The Critic as an Artist as a Lady

Last night I continued my quest to save money by being as still as possible. I calculated that since it cost me about $50 for the mere act of leaving the apartment, then it would cost about $20 for me to go into the living room from the bedroom and about $10 every time I got up from the computer. Note that these figures are highly suspect as I didn't pay a lot of attention in my college economics classes (which makes the fact that I minored in economics even more mystifying). At any rate, staying seated at my computer with the television on seemed to cost me the least amount of money for existing, so I threw in a cheap bottle of wine and spent a rocking evening browsing the internet. What you folks take for granted during your workday has become my most cost-effective form of entertainment.

All was not lost, however, as I quickly discovered Television Without Pity, a website devoted to, well, television, that features some of the most interesting writing I've seen in a while. These are clearly people who like to write. I've always rejected the notion that a critic is simply a useless-hanger-on of people who actually make art. The first challenge to this notion was when I read Oscar Wilde's essay The Critic as an Artist, which, rather jokingly, suggested that the critic was indeed at a higher level than the artist, or, at least as creative as the artist herself.

Nowhere is this more apparent than Television Without Pity. I, of course, went to the forum for the show Kept, which I had been quite interested in until it got really repetitive after the sixth episode. Even Madame Jerry lost her luster; her faux British-Texas twang began to grate, and it became apparent that this was simply another dating show, rather than the grand swayamvara that I had imagined.

That said, the boards are witty, alarmingly accurate and entertaining in a cynical way. A particularly fey contestant is presumed to be gay, or, at least "has some sugar in his tank." Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne "inhabit their own land of awesome." Merciless as the website promised, these are people who have no compunction about mocking the aspirations of "famewhores" even as they compulsively watch them. The writing about the show, in fact, was far superior to the show itself. If we buy into the antiquated notion that an artist is intrinsically superior to his critic, simply because he does something, then that means that the bobble-headed contestants of Kept and the manipulative, snarky producers of the show are intrinsically superior to the cultural critics who dissect them. Such is clearly not the case. What could be better reading than one poster's request that Elton John and his boyfriend do a similar search for a houseboy, and call their show "Two Queens and a Knave?" Brilliant. You can't find better writing anywhere. That these people are clear-eyed about the "Cinderella-storyline" (i.e. the scruffiest boy cleans up good to win the game) and the magic of editing to create hugely artificial story arcs makes the reading even better. They're willing to play the game, but they're not going to be fooled by it.

It was a much better evening than my sedentary self could have envisioned. What's equally fascinating is the dirt dug up on the contestants--four or five of whom rather coincidentally starting up blogs just as the show started airing. Absolutely hilarious. Reality television may be exactly what George Orwell envisioned as our entertainment in 1984 (complete with wall-high screens), but it doesn't mean that its viewers are stupid. Wit and perception can produce good writing out of virtually any subject matter.

As for me, I'm going to spend the $20 and go to my kitchen for some lunch.