A Think Piece About Think Pieces

Gabe Delahaye | March 21, 2013 - 11:45 am

It feels like the last couple of weeks, the Internet has been awash in more think pieces than ever. That’s probably not true. But that’s how it feels. This probably has a lot to do with the blogs that I read all dipping into the same cultural pool of interest. Let’s expand our horizons, blogs! Just kidding, who has the time? In this latest round, most of the think pieces have centered around Lena Dunham and her HBO show Girls. Which makes sense when you think about it. Lena Dunham’s show Girls is about 20-somethings in New York City and guess who writes most of the blogs? DING DING DING! In some ways, Girls is so on the nose in pinpointing its target audience (although part of the genius of the show is making youth culture approachable for 50-year-olds) that it’s weird the show hasn’t made any reference to Tumblr yet. (Although between Twitter, Yahoo! Answers, and Charlie’s new web company, it has come pretty close.) And while people on the Internet have always loved to talk about Girls, the past two weeks have been especially potent. I mean, hello?! The penultimate episode? With the SPOILER? Where Adam SPOILER ALERTED all over that SPOILER ALERT? That episode was like the bat signal if instead of a tortured billionaire vigilante playboy Batman was 5,000 words about the definition of “rape.” But here is the thing: in the season finale of Girls, all of the things that everyone was talking about in the previous episode were just wiped away. Not a single consequence resulted from that episode, and the only thing it was trying to set up was giving a little bit of emotional backdrop to explain why Adam would be willing to ride a New York City subway without shoes or shirt (IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, DELOUSE SOMETHING!). Literally every single think piece was wrong*. Because everyone was trying to figure out what that episode of Girls was trying to say, and Girls itself answered that question the following week, and the answer was: nothing really. Again, I’m just using the Girls stuff as the most recent example, but think pieces abound these days. Your mom is sending you emails with links to her latest 10,000 words on whether Murphy Brown was a better show than Arli$$.

The question, then, is what’s up with all these think pieces?

The Girls stuff this month reminded me of that interview that David Simon, the creator of The Wire, gave to the New York Times in which he complained about over-enthusiastic Wire fans:

I do have a certain amused contempt for the number of people who walk sideways into the thing and act like they were there all along. It’s selling more DVDs now than when it was on the air. But I’m indifferent to who thinks Omar is really cool now, or that this is the best scene or this is the best season. It was conceived of as a whole, and we did it as a whole. For people to be picking it apart now like it’s a deck of cards or like they were there the whole time or they understood it the whole time — it’s wearying.

The argument that I think David Simon is making here, or at least one of the arguments–although if you follow that link you will see that Simon himself issues a correction clarifying the quote and also did a follow up interview on another website to shed even more light on what he meant, so great was his fans’ outrage that he would dare to criticize their undying love for his creation–is that his goal as an artist, or whatever word you want to give him that is probably better suited and less fraught and pretentious, is to create a complete work. Once that work is done, you can take in the whole thing, step back from it, take a minute to think about what he did, and decide from there what your reaction is. (He’s also saying he doesn’t care what your reaction is, but that’s for a different think piece about different think pieces.) If I can go on with this slightly wrong and totally annoying art metaphor a little deeper, the curent trend of TV recaps and weekly blog debriefs is like watching a painter who is halfway through filling their canvas and trying to decide whether or not you like the latest brush strokes and what they all mean. This, of course, is ridiculous. I told you this metaphor didn’t hold much water. It’s a bit much. BUT NEVERTHELESS. For as grumpy as people get when a show is canceled or ends its run (see: Enlightened) one thing that is actually kind of nice about it (no offense to Mike White) is that you now have the full story, or as much of the story as you are ever going to get, and you can figure it out from there. Even in cases (see: Enlightened) where it would have been nice to get more episodes, you don’t get more, so enjoy the ones you have**. (I always think it’s funny when people complain about Arrested Development getting canceled, as if FOX didn’t give it a very serious college try. Three seasons of a show that no one watched? That’s not bad! And you can still see them whenever you want they did not delete the three seasons they did make! Nothing is forever, guys. Live in the moment.)

Actually, I think this desire for shows to keep going on and on forever and ever comes from the same dank place as the desire to write/publish/read think pieces on every episode. WE NEED SOMETHING TO DO BECAUSE IF WE DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WE ARE GOING TO START THINKING AGAIN ABOUT HOW ONE DAY WE WILL DIE AND WE HATE WHEN WE THINK ABOUT THAT. The problem, at least to me, is that the pace is picking up, with so much content and information coming on our faces every five seconds that it’s becoming impossible to see through it all. How is anyone supposed to know what an episode of Girls meant when WE CAN’T EVEN BREATHE. I fear that we are starting to lose sight of the forest because we are all too busy writing think pieces about each episode of The Trees.


*The possible exception to this would be the think pieces that were simply people explaining how the episode made them feel, or what it made them remember from their own lives. These think pieces, though, still fall under the larger question of “Do We Really Need These Think Pieces?”
**Obviously, there is always the concern that when a show you love goes off the air it will just be forgotten, and that in order for the show to stay relevant and meaningful that you constantly need to have new episodes, like some lab experiment where you can only get artistic engagement via electric shock or whatever. This is probably true a lot of the time, but then this lends itself to a discussion of the emptiness of television as a medium if your favorite shows can only stand the test of time for as long as they are on the air. If that is the case then we need better shows! Then again, as I have mentioned elsewhere and often, I am rewatching The Sopranos and that shit holds up like a motherfucker***.
***To which you could point out that perhaps the reason it holds up is because they were allowed to tell their complete story and were not canceled halfway through. To which I say: you might be right, and have you ever thought about opening up your own blog?!