Why is science fiction one of the most popular TV genres? And if that wasn’t weird enough, it now appears to be the hottest genre in the green room.
How strange! It’s been said that people tune in to “Fear the Walking Dead” hoping to learn something about our dismal planet. The same can be said of “The Good Place,” which has a decidedly anti-establishment bent, and “Stranger Things,” which has a vaguely ’80s vibe.
But they’re not all conscious viewers. Many confess to feeling genuinely uncertain about the real world.
Take Walter Issacson, the acclaimed author of “Steve Jobs,” for example. In an upcoming chapter in Harper’s Magazine, Issacson argues that we were children who grew up to become adults. Our first step toward becoming a grown-up was noticing that we were no longer 10-year-olds in love with a movie, a playground, a .22 gun, or a bicycle. As we aged, we realized that most adults know nothing about playing games, or playing sports, or riding bikes. We realized that we are no longer playing with the other 10-year-olds in our community.
Issacson writes that a small but significant minority of people, especially celebrities, can easily determine our implicit, deep frustrations with adulthood. Every successful celebrity is forever replaying a few episodes of “American Idol” or “Saturday Night Live,” or a classic ABC news report, on repeat over and over. These are the “wants” of our deepest self. We need an appropriate vehicle to voice those needs, and TV is the most open to these impulses.
In other words, the television audience looks at a few shows and decides, based on the look and feel of the program, what’s wrong with our world and what we would like to do about it. We like something or we want it to change. Watching these shows, we are guided toward re-imaging reality and the choices we make.
So TV is not “reality,” and isn’t science fiction. But if you are wondering why so many can and do have a dystopian view of the world, consider the books that kids of all ages (and genders) are addicted to. Walter Issacson’s latest study, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” is the latest to chronicle the rise of Donald Trump. The book is a story of two most improbable adventures of man, and it has become, in its own way, one of the most important books of the past few years. “Kavalier & Clay” is the kind of book kids should read by the millions, and teachers should read to the millions, too.
Not even the most liberal people will deny that Trump is essentially out to make the world a better place. But his successes so far are likely to come to an end. The late Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi once said, “Liberals are still more frustrated than anyone because they know they’re not on the top of the heap. And that’s a process of falling down.” I think that if Trump continues in power, it will take something spectacular, perhaps the likes of Donald Kavalier and Clay, to get them back up.
If you want to dive into the political world, you’ve got several options. But if you’re eager to immerse yourself in the hyper-relevant pop culture of our time, then it’s hard to top reality TV. The two most popular cable shows are “The O’Reilly Factor” and “The Ingraham Angle.” If you are a conservative in Washington, D.C., you will look at the words “Ingraham Angle” and think: “That’s all about me!” If you’re a liberal in the U.S. capital, you will look at the words “O’Reilly Factor” and think: “That’s all about me!” In fact, if you’re a Republican in Washington, D.C., you will use the word “Ingraham” 30 times a day.
When in doubt, remember that your Nielsen average is just another weekend at the lake.