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Can a cartoon provide more intellectual stimulus than the vast majority of live-action series? If so, how could such a thing happen in America?
Earlier this evening, my girlfriend made an interesting comment on the reason why shows like ‘The Simpsons’ (of which she is a rabid fan) and ‘King of the Hill’ (by ‘Beavis and Butthead’ creator Mike Judge) are as popular as they are. It is, she said, because they are more realistic than the ‘live-action’ situation comedies that come and go (or just linger like bad gas) on television programming today.
I agreed with her immediately and we corroborated on the following reasons:
The characters have more… character. The characterization on these shows is vastly deeper than on the vast majority of situation comedies that feature live actors. Even the backdrop, secondary characters on ‘The Simpsons’ have greater depth and personality than almost any character on shows like ‘Spin City’, ‘Will and Grace’, ‘Dharma and Greg’, ‘King of Queens’ and ‘Just Shoot Me’.
The only situation comedy today that I can single out as having any real character, depth or originality is ‘Frasier’. The character, played by the excellent Kelsey Grammer, has a long and famous history going back to the beginnings of the classic ‘Cheers’ (which, while a classic, I hold as being inferior to ‘Frasier’). All the other characters have tremendous charm, depth and are powerfully acted by truly talented players. Also, largely owing to the presence of Christopher Lloyd as the executive producer, every episode has I.Q., and never goes below a very strong standard.
So why is this fantastic series relegated to very late-night television?
Because it has too high an Intelligence Quotient for Prime Time, which is the grazing area of the typical American (who is an idiot); the two cartoon series mentioned above are on Sunday Prime Time because… well, they get away with it because they’re cartoons. That somehow makes it different.
Of course, being cartoons, they have an element of slapstick humor, but in general the stories are more powerful and relevant than anything I see on the pap listed a few paragraphs before this one. ‘Frasier’ could have an entirely slapstick episode and still come out five rocket scientists above all the pap from the sheer talent of the producer, writers and players, no matter what silly topic they chose for such a story.
The next reason is: the writers.
‘Star Trek’, nowadays, is vastly inferior to its original incarnation because of Rick Berman. This is my opinion and that of many others, including the original real-life scientists who used to fawn over the classic ‘60’s series. Berman started out as a writer for the terrible (my opinion) Next Generation ST, and then incredibly wound up being the replacement for Gene Roddenberry as ‘The Great Bird of the Galaxy’. In other words the Creative Honcho of the Star Trek ‘Franchise’ (as Paramount itself now calls it). Where is the vision? Did it all have to go into orbit with Roddenberry’s ashes or could there be any of this magic resident in any of the other early contributors to Trek… like D.C. Fontana? Why not make her the new Great Bird? (Roddenberry unfortunately was known to be mildly sexist, so this is probably the reason why a low-grade intellect like Berman got the ‘center seat’.)
Now the creative element just slaps together unimaginative alien races, mumbo-jumbo, unscientific gobbeldygook solutions to problems and poor, soap-opera-like stories that just don’t engage anyone with a memory for that amazing synergy the old series still has. Even the animated Star Trek series from 1973-1974 had more character than, say, ‘Enterprise’ (and what made them get that corny alterna-rock theme song? It’s worse than the theme from the NG series and first movie!).
The writer’s strike in 2000 was one thing that has contributed to the decline in television programming. During this time, reality TV really got its big break in time allotment. Now it’s one of the main staples of TV programming. It doesn’t really require writers… just a stupid premise. It just goes on from there by itself. This type of programming has become so prevalent that there possibly will be a channel soon available that will feature nothing but reality TV. Jerry Springer is still with us, delivering the exact same sort of tripe he's ever been, if not worse, and I cannot believe that no one has gotten tired of it. What kind of thinking human being can possibly make a mental diet of this kind of programming? Americans.
We’re lucky, perhaps, that we have at least the retarded, unimaginative typical situation comedies like ‘Dharma and Greg’. (Offhand, I’d like to comment that there are a lot of Scientologists involved with this mind-mushing programming, for example Jenna Elfman of ‘Dharma and Greg’ and Leia Remi of ‘King of Queens’. Very sinister.) This is from a 'religion' that claims to want to save the humanity from its foolishness and inability to live up to its promise.
One more reason, of all the truly important ones, is the intellectually declining AUDIENCE of commercial television.
For most Americans, public television (that is, the channels that occasionally beg you for money during reruns of Dr. Who or Fawlty Towers) goes over their heads. For most of them, reality TV, bad sit-coms and sports are all they really need for entertainment.
Americans' brains are mush.
Do you hear me America?!? MUSH!!!
The American People are part of the problem because they’re letting these horrible people do this to them. Like mentally handicapped people in those gruesome asylums in the days before group homes, our people just bend over the couch and take it, going through the motions because they want light entertainment, but don’t want to think about what this pap is doing to them.
What goes in comes out. Feed a mind feces, destroy the whole human being. Yes, this happens even to adults. It’s just as bad for grown people to watch pap TV as it is for young children to watching violent programming or play violent games.
Yet since the audience will not reform itself and demand superior programming, the networks have no impetus to do it, because THEIR SOLE MOTIVE IS PROFIT. This is absolutely destructive to democracy.
Oh, wait – my ranting discourse reminds me of yet one more reason why American Television really, really sucks so bad:
Capitalism has wrecked the media. It has destroyed our fair access to balanced reporting of issues and it has destroyed our sources of entertainment. How long is it going to take until people who support this economic system realize that profit motive just isn’t enough for a driving force, and that Capitalism can never contain any other motive?
A moral millionaire is next to nonexistent. Truly, America is an undemocratic society when only a handful of people have real control of the media, because they have a lot of money and no motive but profit.
That’s the real reason American Television sucks.