Monday, January 16, 2012

Television Trumps Cinema Again at the Golden Globes

Once again curiosity got the better of me when it came to reviewing the results of the Golden Globes.  However, while last year my curiosity was directed at Melissa Leo, this year there really was not anything in the movies category that drew my attention.  It is as if the movie industry now shares with Broadway that “vast wasteland” epithet that Newton Minnow once used to condemn the quality of television in the Fifties.  (This leads me to wonder whether Minnow was aware of Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s theory of a “consciousness industry.”  Given what things were like in the Fifties, if he was, he probably did his best to conceal the influence.)  Now it is television, particularly the pay cable channels, that is willing to take on gutsy substance without worrying about having the narrative get interrupted by commercials or having scripts that will scare away sponsors.  Thus, while many view the Globes as a barometer for the Oscar results, I could care less how those contenders finally get rank-ordered.  I prefer to be drawn into serious extended narrative;  and that just is not Hollywood’s bill-of-fare.

My only problem with the Globes is that I have yet to figure out their criteria for classification.  I have already written about the arbitrariness of how the Emmy Awards have muddled the distinction between drama and comedy (classifying United States of Tara as comedy, almost as if in denial of the more serious subtext of the narrative).  The Globes muddy the waters further by adding “miniseries or movie” as a category along with “drama” and “musical or comedy.”  As a result Homeland ended up classified as drama, while Game of Thrones ended up in the “miniseries or movie” category.  The good news is that this allowed both Kelsey Grammer to be acknowledged for getting to exercise some solid acting chops in Boss (drama), while Idris Elba could be similarly recognized for Luther (miniseries).  It also meant that Game of Thrones (miniseries) did not have to compete with Homeland (drama), even if that means that it was then bested by Downton Abbey.  (It also leads me to wonder if this “game of categories” had been designed to make sure that the judges would not have to choose between Downton Abbey, which is as best a mild, although highly polished, diversion, and Homeland, which left any serious viewer wondering just what has been achieved in “Homeland Security” since 9/11.)

I know better than to kid myself.  I realize that David Simon was able to hone his craft in television while working on Homicide for NBC.  However, I suspect that the constraints imposed by NBC made him seek out a less restrictive environment, which he found in HBO (perhaps by virtue of Charles Dutton, who already had plenty of reputation, making his directing debut with a miniseries for HBO based on The Corner, a book that Simon had co-authored).  Both NBC and HBO make programming decisions that are ultimately “ruled by numbers.”  However, it seems as if HBO and Showtime are more willing to take a “portfolio management” approach to their numbers that makes them less beholden to that consciousness industry and the need to ground everything in a subtext of consumerism and its addictive nature.  In the movie industry, on the other hand, the exceptions to the rule come from those odd independent efforts that may make the occasional splash or two but will never make a wave big enough to shift the status quo.

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