Friday, December 18, 2009
My favorite televison show by far is NCIS, which I was delighted to see covered recently by The Wall Street Journal. The below quote nicely captures why I like the show, along with why I think its success confounds so many in the media establishment including, perhaps, reporter Amy Chozick:
"NCIS" is proof that even if the economics of the business are in upheaval, large swathes of the audience still want traditional storytelling, righteous heroes, and reality that's not offensively gritty.Yes. I'll take a show with a solid plot and actual moral conflict any day. But as for "reality that's not offensively gritty," I beg to differ, because reality isn't fundamentally gritty.
CBS executives say the success of "NCIS," which stands for Naval Criminal Investigative Service, rests in the show's levity. In between solving crimes related to the military, "NCIS" star Mark Harmon's Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs and his cohorts exchange witty guy banter and crack jokes, even as they stand over a dismembered corpse.
Commenting on the nature of art, Ayn Rand once said something quite profound that pertains to the offensive grittiness of most modern art. She was speaking of sculpture, but her comments apply equally well to television drama (and I include "'reality' TV" in the genre as naturalist drama):
[C]onsider two statues of man: one as a Greek god, the other as a deformed medieval monstrosity. Both are metaphysical estimates of man; both are projections of the artist's view of man's nature; both are concretized representations of the philosophy of their respective cultures. ("The Psycho-Epistemology of Art," in The Romantic Manifesto, 19.)The "offensive grittiness" in many television shows isn't reality per se, but the artists' general impression of its essential malevolence. This negative assessment of reality in offensively gritty art both offends me and, because it contradicts mountains of evidence from my own learning and experience to the contrary, it also strikes me as foolishness. The "grittiness" of so many modern artists and entertainers is a pose calculated to distract one from the fundamental sort of ignorance that comes from failing to engage in (actual) reality and, which, in turn, leads to despair. Who needs a gritty-acting Chicken Little as an artist? I don't.
I agree with and prefer the benevolent assessment of reality offered by NCIS, with its engaging and sympathetic protagonists, its captivating stories, and its brand of light humor . Special Agent Jethro Gibbs is motivated by a strong sense of justice, and he leads a highly capable team in its pursuit. I enjoy and highly recommend the show.
PS: Possibly forgetting to fast forward my TiVo at one point during a recent episode of NCIS, I recently saw this old, but brilliant Fruit of the Loom ad.
Writing about it for Ad Week, Mark Dolliver quips that, "I'm not sure whether it's meant as a good-natured homage to the Cirque du Soleil school of performance or as a wicked parody of it."
I think it's both. The ad manages to harness the more spectacular aspects of that type of performance, while aiming a well-placed jab at its peculiar strain of avant-garde pretentiousness.