Monday 13th April 2020
I’m sick of Americana. It’s been 3 weeks and all I’ve seen is drove after drone of US telly culture via Netflix and The Internatz. It’s all starting to get too much, the cop shows, gun heists, coffee breaks, nasal drawls, whooping, blondes, chinos, cardigans, plaid. Immaculate lawns, garrulous housing, sass, likable gangsters, car culture, rest stops, trip hop, laptops, likes, stories, handles, vines. Making such a BIG deal about social mixing or not correlating with the racist, classist and sexist realities, obscuring the banality of the everyday, the gutted city centres, the crime, the boredom. How every scene conjured is pure, complicit fuckery. Lies, lies I tell you!
It’s just so fucking gushing about it all.
Not all cafes and bars are buzzing. Not all classrooms are vapid. Not all of California is sunny. Not all of Xmas is snowing and candle-lit. Not all of Mexico is dusty and orange filtered. Not all of NYC is just SO magical! Where are the drone shots of Queens? The shopping in Wal-Mart? The social and racial segregation indexes now on par with Apartheid-era South Africa? Where are the people who don’t live in 4-5 bed houses (no matter how rich or poor they are)? Where are the sweeping stories of people working in your average smalltown office or restaurant or shop or supermarket or factory? Where, oh where are the legions of working and (lower) middle classes? The fat? Where are the people who don’t wear make-up to bed? They have their stories to tell also -and even if the same ones, whether funny, exciting, romantic or resonant, why is it the upper-middle class resoundingly get the roles?
Talk shows are an embodiment -and the fact news agencies are morphing into them a sign. Every chat show host, presenter, news anchor and primetime guest too cartoonish, every audience too canned, too willing to whoop joyously on each statement that’s ended with a raise in octave, pause, then a look out to the crowd. Ratings, ratings ratings, catering to what we want interminably, back in 2009.
OK I get there are the many offerings that do represent, a big menu of them. American Beauty, The Wire, Sundance that kinda thing. But they are so very drowned out by everything else.
Endless Tiktok (Chinese I know), Drag Race, IG, Bojack, Cardi B, Lana Del Ray, Mark Wahlberg, Trump, Punk’d, React Channel, Prime, Disney, Pixar, Marvel. I mean I need something more exotic now, something historical. Also, another gripe: US documentaries. On one hand the tabloid idiocy of decorating information by screaming it out and dumbing it down: overdramatic audio, menacing voiceover, too-frequent summarisation (for the ad breaks every 15 mins I’ve heard), Flash graphics (trying to look sciencey), and hammy, sepia-toned dramatisations. Swear to Beelzebub, your left hand could feature in 72 Creatures To Watch The Fuck Out For, as they rotate the same shots of it turning claw shaped and raking at some gravel, or grabbing a cat to the sound of pick squeals.
On the other hand it’s the yonder extreme: slow, dragged out, formulaic and dry. The foodie documentaries a good example, varying with arthouse and voiceovers, endless conversation and life stories when we just wanna look at the grub, the culture, the recipes, the history. It’s food for fuck’s sake, not Nelson Mandela. We are not interested in the timeless glorification of a food hero that takes up an hour-long biopic, or extended reels of a rich man going shopping. I swear, sometimes I think Americana is so very glorifying and hero-worshipping as it helps with the hierarchy. Just too much formula.
What is missing is gravitas. Humility. Truth. Reticence. Detail. Please don’t clap. Please don’t call me Sir. Netflix, Apple TV, Quibi, Youtube, do for the love of cake just tone it down a notch or three.
My other option is Arte, our European attempt at global domination via France and Germany (and like Dunkerke, stopping right there). Ah, the fresh air. But then you only have about 20 programmes to choose from, thus forcing you into whatever arthouse/ history/ social science/ particle physics funnel they recently dreamt up from their tiny planning studio. And rapt as you may be with Malian wedding rituals, a biopic on Joan Miro, or Mannerist architecture in 16th Century Portugal it quickly becomes as entertaining as the wallpaper. I watched two entire episodes on a bunch of German God Squadders walking the medieval pilgrimage route over the Pyrenees, towards the Santiago de Compostela shrine. Mesmerised as they crossed whole bridges (someone losing a shoe in the river -heartstopping), calling in on statues, looking at buildings and getting some of the country air. They had a whole fucking season dedicated to them – those same people, that one journey. This is why Europe, denizen of holiday snaps and colonialism is no longer setting the world on fire, even with Eurovision.
Took a good, hard look at my life after that.
And don’t get me started on the Beeb. Dumbed down as to be squatting over the ranks of what the Mirror or Daily Mail would offer (though we’re not at C5, Sun scoop spectacular quite just yet) if they were given a £20 budget to source writers on the nation’s pulse, via their readership. It is so riven with ham and hack it could be Christmas. Dr Who (sorry), Celebrity Scissorhands, War of the Worlds. And their exposées are just so damn one-sided, so very choreographed by a
presenter investigative reporter who’s already charted out the story beforehand, including conclusion. Watch as Tracy investigates slaughterhouses on rumours animals get hurt in there, or Benjamin go to North Korea to check out their journalism schools. Maybe a harsh dressing down on race relations when hanging out at a KKK rally, involving multiple hidden cams and jittery chases.
TV has become a raison d’etre in these times. It is like power, food and air, a social birthright. And goddamit if what we’re getting is Coffee and fucking Kareem it’s time to man the barricades.
Morning a write off thanks to far too heavy a weeding session in the gardens, had to run to find a bucket, rummaging under the sink and finally settling for (thankyou J, precious metals trader), an antique silver planter in the Japonisme style to vom in. Highlight of my day. Oh and Antiques Roadshow.
Then a bikeride in the sun, on the same trail to Chelsea Bridge and back. Got fatshamed by A laughing at my baby tire when I took my top off (26C), cuddling round my rippling 12 pack. I’ve been nurturing it with soft drinks, biscuits and the odd cake since lockdown, it’s my friend. A buddy messaged to ask if I wanted to take a walk in Crystal Palace Park, forgetting that I’d moved from the area a while back. We decided against after realising it would involve a train trip, which is pretty much illegal and likely swarming with plain clothes police. It would’ve been one awkward meet up anyhoo, 2 metres apart at all times and talking like we’re on stage. Pretty much it, my life in a paragraph.
Quibi is the hip new thing A is currently smitten by, though he (nor anyone) can ever remember its name. The platform specialises in 10 minute bites of programming, from comedies to episodes (that suspiciously add up to the same dozens of hours) to documentary snippets to full on gameshows – all specially condensed for our half second attention spans. They’ve also been edited to be watchable portrait or landscape on your phones.
It’s perfect for cutting out the pfaff, but it doesn’t bode well that they’re catering to our wants (where recently tv all round the world has been trying out 15-20 minute offerings if you’ve noticed). How will we learn in the future if this becomes a norm? How will we get an appreciation of the smaller, slower things? In a similar vein another platform, Blinkist edits down entire books into 15 minute reads. I’m worried. But also enthralled.
All they need to do now is do something worth watching.