Television: A Hateful Pleasure, A Hidden Power

By Lifan Zhang 

When we are watching television, we might expect the show to be hilarious, to be relaxing, to be heartbreaking, but never to be educational. This is exactly the idea of Foster Wallace in the 1990s that the charm of TV and the demand of the viewers, are substantially the hollowness and the sameness. The relationship between the producers and the viewers is pretty much double-sided and interactive, rather than overwhelmed and pre-dominated by the production side.

As Wallace puts in his article “E Unibas Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction“, television-viewer relationship is a “voyeur-voyeuree” or a “viewer-performer” mode that the life on TV, whether acted or natural, is snooped by watchers. Television, in fact, is also a hidden voyeur on the other side of the glass screen, peeping on its viewers’ reactions, studying their tastes, and thus plotting a world, which is on one hand realistic, but meanwhile more perfect than the real world in which the viewers live.

That is to say, Walter White is never going to appear in our real world (Sadly). Similar to the Little Mermaid and the Sleeping Beauty, he only lives in a fabricated mock-world, where our viewers’ wildest and the most impossible dreams and daydreams come true. The whole idea at here is not only fabricated, but more importantly fabricated based on viewer’s tastes.

The beauty who only lives in the Sleeping Beauty

The Walt who only lives in Breaking Bad

Related back to Breaking Bad, one possible reason for its great success is that Walt, to certain extent, stands for those 9-to-5 commuters who have a rebellious self reside deep in heart. The show is a credible outlet for their inner selves because the world depicted is highly resembled to our real world. Thus the outrageousness and defiance of Walt are not privileged or legitimate under different social rules applied in that fictitious world but also bold and rebellious. If so, then there will be no excitement about Breaking Bad because, under the context of the made-up world, the outrageousness will simply become tasteless routine and mundane, nothing dreamy about it. Thus, television portrays what we viewers want to see based on what the world truly is. It provides dreams that do not dream too wild and too far. But at the same time those dreams are accurate enough to just stimulate our interest.

Shocking? Unwilling to accept? Sorry, this is how we gain our pleasure from television viewing, including from the beloved Breaking Bad.


Related Links

1. E Unibas Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction, David Foster Wallace

2. David Foster Wallace’s Wikipedia Page (It might be a great start to first get to know who the guy is!)



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