In the essay E Unibas Pluram, David Foster Wallace (whom you may know from his non-fiction work like Consider the Lobster or his NY Times magazine article on Roger Federer) analyzes the relationship between television and literary fiction in U.S. culture. The essay was written in the very early nineties, so the references are dated: when he discusses technological advances in television, he's talking about the shift from 5 channels to 50, the popularization of VCR and remote controls that permit what we would now consider only the most minimal control over what and when we watch. The mute button gets a mention.
This is not necessarily the kind of essay you may be imagining if you haven't read it, though; Wallace isn't arguing broadly that TV rots the brain or coarsens our culture. He explains that "[t]elevision ... is just plain pleasurable, though it may seem odd that so much of the pleasure my generation gets from television lies in making fun of it. But you have to remember that younger Americans grew up as much with people's disdain for TV as we did with TV itself." He goes on to argue that TV has co-opted this disdain, keeping viewers engaged by making them part of the in-joke. What's the problem with that? "[T]o the extent that [TV] can train viewers to laugh at characters' unending put-downs of one another, to view ridicule as both the mode of social intercourse and the ultimate art form, television can reinforce its own queer ontology of appearance: the most frightening prospect, for the well-conditioned viewer, becomes leaving oneself open to others' ridicule by betraying passé expressions of value, emotion, or vulnerability. Other people become judges; the crime is naivete. The well-trained lonely viewer becomes even more allergic to people. Lonelier."
Wallace explores potential solutions to this problem, including one that predicts a future dominated by "'the telecomputer, a personal computer adapted for video processing and connected by fiber-optic threads to other telecomputers around the world.'" "Now everybody'll get to be his own harried guy with headphones and clipboard." Wallace is unpersuaded, however: "The downside of TV's big fantasy is that it's just a fantasy. As a special treat, my escape from the limits of genuine experience is neato. As my steady diet, though, it can't help but render my own reality less attractive (because in it I'm just one Dave, with limits and restrictions all over the place), render me less fit to make the most of it (because I spend all my time pretending I'm not in it), and render me dependent on the device that affords escape from just what my escapism makes unpleasant."
Last night in the Palestra, the Temple Owls visited the Penn Quakers for Penn's first home game, a Big Five matchup which Temple was expected to win comfortably despite missing two of its major contributors, Scootie Randall and Khalif Wyatt. I watched from the alumni-dominated "chairback" section, which (for those who don't know the Palestra) is for those willing and able to plunk down some cash to avoid the bleachers (ow) and be closer to the action. The row behind me tends to contain a rotating cast of "basketball guys" dropping in for a game - last night, it was a couple of coaches of the Philadelphia 76ers, for example. As you can imagine, these are not the elements that make a rowdy cheering section. Halfway through the first half, with Penn leading by a remarkable score of 18-10, Temple's coach Dunphy called timeout, and I couldn't help but think of how much fun I'd been having, and my joy at being back in the Palestra and watching the Quakers really compete. My next thought: I must be drawing attention to myself, too, what with the clapping and the yelling. Frankly, I was embarrassed.
One of the people a few seats down from me looked at me and asked "Do you believe they can keep this up? Do you believe?" My reaction: don't get ahead of yourself, man! (Was he accusing me of being naïve?) But they did keep it up, all the way to the end of regulation and through the 5-minute overtime. By that time, everyone (except the NBA coaches, I think) was standing and yelling, "betraying passé expressions of value, emotion, or vulnerability." Penn's coach, Jerome Allen, even got a technical for it. But even if that lost Penn the game - and Penn did lose - I'm okay with that.
"The next real literary 'rebels' in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of 'anti-rebels,' ... who have the childish gall actually to endorse single-entendre values. Who treat old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naïve, anachronistic. Maybe that'll be the point, why they'll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk things. Risk disapproval. ... The new rebels might be the ones willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the 'How banal.' Accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Credulity. ... I guess that means we all get to draw our own conclusions. Have to. ..."
I'm going to watch plenty of basketball on TV this season, don't get me wrong. I'll watch some of the 24-hour marathon of televised hoops that will be on when I get home from work today. But I'm going to push back against taking that television mentality with me into the Palestra. A game like last night's shows that it's worth it.
TEMPLE 73, at PENNSYLVANIA 67 11/14/2011
TEMPLE 1-0 (0-0) -- R. Moore 6-20 1-3 15; M. Eric 4-8 1-2 9; T. DiLeo 3-5 4-6 10; R. Hollis-Jefferson 5-6 0-0 10; J. Fernandez 7-14 2-2 19; A. Brown 3-9 1-2 8; A. Lee 1-4 0-2 2. Totals 29-66 9-17 73. PENNSYLVANIA 1-1 (0-0) -- Z. Rosen 9-17 2-3 27; M. Cartwright 4-11 0-0 8; R. Belcore 4-7 0-0 8; T. Bernardini 3-11 2-2 8; F. Dougherty 4-7 2-4 10; M. Howlett 3-3 0-0 6; C. Crocker 0-0 0-0 0; M. Kukoc 0-1 0-0 0; S. Esprit 0-0 0-0 0; H. Brooks 0-1 0-0 0; C. Gunter 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-58 6-9 67.
Three-point goals: TU 6-17 (R. Moore 2-5; T. DiLeo 0-1; J. Fernandez 3-6; A. Brown 1-5), PENN 7-19 (T. Bernardini 0-3; R. Belcore 0-2; Z. Rosen 7-10; M. Cartwright 0-3; M. Kukoc 0-1); Rebounds: TU 31 (M. Eric 10), PENN 26 (M. Cartwright 7); Assists: TU 14 (J. Fernandez 5), PENN 15 (Z. Rosen 6); Total Fouls -- TU 15, PENN 16; Fouled Out: TU-None; PENN-None.