Contrast between real quality, real junk

By Curtis K. Shelburne

G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”

Though Chesterton died before the advent of television, a fact that was merciful both for him and for those who produce what we’ve come to expect from TV, I think his words about good and bad novels may apply about as well to good and bad TV.

Good TV in one way or another points to something worth knowing or enjoying; bad TV points predominantly to the pathetic shallowness both of those who produce it and, I’m afraid, of folks like me who don’t vote often enough by picking up a good book and using a remote to punch the TV’s lights out.

The problem is not just with TV that often appeals to and glorifies what is worst about ourselves and our society, the problem is that much of what crosses our screens is worse than wicked. It’s too insipid even to be robustly bad. It is vapid, vacuous, mind-numbing drivel — which we evidently eat up. We not only tolerate it, we’ve come to expect it.

Why this tirade now?

I wonder, too, but I think it’s because I’m still going through Olympic withdrawal.

Yes, the 2008 Olympic Games have been over for a few days now, but I’m still missing them. A tad over two weeks of such fare on TV spoiled me!

I don’t write the preceding words as your typical male sports fan. For good or ill, I’m not that. Like everyone, I deal with plenty of temptations, but spending too much time watching sports on TV is not one of them. Except when I was in college and needed to be studying, I don’t remember a time when most games on TV have ever tempted me much. I’d generally much rather watch a good old John Wayne movie.

But the Olympics? I morph into a serious spectator when they roll around. (I’ve always thought I liked the Winter Olympics best, but now I’m not sure. These latest games were great!) Count me in with the other red-eyed Olympic addicts who stayed up late each night to catch the latest games. Food and water and a good recliner and the Olympics. Yes, indeed!

I thought NBC did a great job covering the Olympics. But they also did something else. As they broke from their Olympic coverage to throw in some commercials about their upcoming fall shows, I found myself struck by something the network didn’t intend to highlight—the stark contrast between real quality and real junk. It was almost like a waiter offering you a taste of the finest cheesecake or a bite of deep-fried cow patty.

I’m glad the cheesecake came first.

And we can always hope.

Maybe among TV’s upcoming new shows there’ll be one or two unlikely “bluebirds on the dung heap.”