A few years ago now, I was told to go and buy the Blu-ray Disc boxed set of a little television show called True Blood. Normally, when others recommend a film, television series, or pretty much anything for that matter to me, I need to be convinced that there is something to warrant my attention. True Blood, as media exhibitions go, was actually a pretty easy sell when the person telling me about it said the magic words. Anna Paquin was in it. So a couple of days and a substantial number of dollars later, I was sitting in front of my display unit (a forty-two incher at the time) and watching a television show called True Blood.
Bear in mind for now that I had not watched broadcast television in some years. I still have not watched any of it because I am physically unable to find anything I really want to watch on it. This, combined with the fact that what Australian broadcasters call High Definition and what I call High Definition are two very different things, means that broadcast as a medium has lost all interest factor for me. There is simply no way that the television I grew up watching can interest me any longer, either.
There is a reason for this. When I was between the ages of five and twelve years, there was a television series broadcast here every week that followed what we will describe as a variety format. Department-like sketches, sort of like articles in Mad Magazine. The order was both somewhat random and predictable, and some sketches were more interesting than others. But the germane point here is that every episode had interviews with celebrity guests, usually in order to promote something that the celebrity in question was connected with. Now, Daryl Somers, the man who hosted this show, known as Hey Hey It’s Saturday (or Oh No It’s Saturday as some derisively call it) is known for a number of things. An ego gone out of control, an idiot, a poor presenter, you name it. But probably the quality that stands out the most to me with Daryl Somers by far is the child-goggles. That is, unless the person he is addressing happens to be bigger than him, noticeably older, and often male, he will address them as if they are a child. Christina Ricci became the victim of this aspect of Daryl Somers‘ annoying personality whilst doing publicity rounds for one of the Addams Family films that she played Wednesday in.
Now, granted, even today at age 32, Christina looks like a child. She claims that the Italian has been bred out of her, but few peoples from the European continent produce individuals as small as her, even amongst the women, with the frequency that Italians do. But this is entirely beside the point. Depending on which film she was publicising (The Addams Family or Addams Family Values), Christina was either eleven or thirteen years old on these occasions. Somers, on the other hand, was addressing her as if she was five years old or less. And Christina very clearly looked uncomfortable. When I look at people the way Christina was looking at Daryl, they usually back away because they believe I might maim them. Or worse. The look on her face basically translated in my mind’s eye into something like “please stop talking to me like this, you sound like a pervert who wants to shove things up my arse and listen to me cry”. And I might remind you that whilst I find the claims of expression-blindness made for the autistic exaggerated to a degree, at thirteen or fifteen years old I had enormous trouble reading the expressions of people, especially when they were on television. Not so with Christina. That was the look of a small woman contemplating calling one of the big men charged with protecting her to do their job. That is how uncomfortable Somers‘ talking to her as one would a child was visibly making her.
And broadcast television has gotten noticeably worse since then. The time I just described was before “reality” television, so there is that disimprovement. But the quality of what is available has deteriorated to the point where if I do watch a television series, it is on Blu-ray Disc.
And there are now three different television series that I own copies of on Blu-ray Disc. Going in order of how adult-oriented they are, these are Band Of Brothers, Game Of Thrones, and True Blood. And let me tell you something. Adult-oriented content is about more than just the rating that whichever regulatory commission chooses to slap upon it. As films like Friday The 13th demonstrate, you can slap the R rating on anything, and it will still have a very childish tone and worldview. In fact, the last time I saw a feature film that I could honestly say was written with grown-ups in mind was at the end of 2010, and it was called TRON: Legacy. The time before that was in 2007, and it was a 2006 production called Zwartboek. Going on production dates, that is a four-year gap. Although I only have a small window into what goes on in television nowadays, I can tell you without blinking that everything the television production house known as HBO produces far more material designed for adults with adult sensibilities than Hollywood has done in my entire life.
How this has come about is a big subject in and of itself. But years of deregulation and media monopolisation have driven the costs of making a film up to such a point that the lowest common denominator does not merely rule, it is the only way to survive. Whilst there are errors of judgement in storytelling terms abound in HBO series, nobody can ever say that these errors are the result of trying to infantalise a story that is incompatible with such treatment.
Although different counts of the age of television exist, it has been commercially available in some form since the 1920s. Although this has been a slow process, it has outgrown the medium that once held itself above. If you had told me when I was a child that this would be the case when I was looking across the table at middle age, I would have flat-out not believed you. Well done for surprising me, television. I am glad to see someone out there can manage it.
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