I stopped watching TV regularly when I started making documentaries, about twenty years ago. Maybe watching started to feel like work. But I taught my son at an early age that everything he saw on TV was pretend, because the shared stories of a culture are its myths and myths serve us on the level of need and desire, not reality.
Myths, unlike reality, involve choice, involve all kinds of issues of what you want (or at least are willing) to hear.
There are lots of ‘reality’ shows on our TV these days. What I know about them comes from a couple of glances gained in coincidence or by mistake and boils down to: a) There’s no reality there and b) Most of them seem designed to make us feel better by feeling superior to the idiots on the screen.
Which may be a better explanation of why I don’t watch a lot of TV.
Anyway, so I got off the subway at McDonald and 18th Avenue in Brooklyn the other day and saw the big TV lights set up on the corner. Not being in the business anymore, this was all fun to watch again so I walked up to the crew and asked “What’s the show?”
He must have seen the lack of recognition on my face because a moment later, he added:
“It’s showing in France. I think if it does well over there, they’ll bring it here.”
I thought that was wonderful – and telling.
McDonald Avenue is central Brooklyn, an ethnic stew. A swarm of Hasidic Jews, the Islamic Cultural Center right around the corner, the traditional Italians though their numbers may have dwindled in recent years and a lot of African-American faces as well. The elevated train tracks are rusted and the storefront signs hand-painted. Unlike Manhattan, the place hasn’t become overrun with chain stores. The streets look like something out of ‘The Professional” or ‘The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3″. It’s gritty and not at all glamorous, but these people are living together in a clamorous give-and-take, something the French have not had a lot of success creating with their immigrants in recent years.
So it seems like the French myth is the exoticism of the melting pot and ours is that the world is full of morons with even less taste than us.
Maybe we should aim a little higher.