and fully in control of it.

Let me rephrase that—no mere mortal is in control of what Harlan Ellison dubbed “the glass teat.” Television has always been ruled, in one way or another, by corporate bean counters. It exists, not to entertain, but to sell product. “Product” can be anything from hygiene accessories to political messages, and often, the two are so subtly intertwined, the guy sitting at home on the couch doesn’t realize he’s been had. The political climate of any given time sells those commercials. Thus, in the past eight years or so, we’ve been barraged with commercials treating everything from household insecticides to baby wipes as articles of urban warfare. And the programming that accompanies them has had that same take- no- prisoners attitude. 24 is a glaring example, extolling as it did, the virtues of torture in the name of the greater good. Dexter, too, made serial killing acceptable, if it was done in the name of justice. Comedies, even game shows, fell under the us-or-them spell.

The winds of politics and culture are fickle, and a storm of change is in the air. We’re already seeing it. President Obama personifies cool, with his swagga and his almost Spock-like way of expressing his thoughts. His approval rating never wavers below 60%, and Michelle’s is even higher. And it has as much to do with style as politics. What America craves now is a whisper from the darkness that things will get better. have no idea what Obama watched as a child, but it’s not hard to imagine he spent more than a few hours with Star Trek, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I Dream of Genie, and even The Wild, Wild West. We do know that these days these days, the President is a fan of HBO’s Entourage, which is not too surprising, since it revolves around an aspiring actor and his friends beating the odds in Hollywood. Obama was also a regular viewer of the now defunct The Wire. Considering the series’ gritty portrayal of urban life and sociopolitical issues, it stands to reason he would be a devotee the show. But the President also enjoys Hannah Montana and Spongebob Squarepants with daughters Malia and Sasha. And of course, his love of ESPN’s SportsCenter is well documented.

Obviously, even the President has no control over the whims of network programming—that’s more the province of the almighty 18-49
demographic (which Obama falls into.) But we have a First Family that has already become a barometer of the state of pop culture. Michelle has an even higher approval rating than Barack, due in no small part to her no nonsense fashion sense and her dedication to education, the daughters are always adorable, and even Bo the puppy has elevated a little known breed to superstardom. Barack, of course, is just cool—urban hip, confident, with an air of reserve and detachment when it matters, yet with a fighter’s instinct smoldering beneath it all.

With that kind of popularity (not to mention the street cred to back it up), the President will have at least an indirect influence on television programming over the coming years. I don’t think it will be anything revolutionary, but I do believe that we’ll see a return to stylish storytelling, and well thought-out scripts. We’re already seeing a shift in crime shows, returning to characterization and motivation as opposed to the dry procedurals that we’ve endured over the past years. NBC’s newest entry in the field, Southland, works because it portrays the cops and the bad guys as players on the same game board. The Mentalist, on CBS, emphasizes the smug self-assurance of the lead character, rather than any kick-ass attributes. Show that were once favorites, like 24, seem hopelessly dated now, remnants of a Bush-Cheney agenda that didn’t work.

It’s not that Obama has a television agenda—if he did, the cable news channels would be in dire straits, since he never watches them. Conversely, ESPN would be top of the pops. But his election reflects a shift in the American psyche. We’ve become a little more aware of the world around us—maybe too aware in some ways. With the economy a major daily concern and new wars always lurking on the horizon, we’re going to expect more substantial entertainment delivered to our homes. Expect more wit and social commentary on the tube in the future, particularly in dramas and comedies. And don’t be surprised to see so-called reality shows drop in popularity. We have enough reality—we’re craving old-fashioned entertainment. As the President would say, “Change is coming.”
Of course, my piece is only part of a larger article, and you can read the article in its entirity here. It's good reading, and you'll probably discover some new writers you'll want to follow.

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