Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Are We All Pop Artists? Part I

Summer is not usually a time for interesting, cutting-edge, or particularly watchable television*. For the last decade or so, the networks have used this time to throw random reality show concepts against the wall to see what sticks - Survivor stuck – Top Chef stuck – American Idol stuck - for me, this summer, Work of Art: The Next Great Artist has stuck. The premise is simple: Project Runway with create fine art.

As a reality show, its success rests in the fact that these individuals are quite different from anyone who has previously been featured on TV. Though the cast is noticeably GREAT looking, many are still quite weird. The star of the first three episodes, Miles, has won two challenges already while also constantly displaying how crazy he is. He has a beguiling twitchy personality rooted in an extreme OCD and a dash of social anxiety, which is both hard to watch and exceptionally great television**.

Still, what is the most interesting about the show is that it turns all of these artists into Pop Artists. SPOILER ALERT***: Trong, “the most established artist on the show” got kicked off the show for his piece involving three “children” televisions “having a conversation” with a larger “parental” TV. The screens had cheeky little phrases on them, each commenting on the relationship of reality, reality television, high art, and popular culture. Miles deemed the piece, “distractingly boring,” however he did not really address why. My argument is that the bold comment on society that Trong was trying to convey is already implicit in the framework of the show, and by outwardly addressing it, his work seemed egregiously on-the-nose.

Miles won the challenge by creating a piece about his difficulty sleeping, in which he actually slept on the piece. This piece succeeded in the exact way Trong’s failed. Miles used the inherent pop subtext of the show to his advantage. He was really commenting on the difficulty of trying to function normally when all of your actions are projected publically. Art is often a comment on one’s own position in life, so accordingly all of these individuals’ pieces end up existing as a comment on living on TV and creating art under the lens of mainstream culture.

This really touches on a common theme of this blog. Due to today’s excess of access most of us have to reconcile our personal creative process with something more public. This begs the question, are we all Pop artists****?

* The summer also is a scripted television graveyard of sorts. Every summer there will be a handful of obviously awful shows that the network spent just too much money to never air. NBC’s 100 Questions is my current favorite*****. In an ideal world it would be titled, “How I Haven’t Met Your Father Yet.” Basically, the protagonist (who is female!!!!) starts the episode by answering questions asked by a dating service employee that is astoundingly both an offensive black stereotype and an offensive gay stereotype. This in turn leads into such a delightfully hackneyed half-hour of sitcom television. There is something about television this awful that is strangely endearing.

The networks are filled with “bad” television, which usually implies decidedly middle-brow, boob-tube-esque TV. Two and a Half Men is probably the definitive “bad” show on TV. It might be lazy, shallow, and trite but it is at least professional. The snobbiest of snob TV viewers will watch a “bad” show and think “man this is dumb and very much not Arrested Development.” Watching a show like 100 Questions invokes a very different reaction.

I am reminded of the review of Mike Myers’s “Love Guru” by the usually congenial A.O. Scott, in which he describes the “film” as “downright antifunny, an experience that makes you wonder if you will ever laugh again.” 100 Questions so brazenly operates in this territory that its engaging. The "it's so bad it’s good” paradigm is not usually my bag, as I don’t have a strong stomach for unbridled irony. That being said, 100 Questions is so bad its good and my DVR series recording confirms.
**This is a very popular reality show personality dynamic. The best example thus far is in episode 2 when Miles reads the entirety of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein before starting his piece to redesign the book’s cover.
***I think. I have never alerted a spoiler before, so I am unaware of the parameters.
**** Are cliffhangers allowed in the blogosphere? I intend to address this question in a follow-up essay probably titled Lady Gaga v. Heidi Montag: Who is today’s Andy Warhol?.
*****Oddly enough, for the summer 100 Questions is in the timeslot (NBC, Thursday, 8:30PM) of my actual favorite situational comedy, Parks and Recreation. Considering, how stupidly funny this season of the latter was, the former seems even more offensively awful in comparison.

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