#POP, Consumerism, Television

The Future of Television

hot-girl-watching-tv-elite-dailyCinema will soon become a theatre-like experience – a handful of mega-budget pictures released for longer runs, in order to get the biggest box-office results. In this mass-appeal landscape, the art of story-telling and the focus on character relationships will have to find a new home. Nowadays, though, it seems like they’ve gotten pretty comfy on our couches.

Television is now the bastion of depth. It’s where we go to get to know interesting characters, and where we invest most of our time exploring complicated stories and relationships. Considering that high-grossing feature films have become more expensive to produce; people are spending more time at home; and there’s a whole host of new on-demand services, TV has become both a viable story-telling and money-making alternative.

The focus in coming years will be on what I will call “pay-and-play” services, where people at home can watch an increasing library of low-budget feature films as well as the new medium of “episodic features” – tightly-scripted episodes of shows that have in-depth character development and narratives laced with the structure and metaphor of novels.

While HBO shows like Deadwood and Carnivale are paragons of the episodic feature, Netflix has taken the lead in pushing a new hybrid narrative form – the 13-hour movie. By releasing its shows all at once, instead of one episode a week, Netflix seems to have accepted that people are less inclined to start a two-hour feature film than they are to watch continuous episodes of a one-hour show. With budgets rivalling Hollywood blockbusters, these shows create an experience similar to a feature film, but allow viewers to delve deeper into the characters and the relationships, and, importantly, give them control over the experience. Such shows are a risk, but Netflix seems to have caught onto current viewing trends and presaged the future.

Part of what Netflix caught onto was that people today are so overwhelmed with information that they have developed shorter attention spans. We are more inclined to watch 3-minute YouTube stars and 30-second Instagram shows than to expend the effort on carefully crafted 2-hour long films or 250-page novels that explore the depths of human nature.

One might speculate here that this new reality is a result of an increasingly individualised urban society, complemented and fostered by a ceaseless advertising machine that supports a culture of knee-jerk consumerism.

But what it does reflect, nonetheless, is that more of us now have the luxury of time. Time buys the freedom to choose to sit at home and watch TV, and it also buys the space to ponder our own natures. The hashtag existentialism of Twitter society reflects the basic human need to explore our natures. A big part of the appeal of episodic television is the ability to do that – we build a relationship with characters and take part in the development of their lives.

Basically, television today is like catching up with an old friend. Except you’re alone in sweatpants on a sofa. #netflixandcarbs.


The gift of jet lag

jet_lag-1The haze of sleeplessness is like one of those waking dreams driven by the shaman’s potions. I vacillate between terrible lethargy and terrific clarity. Day and night have lost their meaning, and I have conquered Time.

This is the gift of jet lag: time unencumbered. When your mind is awake while others are unconscious, it’s the ultimate escape from the world. Time unencumbered is worth more than all the iPad Airs money can buy.

It’s the only gift Santa can’t give you. It’s the only freedom we can aspire to in this post-slavery world.

Though our bodies be free (too free), our minds are shackled by the oppressiveness of our daily schedules. Our smartphone taskmasters crack the whip of constant answerability in an age of perpetual connectivity.

Now the information is instant. You can’t pretend you didn’t get the memo. And the worst part – they know we’ve “Read” their messages. (Then comes the woeful slew of these: “Why aren’t you answering meeeee :(:( … I know you read my messagessss.”)

In our fast-paced world, escaping the oppressive strictures on our time is magic worthy of Gandalf himself. The world of jet lag is the liminal space, the hidden realm wherein we are freed of the shackles of mundane time.

That phantom zone between Time and Untime is our answer to Braveheart’s exclamatory appeal – it’s the “Freeeedom!” to explore strange new worlds and to go boldly where no man has gone before.

It’s the excuse to indulge wanderlust, to find strange compatriots in the night like Owen Wilson did in Paris when everyone he knew was sleeping. It’s the time to ruminate over the new 1,000ish-page Man Booker Prize-winner or illuminate the mind with the soul of Rumi.

Or #werk on your bod with today’s WOD. Or Netflix the end of “Breaking Bad.”

It’s the chance to air guitar the entire new Arcade Fire or to fervently believe you can paint as well as Mira Schendel. Or that you can be the next Puck or Lagasse. It’s the long, numinous night to peregrinate under the moon or meditate silently before the clamour of the dawn.

Had we but world enough, and time, we’d mine all the rubies of the mind. We’d saunter through life’s ebb and sway, and conquer every Everest that came our way.

Adventure would be mine, if I only had the time. If my iPhone 5S (yeah it’s gold) didn’t keep pinging and my Newsfeed didn’t keep updating, I’d do all the things I dream of doing when I’m lying on my sofa eating.

There’s so much time we waste, it’s a rare treat to be forced to be awake, and to have the clarity of mind to do something productive. Most people I know complain about jet lag. But it’s the best time in the world to do all the things we don’t have time to do in our daily lives.

It’s free space and time, in a world of multiple distractions and responsibilities, of crushing consumerism and keeping-up-with-the-Kanye’s-itis.

It’s a parallel world of opportunity.

So let’s heed the misquoted but nevertheless immortal words of middle-aged actor Brad Pitt: “Time! – take it, it’s yours!”

Posted at the Dhaka Tribune: http://www.dhakatribune.com/op-ed/2013/nov/11/gift-jet-lag