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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.
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.


------
The Alienist
jhfurnish@yahoo.com


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Comments

The following comments are for "The Great American Brain Death: Television and Your Mind"
by The Alienist

fascinating as always
Alienist, you seem to write about every and anything, usually with aplomb. My wife and I, 18 months ago, decided., "fornicate this for a game" returned a cable box after its year's contract ran out. Refused to erect a tv aerial or satellite dish and now use the tv as a viewing screen for videos and disks.
'Big Brother' the mother.....r of the 'Reality TV' genre contributed to a broadcasting standard already in decline. Soap operas are wall to wall two-dimensional characters with a flair for histronic melodramatics. Quiz shows are aimed at IQ's of 80 or less, and the best comedies were repeats from the eighties (including 'Taxi' - debut points for Danny deVito and Chrisopher Lloyd). Nero fiddles while Rome burns. We now listen to the radio, check Internet 'sites for current affairs news etc. Read books, write, practice Yoga, talk about everything under the sun. I'd encourage everybody to say, 'to hell with tv - it ain't worth the license fee'
Paul The RebelOgg

( Posted by: Ogg [Member] On: July 17, 2004 )

Great American Brain Death
I have to agree. There are very few sitcoms I watch anymore as I tend to bore easially with the mindless and unreal situations. Except for Seinfield, a comedy purposely about vacant and clueless people, which I can sometime identify with. Southpark is fun to watch too. There's something about making fun of non PC subjects and hearing kids swear like truck drivers that appeal to me.

Most of my viewing tends to be around forensic science and serial killers. Perhaps due to a rather morbid curiosity or to learn how not to get caught, I'm not sure which.

One of the things I've noticed over the years is that there is far too much concentration on youth. Rarely does one find a series revolving around the middle age, unlike British television shows such as "As Time Goes By" and the comedy "Keeping up Appearances" or "Absolutly Fabulous." Older comedies to be sure but still well done.

( Posted by: nevis54 [Member] On: July 17, 2004 )

licenses & serial killers
Ogg, I forgot that in Britain you have to pay a license... or get your antennae cut down. That's really sick, having to pay for regular TV. Of course all your TV channels are government-owned, which means the conspiracy to dumb you down is truly in the open.
As for Nevis' desire to be a serial killer, you need to do it before you're 36 or you're past the age bracket. I thought about accepting the ministry to thin out the population until I was just too old. You can't just think about it. You need to select your target type and just go out there and DO it.

I'm just kidding.

Maybe. I think.

Well, they should definitely have a licensure system for serial killers for those who want to return the species to a path of higher evolution, however sinister that may sound.

( Posted by: the alienist [Member] On: July 17, 2004 )

Good point
The T.V shows these days do lack in mental stimulation. `Frasier` was a wonderful show. Very thoughtful.Times are differant and I do think people are becomeing more ignorant. However, I don't think its completly Capitalist. You and I have differant thoughts on political issues. So theres a dissagreement there.

For the most part I agree. Its sad that cartoons these days are more human then the reality shows are.

AbbyNormal

( Posted by: AbbyNormal [Member] On: July 17, 2004 )

Capitalism as a Cause
Capitalists are the ones in control of the Media.
They're the ones who determine what gets put on the air. They know perfectly well what all the trends are, and they knew perfectly well what the effects of these trends will be. They watch the effects happen to all of us down here from on high in their ivory towers. They've been doing this for a long time.

They know exactly what they're doing; it's as if they're reading Orwell and Huxley and taking their advice as if they're reading these books as manuals on psychological domination.

( Posted by: the alienist [Member] On: July 17, 2004 )

This is your mind on TV
Why is it necessary for everything to be intellectually stimulating? Why is sitting down and watching a dumb sit-com for stupid laughs such a bad thing. If I want intellectual stimulation, I’ll pick up a decent book. Sometimes I just want to forget this world and lose myself in some mindless fun. And damn it, I love reality shows (just watched Big Brother and Amazing Race).

Since my daughter was born, I’ve been inundated with calls from people trying to sell me tools to help me teach my child. There’s flashcards, learning tools, games, etc. The list of things goes on and on. SHE’S FIVE MONTHS OLD! She barely has control over her movements and everyone asks if I’m reading to her yet. This fascination with learning has, in my opinion, gotten a bit out of control.

There is enough going on in this world to keep my mind stimulated. I don’t need my TV shows to do the same. Give me a stupid comedy, with funny people and let me laugh myself silly. I’ll get serious tomorrow, at work.

( Posted by: Nbiz [Member] On: July 17, 2004 )

Gem in the Rough...
You're a rarity. I've heard people say this before: TV is like light reading.

The thing is, though, that unlike yourself, most Americans don't stimulate themselves intellectually as you do.

( Posted by: the alienist [Member] On: July 18, 2004 )

Star Trek: the Animated Series
Since I mentioned intelligent cartoons:

One of the reasons I'm as smart as I am, I'm absolutely certain, is because of the excellent, award-winning Saturday morning cartoon of my early youth (1973-4): Star Trek (the Animated Series). It didn't run for long enough, but it was the most intellectually stimulating and imaginative cartoon I've yet seen. It's also faithful to the original series and even features the original actors' voices. Turn your children on to it if at all possible. Some of the stories, according to one interview with Nichelle Nichols (who played Uhura), were even more intellectual than some of the 'live-action' episodes of the original '60's series.

Some great science-fiction writers wrote episodes for it, too, for example David Gerrold and Larry Niven. There is even an episode written by a Native American (with a Native American and some N.A. culture included) ('How Sharper than a Serpent's Tooth'). The character was Ensign Walking Bear, a Comanche, and the episode was written by a Viet Nam War Veteran (US Navy) named Russel Bates. Another script by Bates submitted for the cartoon series (but it was cancelled before it could be produced) appears in the old Bantam Trek short story anthology 'New Voyages 2', along with an interesting story about Bates and the effect Star Trek had on him as a writer and as a person.

The stories and ideas in them had tremendous depth, and the whole cartoon has real charm. In some ways it's considered 'the lost Star Trek', but for me it's immortal. I'll definitely raise my child on it.

( Posted by: the alienist [Member] On: July 18, 2004 )

TV: The Unanimated Series
When I moved out of the "suburbs" into the woods, my house had a TV antenna on a rusty old pipe, aimed at a distant New York City. It wasn't cable, it wasn't satellite, but it was TV -- as much of it as I wanted to see, which wasn't much.

Then, on 9/11, most of the TV stations fell..

Later, the rusty pipe had enough of being ignored, and my TV antenna also fell. Have I replaced it? No. Have I gone to cable or satellite? No.

So what do I watch? An occasional DVD.

Admittedly, a total cutoff of TV is drastic. There is intelligent life on the planet Video, from history and science to the aforementioned cartoons (I got to like Beast Wars, myself). But, when comedy is mind-numbing and the evening news is a battle of propagandists, I've got better things to do.

( Posted by: Nimbus1944 [Member] On: July 18, 2004 )

Paying for TV?
Alien, I agree with what you say about capitalism and profiteering being the cause for bad commercial TV. But in that case, why are you so against the British model? How else are the programs going to be paid for excepting either by capitalism or licence fees?
Also, you are factually wrong - only the BBC is owned by the UK govt, none of the others, and there are a lot of them. Also, the BBC is legally forced to be non-political in their reporting, which I think is one of the best things about it over all the partizan American garbage.

( Posted by: JohnnyD [Member] On: July 18, 2004 )

British TV
It's Ogg who has most spoken against British TV.
I really didn't say much about it at all.

( Posted by: the alienist [Member] On: July 18, 2004 )

Tina
Depends what you call small, license fee that is. Since I no longer pay a license fee, the ten pounds a month covers my Internet connection fee. Which means I can talk to all you brilliant guys and never get bored. JohnnyD, it was me that laid into our pathetic programmes, as Alienist pointed out. Also I'm sorry, but the BBC's vaunted impartiality is a fraud. Legally, yes they are required to be non-political, but come on! During the poll tax riots in London, a friend of mine was chased by a copper, caught and whacked with a riot stick. The police were deliberately provoking demonstrators, because Thatcher wanted to discredit them. The BBC news that night, carefully edited out any scenes that would have suggested police provocation.
Paul

( Posted by: Ogg [Member] On: July 18, 2004 )

Bush in Public vs Dissent
That's how the media here cut out scenes of dissent when Bush's minions, in a rare moment, fail to completely isolate him from it. I wonder who learned it from whom - Mother Country from Colonies or Colonies from Mother Country? I would say Britain from America (except for predictive writing from those like Orwell and earlier examples of manipulative censorship) since mass media didn't exist in 1776...

( Posted by: The Alienist [Member] On: July 18, 2004 )

I totally agree......
I tend to watch CNN for a laugh, I shall never forget someon quoting Winston Churchill and the news reader (some old guy with grey hair, lol) not knowing who he was!!! And then called him a poet with an obvious look of confusion on his face!!! I don't think I have laughed like that in a long time. TV is getting just as bad over here, although I must admit, we do have more voice about it simply because we do pay for a licence for the BBC.

Ogg, the peasants uprising about the Poll Tax is the biggest piece of crap in a long time. Thanks to those idiots who demonstrated, they can now attach Council Tax to your salary, we no longer have the same level of autonomy because new laws were passed, basically, we are now worse off without poll tax than we would of had it been allowed through. So thanks to a bit of democratic rioting our country is now less democratic. The majority will not agree with that but then of course when they heard that poll tax was not going to be introduced they all sighed and went home, not thinking that perhaps we had now forced the government to pass laws which gave us even less freedom in taxation!!!
*gets off soap box*
Keep up the yoga though, my grandmother taught me and she could do the splits at 65, although never in front of anyone, LOL!!!!

Sorry Mr. Furnish for that little detour, it is something about that poll tax thing that most people in this country don't get! But this was a really good article.

P.S. I think your girlfriend deserves a nice meal out for that!

Alex :-)

( Posted by: Londongrey [Member] On: July 19, 2004 )

Alex
I'd rather you didn't refer to me as peasant or idiot, for two basic reasons. The Poll Tax was run as an experimental tax in Scotland a year before being introduced into the rest of Britain. During that year, people would refuse to pay,(illegal). Only pay at the last minute (legal, but a good tactic to clog up the system and register disapproval). Magrat Thatcher, in her flawed wisdom, chose to ignore these warning signals, steam-rollered ahead and reaped the whirlwind. She blithely stated, "the Poll Tax will be very popular" - it was so popular people rioted. Encouraged folk to take out mortgages they could barely afford and sometimes ended up with negative equity. Destroyed the mining industry out of petty-minded revenge, created a generation of yuppies with their 'I matter, you don't' mentality and idiot-language. What really annoys me is the fact that she had brains, ability and balls of steel, but was stuck in some kind of middle-class snob rut. She was the peasant, mate, not myself or my friends who rightly protested against the Poll Tax. This country is only as democratic as the state wants you to believe it is. True democracy is a far distant dream, politics has failed because its practitioners are corrupt. My soap box's bigger than yours, so neerrr.
Thanks for the encouragement about yoga, if I ever manage the splits, you'll probably hear me!
Take care,
Paul

( Posted by: Ogg [Member] On: July 22, 2004 )

Taxation is Hell.
Now you know what we were so pissed off about way back in 1776. Muahahahahaha!

Thatcher is so loved by American Ultraconservatives that she's on a board of directors for a hyper-rightwing college or university in Virginia - the Hallowed Halls sort of state of NeoConservatives... and capitol of the former Confederate States of America...

She's worshipped as a female Ronald Regan. If he hadn't been a dozen sheets to the wind by the time he staggered into the presidency on his acting ability and ad campaigns, they probably would've hooked up.

(I have this sick image in my head of Thatcher holding up the sheet and looking down at his netherregions... asking... "Ronald, where's the REST of you?!?")

( Posted by: the alienist [Member] On: July 22, 2004 )

baarrrf!
Thatcher and Reagan - that is one VERY sick image. I remember a sketch from a tv series 'Spitting Image' which took the p... out of anybody and everybody famous. Sketch entitled 'One Man and His Dog' the man - Reagan the dog - Thatcher who the commentator described as "What a magnificent bitch." I nearly laughed myself sick. The series is no more, after B-liar came into power, now if I were paranoid.....
Seeya
Paul the Ogg

( Posted by: Ogg [Member] On: July 22, 2004 )

You mean...
...Blair's people had Spitting Image taken off the air?

( Posted by: the alienist [Member] On: July 23, 2004 )

Well
Last series of 'Image' ended December 1996.
B-liar was elected in May 1997. Whether B-liar's people blocked any decision to screen another series is hard to say. But I feel the fact that it might take a few months to put a new show together anyway seems suggestive of dirty work at the crossroads. Don't suppose we'll ever know for certain. Personally I'll carry on being paranoid and distrustful of all politicians - it's safer than trying to sort out the tiny snippets of truth amongst the mountains of bullshit.
Take care
Paul

( Posted by: Ogg [Member] On: August 22, 2004 )

You know it.
I think this is proof in the pudding that Anarchy is the only real solution to the lying whores of Politics.

( Posted by: the alienist [Member] On: August 22, 2004 )





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