Can we love both?
Television continues to be one of the biggest determinants and proponents of entertainment culture in our society. With hundreds of TV channels offering too many shows to count, all for an (overpriced) monthly fee, it’s easy to become addicted to this colourful medium.
However, those of us who admire television often feel discouraged by its offerings. Bombarded day after day by sugarcoated images, unattainable fantasies, exaggerated, sometimes dehumanizing versions of ourselves, it has become a purveyor of crass spectacle. One has to switch from channel to channel in an attempt to avoid absurd escapism, reality show falseness and overwrought sentimentalism. And let’s not forget the outrageous consumerism being pushed within the shows by their advertisers. Hardly lofty values, particularly when applied to the concept of arts and culture.
The reason for this plethora of junk on TV is big business communications companies exist to make profits. They come up with ideas they think will make them money rather than programs with substance.
Unlike television, the performing arts are not in the profit making business. Most involved in the performing arts aspire to create work that entertains, gives us pleasure, and offers reprieve from the daily grind. However, most artists are also driven to create work that challenges perceptions and pushes boundaries, expands our hearts and minds, expresses beauty and magic along with creations that explore the darker side of the world. They may not always succeed at doing so, but at least they are trying with sincere effort.
So are those working in the performing arts born and raised on a different planet than those working in televisionland?
Not at all!
Watch public television and the similarities are striking.
PBS and TVO, for example, choose to present shows that pose questions, make us think, disturb our complacency, inspire and motivate as well as entertain, please and divert. On these networks and others such as BBC and CBC, you can find a multitude of shows that feature indepth biographies, feature films, documentaries, news, commentary and investigative journalism, dramatic and comedic series, music, dance, visual art. The look and style of programming range from gritty realism to imaginative surrealism and everything in between.
There is HBO (which has 7 multiplex channels appealing to a variety of viewers tastes). It has made quite a difference to TV. It’s flagship comedy in the 90’s, The Larry Sandler Show, has pushed writers, producers and directors within the industry to raise the bar high, inspiring quite a few of them to produce programs that both entertain and elevate, by bringing thoughtfulness, intelligence, wit, humour, even beauty, to its viewers. A&E, History and Discovery channels also offer up some pretty interesting shows.
When television chooses to believe that it too is an art form, it’s proven itself a leader in the arena of arts and entertainment.
And the glorious thing about television is that we can enjoy it while sitting at home in front of the small (or not so small) screen with friends and family. It’s a medium that allows us to engage in a privately shared, intimate and memorable experience. All you need to do is find the right channel.