On “Community” and the illusion of the shared cultural conversation

I thought I’d written all I was going to write about “Community” a few weeks ago. And in many ways, I have. But reaction last night on Twitter to my insta-reaction on “Paradigms of Human Memory” has me on here using the episode as a springboard to discuss something else that’s been on my mind lately. Namely, I want to talk about the way not only shows are reviewed, but the reviews of those shows as well. The latter has long been part of the online game, but it seems to have turned a certain corner recently.

So here’s the tweet that kicked things off last night: “Community fans, God love ya. Nothing but respect for you and the show. But I might be out after tonight.” Now, Twitter’s good for a lot of things, but having my feelings about the show summed up in 140 characters isn’t one of them. What I mainly wanted to convey didn’t really come across, which is partly my fault, partly the fault of the media through which I chose to translate my message, and partly the fault of people that chose to read the tweet as a slam on the show or, perhaps more importantly, on themselves.

In writing about “The Chicago Code” recently, I talked about the notion of personal validation as intrinsic to the television viewing process. I think that’s got a lot to do with the small yet fervent fanbase for the show. I think Chuck Klosterman’s take on the The KISS Army is instructive here: like the Army, “Community” fans draw strength from the show in recognizing that there’s a show made by people that have the same culture reference points and similar sensibilities. Moreover, they often delight in seeing those reference points written into the reality of the show. It’s a way for the show to validate the interest of those watching it, and the relatively small but still sizable audience that watches it to know that millions of others share that same love.

community_31499.jpgMillions love “Community” not because it produces something outside of what’s in the audience’s head. Rather, they love it because it stages the best possible version of what up until that point was an unformed, inferior, internal set of scattered references. The illusion is that the show is inside the head of the audience, and simply plays back a better version onscreen. The audience provides the subconscious first draft, which is then psychically filtered into the writer’s room and eventually broadcast on NBC. The title “Community” not only serves to talk about the college that Jeff, Britta, and others attend. It also speaks directly to the way in which the show invites those of similar sensibilities to be part of the show itself.

That’s not how everyone experiences the show, of course, but it’s a way to understand how me tweeting that I’m “out” on “Community” can be perceived as tantamount to saying I am “out” on the person that loves the show. To speak of one is, in the minds of some, to speak of the other. I didn’t intend that for a second last night. Every part of that tweet is completely true. I do have respect for both the show and those that love it. If anything, I want to be one of the ones loving it. I don’t begrudge the show for what it does, or look down on anyone that loves it. All I know is that I sit there, watching the show, and I keep thinking, “I see what you did there.”

Here’s the thing: I don’t want to “see” it. I want to “experience” it. And I find it impossible to experience “Community” on most weeks, and last night decided that the show was doubling down on those that already loved it. Honestly, I applaud that decision, because it meant that the show doesn’t want to listen to anything but its own voice. I wouldn’t want any show to do anything other than that. There’s a difference between being antagonistic to newcomers and embracing one’s core audience, and I don’t think “Community” antagonizes anyone with what it does. But if “Paradigms” had me sitting there rather stone-faced, while others deemed it the funniest show of the year, then it’s probably time for me to find another show to watch. Life’s too short to keep trying to love something that’s clearly not for me.

And here’s the point where I start to actually get into what made me want to write some thoughts down this morning. After all, nothing up until this point is radically different from what I wrote a few weeks ago. But there’s this increasing sense that credibility in talking about television is determined by liking a certain set of shows that prove de facto that you are worthy of being read. I’d been feeling this for a while, but it really came to a head after my review last week of “Game of Thrones.” That I was in the minority when it came to that show (I thought it was good, not great) set off alarms for certain people. The dissonance had to be resolved in the minds of some readers, and many sought to relieve that tension through looking for ways to dismiss the opinion outright.

a-game-of-thrones-hbo-first-scene.jpgLook, everyone has the right to take anything I say and ignore it. That’s fine. But let’s do this the right way. A common refrain I heard post-“Thrones”: “Well, he likes Spartacus, so that’s all you need to know.” In this configuration, a critic’s history is open season, much like a politician’s past, in order to find one element that can undo the entire house of cards. I agree that a critic’s body of work can help provide context for certain future reviews. But it’s not a hard fast rule by any stretch of the imagination. Currently, there’s so little tolerance for any non-small deviation from the norm either within one’s one body of work or the Metacritic-esque nature of collective criticism that I’m starting to wonder why anyone reads anything at all anymore.

I refute the notion that liking or not liking one show has anything to do with liking or not liking anything else. This should be an obvious point, but I fear it’s not anymore. There are obviously connections between the types of things that people like, and you can shape general viewing habits around a core set of criteria. But such generalizations break down whenever you get to the culturally atomic level of an individual viewer. It’s like the difference between saying “baseball players this season have a .287 batting average in the 3rd inning with men in scoring position” and applying that average to a single at-bat. It’s a useful metric, but it can’t be expected to do anything other than aggregate.

The corollary to all this lies in the other inspiration for today’s tome comes from NPR’s Linda Holmes, who this week wrote a lovely essay on the overwhelming amount of great culture that most of us will never see. That helped me move “Community” off my weekly watching schedule as much as “Paradigms” itself, because I recognized that I was still watching the show out of some misplaced obligation to HAVE to watch it as a critically adored program. I wasn’t watching it because I really liked it. I was watching it so I could be considered a valid part of the cultural conversation. What Holmes’ essay nails for me is that there’s no one “cultural conversation,” and to even attempt to assert that there is one is in and of itself foolish.

large_tv-mad-men.JPGThe idea that loving “Spartacus” or not loving “Community” disqualifies me from that cultural conversation is, frankly, complete bullshit. It’s bullshit because THERE IS NO SINGULAR CONVERSATION. It might disqualify my voice from certain conversations, to be sure. But I’ve never pretended to think otherwise. In fact, I embrace it. How boring would it be if everyone liked “Mad Men,” and liked it in exactly the same way? The notion that there’s a set, finite number of shows that anyone has to watch in order to be taken seriously is ludicrous, yet it’s implicitly asserted every time someone wants to eradicate my opinions because of something I enjoy or dislike more than he or she does. That something could be a show, an episode of that show, a character on that show, a scene in that show…no matter how small, variation for some cannot be tolerated. Variation implies difference, something that should be celebrated but in fact is often desecrated.

(I toyed with the idea of creating a hypothetical “Must Watch” list, but I realized that would distract people from the points I’m trying to make here.  People would just argue about what shows should be put on or left off that list, and since I’m anti-list, such a discussion would just make me stabby.)

I’m just not so sure why the insistence on agreement is so vehement. That people’s opinions will be different is intrinsic to anything artistic. Spoiler alert: I’m not going to like every show you like, nor you mine. Further spoiler alert: I’m not going to like every episode in that show we both like, nor you mine. To have this difference isn’t some huge violation of trust or some statement about your own personal reactions to things. But people took my tweet personally, in some cases past the point of rationality. That people love “Community” is great. That they think me not feeling the same way is a threat to their own opinion is just sad. Keeping theirs shouldn’t involving erasing mine, but that seems part and parcel of the same at this point.

This all comes back to validation, a useful way I think to explain how an opinion on a show turns into an opinion about the viewer. I’d like to think talking about the former isn’t the same as talking about the latter, but I’d also like to think that Yvonne Strahovski is thinking of me when kissing Zachary Levi on “Chuck.” Both exist on the same level of pipe dreams. But that doesn’t make me wish that either of those things weren’t occasionally true. If you like “Community” or the other dozen or so shows I respect but can’t personally fall in love with, that’s fine. It’s honestly fine. And it should be honestly fine for you that I don’t share in that love. Coming to common ground on this should be the goal.

Even if we’ll never, ever, ever share a common DVR schedule.

31 Comments

  1. Dude
    Posted April 22, 2011 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I love Community and do not enjoy Spartacus, and I still look forward to reading your stuff and listening to your podcast w/Mo. I respect your opinion, as you respect the opinions of those who like Community more than you do. This article comes off as being a little defensive… but I guess I haven’t seen what kind of responses/tweets (death threats?) you’ve been receiving from rabid Community fans.

  2. Posted April 22, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Great piece

    I would ask a few questions.

    1. This kind of insularity of Community, don’t you think Lost went for that too? Was it cool because you were “in” with Lost? (And I don’t say that in a dissing way.)

    2. Isn’t creating a “singular conversation” exactly what a place like the AV Club tries to do? They are creating a “cannon” of notable TV, even to the point of reviewing “classics.”

    3. Isn’t the whole point of criticism to spark debate, and debate is most interesting when people disagree. We dont want echo chambers, right? So why get upset when Community fans tweet back? If they are being civil, isnt that the whole point of discussion about art?

    4. I have asked this in email, but are there any other shows that play with form like Community does. Lost is gone; we have no Whedon; Arrested D is gone. Archer does this a little, but it is more satire than deconstruction. I get the sense that Supernatural and Glee do this sometimes, but I am looking for another show that deconstructs tropes. Any thoughts?

    J. Maggio

  3. Zoot
    Posted April 22, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I’m not at all a “real” TV critic but if it makes you feel better - in my own circle of tv-friends I get the same response a lot with the fact that I don’t watch “The Office” - like somehow I’m not trustworthy when I rave about a show because I didn’t like that one. If I didn’t like it? Then don’t trust me when I say a different show is good!

    Great essay - even for those of us “regular” TV people.

  4. Posted April 22, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    I can see what you’re saying, Dude. Maybe the issue hits close to home for those of us who write about TV day after day.

    It just feels like, especially lately, there’s this intolerance of a wide range of opinions, as if there’s one set of shows we’re supposed to like and if we don’t like some of those programs, we get snarky or even hostile feedback from a subset of readers who think less of us for simply being honest. And at times they even question our “agenda,” as if there’s an agenda beyond trying to offer an honest and (with any luck) helpful opinion.

    And lately there’s a lot of that “Well, if you liked *that* show, I don’t have to take you seriously” commentary and feedback. Not from everyone, certainly, but it gets monotonous.

    Fortunately the majority of commenters are not like this. And for those folks, I am immensely grateful. But I think Ryan hit upon something that’s been going on of late. It just depresses a bit me to think that the wide-open possibilities of internet discourse get boiled down (again, by a subset of people) to an agenda we’re all somehow supposed to agree with.

  5. Blairs_Wig
    Posted April 22, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    I am a listener of your podcasts with Mo Ryan, and as much as I love your reviews I am perhaps equally fascinated with your take on the current state of reviewers/critics.

    Because of the internet, reviews have become more of a dialogue than a stand-alone critique. I enjoy being part of the dialogue but in no way have I devoted the time, history, and dedication to TV shows in general than the two of you have.

    For this reason, I respect your work and look forward to it every week. In addition, the social media have put you in touch with us (the masses) in a way never before experienced. What a wonderful and odd time we live in.

  6. Posted April 22, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    You have a rational response to shows that you merely “see” as opposed to “experience,” especially in light of that great Linda Holmes piece on the impossibility of following everything in popular culture. I think that part of the vehemence on the part of “Community” fans comes from a survival-of-the-fittest instinct. Despite its coverage among TV critics, it’s a poorly-rated show that most people have no opinion of. So every bad (or “meh”) review seems like a threat to the show’s struggle for survival. “Community” is like a long-shot presidential candidate (say, Ron Paul), and fans do have a need for validation, or a reassurance that they’re right despite most people’s opposition or indifference to their views.

  7. Jann
    Posted April 22, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I liked this post. I think you bring up a very valid point - that everyone doesn’t have to agree. I would suggest that perhaps we have a moral obligation to respect another’s right to disagree with us. It seems to me that we do a lot of yelling and shouting in this country but not enough listening. We all have the right to like what we like and we could all learn something by listening to the “whys” of someone else’s perspective. I don’t watch Community or Sparticus but I am glad we live in a country where we can watch both and discuss. I just wish they hadn’t cancelled “Firefly.” lol

  8. Posted April 22, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    J. Maggio: You’re assuming I’m making a moral judgment on doubling down. I’m not. I agree “Lost” did somewhat of the same thing in Season 5, but it doesn’t make that was any better or worse.

    And yes, criticism is fine. But “Your whole perspective is wrong because you don’t like a show I like” isn’t criticism. At all. People don’t want to persuade me that I’m wrong. They state the opposite without any examples, dismiss my take, and then move on. How on earth is that a discussion? That’s contrarianism.

  9. Posted April 22, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    For me, television is like a smorgasmord - you pick and choose what you like as a viewer. I might grab a bunch of fruit in the first round, with some chunks of meat, a piece of bread and maybe some croutons. But, that doesn’t mean the next round I might get an entirely different selection to round out my taste delight. I love all types of shows on television/cable. But, I agree with Mo in some regard - because of what I might prefer doesn’t mean that people have to become vitriolic towards my opinion of what I view or even write about. Everyone has a plate at the TV tray of choice, so pick up your remote and simply tune in or tune out - but enjoy nonetheless.

  10. Posted April 22, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Ryan:

    You are correct. That isnt even criticism or discussion. I guess this notion:

    “Your whole perspective is wrong because you don’t like a show I like”

    is so, SO silly to me that I cannot understand anyone saying that. If *that* is the level of discussion, then they should not bother.

    I just meant some discussion is good, even disagreement is good. But saying that “you dont like Glee, so you suck” is just idiotic. I am truly sorry anyone would say that to you.

  11. blars82
    Posted April 22, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    I’m just happy that there is a wide range of good tv shows for us all to choose from. I prefer Parks and Rec and the Office to Community, and Survivor and Top Chef are my favorite reality shows. It’s just a personal preference, similar to music. No two people are going to have the same songs in their iTunes library, and that’s what makes us each unique. I just think that it’s fun to talk about all of the different shows and open it up for discussion. You and Mo do a great job of this, and I’m slightly jealous that you get to write about tv for a living … while I’m an accountant.

  12. Bokfan
    Posted April 22, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Ryan, I realize that the whole point of your article, means I do not need to post a defence of Community, however just an additional point of why some of us are rabid fans. In many ways I do not think Community is a show that one “experiences” as you put it, it is first and foremost an intellectual exercise vs. a visceral one (ala Spartacus - which btw I love too, but because that’s a show I experience). Community is one of the few shows out there that experiments weekly and tries bravely to play with the form. I get that this intellectual exercise can distance it from viewers - which sounds like where you are, but for some of us it’s the very thing we enjoy about it. I think it’s drawing those types of distinctions where a critic can be useful - whether you like it or not, tell me what type of show it is and for those who want to go through the intellectual exercise you have steered us in the right direction - your opinion actually doesn’t enter into it. If you like it or not, that doesn’t change the dynamics of the show and those that are drawn to it.

  13. Bokfan
    Posted April 22, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Thoughts on criticism… during your recent podcasts and in the comments of this post, I feel both you, Mo and many of your readers are selling critics short. If the responsibility of a critic is to provide a shared space for dialogue and to initiate conversation, well then any fool with website and a keyboard could fill the ether with their opinions and spark debate.

    What I am looking for in a critic is someone whose experiences (Mo’s reference recently to the amount of shows she has seen), training (your theatre background, etc..), skills in both writing and analysis, behind the scenes knowledge and pure passion for the topic, brings something more to the table than I can. Opinions are cheap, I believe everyone has one. Real knowledge that enhances what I am seeing is rare, and it’s that insight that I am looking for in a critic… teach me how to interpret and understand what I am seeing. Provide me with enough information to see things in a different light. Opinions I can find anywhere, educated, experience based insights I can only find from a handful of good critics. Don’t diminsh your role by becoming just another voice sounding off.

  14. Mo Ryan
    Posted April 22, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Robert David Sullivan brings up a good point: “I think that part of the vehemence on the part of “Community” fans comes from a survival-of-the-fittest instinct.”

    I’ve gotten this from some Game of Thrones fans as well — that because this show is perceived to have some hurdles to overcome (i.e. convincing non-fantasy fans that it might be for them, among other things), that I should be a cheerleader for the show, among those helping it to survive.

    I can totally, totally understanding wanting something you love to survive. But if I start giving assessments I know to be false to my own experience of a show, I should just get out of the game entirely. Sometimes I’m championing vulnerable shows I want to survive, but when a new show debuts, all I owe the show or readers is this: I should not lie.

    And if, upon seeing the show for themselves, people disagree with me, that’s fine. As long as their comment is not, “I liked this, and also, you liked Spartacus, so you’re stupid!”

  15. Posted April 22, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    What Bokfan said re “playing with form.” (And that is what I thought Lost did the best: better than characters OR mysteries. It was, as Noel M. said, a “story about stories.”)

    I would like more TV to be experimental like that, and I do not see much of it lately.

  16. Posted April 22, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    HOLY COW Bokfan, re: criticism… exactly! Not all opinions are the same. You nailed it on criticism too.

    Bokfan, wanna get married? ;)

  17. Posted April 22, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Bokfan: So you want a critic to give you information, not opinion. Essentially, you want a press release, then? Would that serve your needs just as well?

    As for devaluing my own take on things: it’s a fine line between saying “everyone has something valuable to say” and “I think mine has more weight than others.” I’d like to say that I feel my insight is unique enough that I would hope people would take it into consideration. But I never would pretend for a second it’s the alpha and omega of anyone’s personal view on a show.

    Providing a space means providing the BEST space, for at least myself and I imagine Mo. It’s the the same as saying, “Wow, guys, that was a great ep. What did YOU think?” We give the best context for the ensuing discussion as possible, which by definition means that our opinions are just the start of the conversation, not the end.

  18. Posted April 22, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    No, as I read Bokfan, he (and I) come to you for informed opinion. Lets face it, not all opinions are equal. There is no objective truth about art, but there are more educated, informed, intelligent, and well-conceived opinions. Just saying “eh, everyone has opinion” is to disregard your value. I want my critics to think there opinions are justified. I find it entertaining and enlightening when smart people with opinions express them in a witty way. It is also exciting when smart people’s opinions clash (respectfully).

  19. Rasil Bathrobe
    Posted April 22, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Ryan: I thought Bokfan was being pretty respectful and made some decent points, and your response sounds a bit unnecessarily snippy (I apologize if it wasn’t intended that way). I think Bokfan was saying that he expected professional critics to know a lot about the industry, and know the background of a show, and maybe know the info from the press releases you mentioned - and use all of that for context in reviewing the show. Obviously, the most important thing is the gut reaction to the show, but having additional information can help to frame/explain that reaction. I don’t think Bokfan was implying that you didn’t offer this, or that your opinion should be regarded as the ultimate authority - I think he was trying to say that a good critic uses their writing and critical thinking skills to spark discussion, to distinguish it from somebody just giving their opinion.

    Anyway, I thought this was a nice, well thought-out piece about Community - and while I like the show a lot, I can easily see how others might have issues with it.

  20. Posted April 22, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    That all well be true, but here’s the quote: “your opinion actually doesn’t enter into it.” That’s where I got confused, especially since I’ve now written 6,000+ words about the show about which, if I had no opinion, I wouldn’t bother to write any. I ask questions because I genuinely want to know the answers. I know a lot of people who write online are trying to figure out how best to compose our thoughts, since it’s increasingly difficult to understand what people want when they come to read them.

    And maybe I’m confused because we’re all using the word “opinion” the same way, or inferring that someone upon whom the title “critic” suddenly doesn’t have one. I think if anything, we can better defend/explain our opinion, and therein lies the value. But to pretend critics are writing from some objective perspective is a bit…well, a lot, wrong. That’s all.

  21. Posted April 22, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Ryan:

    I think Bokfan’s second post is the one in which he was speaking of the role of the critic. And I think it makes a lot of sense. The idea is simply that, of course, critics have opinions, but they should be heightened opinions.

    J

  22. katie71483
    Posted April 22, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, this isn’t something I see happening just with Community, GOT or some other t.v. show. Our whole society seems to be moving towards a “if you don’t think the way I do, you’re not just wrong, you’re stupid” frame of mind - and they seem to not only enjoy it, but relish it. I see things like this in all kinds of arenas, entertainment, pop culture, politics, etc.

    Ryan, I completely get what you mean about being expected to love certain shows in order to maintain “creditability.” Honestly, I can’t get in to Mad Men. I’ve tried to watch season1 at least 5 times and it puts me to sleep every time. As a result, I’ve wondered if it’s some glitch in my t.v. appreciation.

    Back when Mo was writing for the Tribune, I remember her writing about bad television versus just not for me, and how difficult it can sometimes be to make that distinction and then voice it in a coherent enough manner for someone else to read. Really, that’s what people need to keep in mind, that we all have different opinions, and that’s okay.

    I’ve wondered if the anonymity of the internet isn’t part of the problem, that people feel free to say things to others that they may not in another forum because there are generally no consequences for doing so. I have to say I’ve stopped blogging, essentially because I was tired of hateful comments.

    This has gotten long and rambly, and probably doesn’t even address the topic you were discussing, lol. I just wanted to say that I appreciate your efforts, Ryan, even when I don’t agree. It takes courage to put yourself out there, especially when you have what you know isn’t a popular viewpoint. Thanks for being willing to honestly share.

  23. hey ryan and mo
    Posted April 22, 2011 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    Long time listener first time commenter.

    Having read the post on the Christmas episode, I that Community is not for Ryan because it is so purely constructed to be this pop culture opiate for an online community tv/comedy junkies. It’s calculated and not organic and the not being organic bit keeps the non-fans at a distance because how can you love a show when you’re constant;y reminded how much it is a show. Like an overeager friend constantly affirming all your opinions. Even though I like Community I can totally see that

    So far as critics being required to like a certain set of shows; it is a thing with the hivemind internet phenomena but absolutely is stupid. I think critics should have a knowledge and preferably have seen/experienced some of the “essential” shows. I think it’s fair to say (so far as contemporary American tv critics are concerned, that for one to be taken seriously they have to at least watched some of Wire/Sopranos/Deadwood. However, no requirement to have liked it (although if I’m being honest, a critic who rates all three as mediocre I would probably stop reading and definitely if they rated Dexter/Chuck as superior). Prerequisites for viewing but not for liking (even though it plays a part in choosing to follow; it’s hard to be a reader of a critic who hates everything you like and likes everything you hate).

  24. Bokfan
    Posted April 23, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Ryan, I think J. Maggio clarified my original post, perfectly (and sorry J already married!). Of course your opinion matters (otherwise we wouldn’t be here to listen to it), my point is really that while all opinions are equal some are more equal than others. Having experience with a large variety of shows, knowing the craft of acting, cinematography, directing, being analystical regarding plot and characterization. That background knowledge and skill set is what distinguishes critics and like it or not I would argue makes your opinions “more equal” than others. Of course taste and personal preference enters into the equation at that point and people’s opinions will guide their viewing. My point was really not to diminish your opinion, but to argue that critics by the nature of their experiences don’t just have opinions, they have critiques.

  25. Posted April 23, 2011 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Bokfan:

    Another well-reasoned comment. I look forward to Ryan’s thoughts on it.

    And, well, you can be a my man-crush. (Making gender assumptions… haha.)

    J. Maggio

  26. rhys
    Posted April 23, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately you are just going to have to live with the occasional flare up of nerd rage. You are never going to be able to put an end to it - either by reasoning with them or other means. This kind of thing has been going on a long time - it’s just that a) your profile as a critic has increased (which is a good thing) and b) up until recently, you’ve generally been on the pro-nerd side, championing shows that the mainstream has ignored.

    There’s two types of nerd rage really - the pure vitriolic type and then the passive aggressive condescending type. The first type can be dismissed out-of-hand and the only thing upsetting about it is simply the lack of common courtesy. The passive aggressive type (which can definitely come off as aggressive in text form) attempts to make some sort of argument as to why your opinion is somehow “wrong” - either by citing other critics or suggesting that your level of analysis was somehow lacking. Sometimes there isn’t even any real malice behind it, just simply a nerd who thinks they are being “helpful” by basically criticizing the way you think, feel and develop opinions - as if there is some sort of objective method by which you can measure art. I find those to be the most infuriating personally.

    In the end, you are just going to have to learn to live with it and understand that it will rear its ugly head on occasion. Unfortunately, that group tends to be an obnoxiously vocal minority when their ire is raised - so it can seem like they are dominating the discourse. It may feel like suddenly the common decency of internet community is evaporating, but this group of angry nerds has always been lurking out there. It’s just that they rear their ugly heads in an extremely noisy fashion on occasion. However, you should remember that the vast majority of people reading your stuff do not feel that way.

    Personally, I love Community and I love Game of Thrones. However, I also love Spartacus and the only reason I gave Spartacus a chance was because of you and Mo talking about it - and I am extremely grateful I did get turned onto it (both me and my girlfriend are grateful actually, she loves it too).

    The reason I like Community and Game of Thrones is primarily because of their structure. I love the fact that Community is doing all sorts of experimental stuff that no other comedy has ever attempted - and I don’t really care much about the emotion resonance. Similarly, I love the extremely complex plotting of Game of Thrones and the characters - so I don’t need any sort of greater thematic through point to engage me. For me, Game of Thrones and Community are kind of analogous to the movie Inception. I know people who were a little cold on Inception because people had a hard time getting invested in what little emotional undercurrent there was in the movie. I just loved the movie because of the technical proficiency with which it was executed. However, that’s just a matter of personal taste and I don’t begrudge you for not having similar views.

  27. Bokfan
    Posted April 24, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Not to flog a deadhorse.. but for those of us geeking on this conversation… an alternative opinion that argues the exact opposite of what I am…

    H.L. Mencken”

    “Nearly all the discussions of criticism that I am acquainted with start off with a false assumption, to wit, that the primary motive of the critic, the impulse which makes a critic of him instead of, say, a politician or a stock broker, is pedagogical—that he writes because he is possessed by a passion to advance the enlightenment, to put down error and wrong, to disseminate some specific doctrine: psychological, epistemological, historical, or aesthetic. This is true, it seems to me, only of bad critics, and its degree of truth increases in ratio to their badness. The motive of the critic who is really worth reading — the only critic of whom, indeed, it may be said truthfully that it is at all possible to read him, save as an act of mental discipline — is something quite different. That motive is not the motive of the pedagogue, but the motive of the artist. It is no more and no less than the simple desire to function freely and beautifully, to give outward and objective form to ideas that bubble inwardly and have a fascinating lure in them, to get rid of them dramatically, and make an articulate noise in the world…. Everything else is afterthought, false modesty, messianic delusion — in brief, affectation and folly.”

    http://books.google.com/books?id=6pHJI-8EtPYC&pg=PA84&dq=mencken+footnote+on+criticism&hl=en&ei=ZOuuTZHMOcXEgQfKib2PDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false

  28. Posted April 29, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for posting this!

    I would say that I “love” Community, but it is not really that I love the show itself — it’s that I love the idea of a self-aware television program, that knows as much about tropes and stock situations as I do. I think you really nailed describing this aspect of the program, and the fact that that just doesn’t do it for some viewers.

    I myself tried to watch Mad Men for three seasons, but I stopped because it just wasn’t worth it. I would much rather devote my time to contemporary English comedy — a whole nationality of programming that most of my compatriots will never get to see.

  29. Loafof
    Posted May 1, 2011 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    Great read and valid points. Though I disagree regarding Community.
    And, ironically, it’s hard for me to really value your reviews when you don’t watch “Breaking Bad” and “Justified”…

  30. bmbz
    Posted May 2, 2011 at 1:32 am | Permalink

    I really enjoyed this man. This has been a problem I’ve had for a long time. As I was reading, I was thinking to myself about my love for “Chuck” that doesn’t seem to be shared by many critics. But I think the problem is that a lot of critics go past the point of voicing their opinion into the area of telling you that your show is stupid. I realize “Chuck” is not groundbreaking television, but it’s one of my favorite shows. At the end of the day, that’s the point of a TV show, to connect with a certain group.

    Except Glee. That shit needs to be canceled. (kidding, kidding. kind of)

  31. Marble
    Posted May 12, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    This is a great article, even if you are, of course, completely wrong about Community. (But you are correct about Game of Thrones, I’m only still watching because I loved the books and am watching with a group).

    But there is one difference between arguing about a show like Community, and say, debating Star Wars and Star Trek, and that is depending on how other people feel about the show that you love, *that show may cease to exist.* I remember trying to get everyone I knew to start watching Undeclared, Arrested Development, and Boomtown (which hasn’t gotten an appropriate amount of posthumous love but oh well), and all those shows went away. Seems like Community is safe now, but I think that sparks some of the backlash.

4 Trackbacks

  1. […] is a critic that doesn’t love Community, I highly recommend reading reading Ryan McGee’s on the illusion of shared cultural conversation. In fact, you should just read all of his stuff. He’s […]

  2. […] fans of shows can take this too far. Ryan McGee, from Boob Tube Dude Blog, Hitfix, and The AV Club, experienced this first hand on Twitter as his comment that he was “out on Community” turned into an all out fan war against him. Ryan McGee […]

  3. […] The first (henceforth referred to as “RM1″) is about his feelings towards the show. The second (henceforth referred to as “RM2″) places those feelings in the wider context of TV […]

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