A collective mumbling with jr2015 –
“Save the Cheerleader, Save the world”
I was moaning the other day that British television has become really awful recently but really, it was a foolhardy comment. The Beeb is still the worlds greatest television network even though the BBC Three experiment may be faltering and its budget has been reigned in. Its subtle integrations into the internet are proving successful and it provides me with regular selection intelligent entertainment such as Top Gear, Never Mind the Buzzcocks and Panorama. Just ignore the new Fame Academy style Musical show hosted by Graham Norton arriving soon.
And Channel Four seems to be holding up; Skins was both ridiculous and entertaining, a new series of the classic Peep Show is in the pipeline and it has its share of American imports, like it’s neighbour, Five. We will also have to ignore ITV, who recently have failed even to produce worthy costume drama in their Jane Austen season. My seemingly incorrect griping was made at the beginning of my mourning period for my favourite American program at the moment – NBC’s Heroes, which is in hiatus until April 23. For those who aren’t familiar with the show, in a very simplistic paraphrasing, it is an X-Men rip-off, with Lost style epic storyline arcs and character development (although with minimal flashbacks); and ignore all the spin saying anything otherwise because the comparisons are endless. But whereas X-Men was always set in the ‘not too distant future’ and its superheroes were caped and masked, Heroes brings it back to the present day and empowers stereotypes of American culture, who are portrayed by relatively unknown actors: the Japanese otaku (super-geek) with broken English (a more recently contrived figure of modern international society), what I hesitantly call ‘trailer/white trash’, a cheerleader, a fat cop, a New York artist type, a ruthless politician striving for the White House, and his brother, the long-fringed, skinny, emotive Peter (also contemporary…). (Instead of describing all the subsequent names and powers I can direct you to the lineup on the NBC Heroes home site).
Heroes, like all good television, is primarily about the entertainment factor. However, as the list of characters above demonstrates, it is also a riot of tacked-together American pop culture which is all the more easily scrutinized when brought together under the intellectually liberated theme comic books. I only really considered this kind of post-modern stance on things when I discovered the extreme intellectual niches of Batman, and perhaps more bizarrely, Buffy studies. I really don’t want to go into this too deeply, for fear of a regression to my 14 year old self, but I will give you a title from one particular paper that caught my eye by Erin Hollis (California State University, Fullerton): Gorgonzola Sandwiches and Yellow Crayons: James Joyce, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Aesthetic of Minutia. These people may be a little bit more interested in their favorite shows than the average viewer and it really shows how deep the field of television studies cares to delve; but don’t write it off altogether. Buffy is studied because, by the end of the second season, it had distilled all of American teenage neuroses previously or yet to be shown on the small and big screen into 24 episodes. Contrasted against the supernatural and outsider element it forms as yet unprecedented creative statement. But it is about vampires and magic and crap, and made for sixteen year olds, so I don’t think I will be submitting to the journal anytime soon.
When you watch this or that program, Heroes being a key example, you are possibly witnessing the creation of modern mythology. I think because of the vast effects of 9/11, we can be sure that this particular piece of television is engaging the world in such a way. I have already shown you the myth of the cheerleader, and its restructuring by the creator Joss Whedon’s Buffy character. These are all reworkings of common stylised themes to communicate a great national tragedy or fear, much like the classical myth, or the Old Testament Bible story (comparing comics to the Bible, is that sacrilegious?). For Mr. Wheden it was the existence of “the little blond girl who goes into a dark alley and gets killed in every horror movie”, for Tim Kring perhaps it is not just the collapse of the Twin Towers but the infinite waves of apprehension that was created from that attack. And it will be most interesting to keep this sort of perspective when the rebuild on ground zero starts to begin and ‘freedom towers’ (now that is crass) rises into our collective psyche.