Premium channels — HBO, Showtime, Starz — charge subscriptions for their services. Even streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video have started creating their own original programs in the past few years. Having to pay subscription fees to be able to enjoy these shows is annoying, I agree.
Have you ever stopped to think about why the dramas and comedies you spend your money to watch are worth the monthly fees?
In my opinion, the programs these companies create are the most significant displays of artistic prowess our culture has to offer. Paying for subscriptions is a necessary evil in the pursuit of sophisticated, thought provoking content.
The money that we spend on subscriptions is what funds shows like Orange Is The New Black, The Crown, Big Little Lies, The Good Doctor, and Shameless. Premium cable and streaming companies have the ability to create superior shows to those of ABC or Fox.
I have always believed that television’s creators are akin to the world’s greatest fine arts professions – musicians, painters, singers, dancers, photographers – and hold even more cultural value. By paying for subscriptions, we are supporting art that has the power to define eras for future generations and the complexity to inspire self-reflection unlike any other art form.
Throughout history, exposure to the most prestigious art has been reserved for the wealthy. Those with dollars to spare relished in their ability to afford tickets to world-renowned operas, exclusive galleries and popular plays. Because we tend to view fine art in a similar way today, separated from our daily routines, we don’t always notice the cultural significance of the content we binge on our smart-TVs, laptops and mobile devices.
Televisions were not originally created for the purpose of competing with concert halls or theaters, yet “today, television is at the center of culture in ways that its inventors likely never imagined.” Despite the intentions behind its invention, television has become an outlet for defining American culture.
Art has always been a main characteristic of cultural evolution. In various forms, it comments on the political, social, economic and even spiritual climate of its time. Do you remember The Brady Bunch? I wish I could forget it. This sometimes-nauseating sitcom of a happy, white, American family seems so irrelevant when we live within the social dynamics of today. Yet at the time, The Brady Bunch did depict society as it was (albeit a shade lighter) and as what it wanted to see — family, wholesomeness and lighthearted fun. That sitcom and others of its era help us define the culture of the early seventies.
Television, as art, “relies on a separation from the ‘real’ and the ‘imagined’.” When The Brady Bunch first aired in 1969, America was brimming with frustration and anger over the war in Vietnam. It and others of its popularity were programs that helped Americans escape from their tumultuous environment.
As we have gotten more self-aware as a culture with programs that don’t serve the singular purpose of giving us a fantasy with which to escape, it is hard to sustain that customary separation. When television series are set in real-world time periods with realistic events, relatable characters, classic relationship dynamics and modernly-applicable subjects, they have the affect that art is supposed to have on us; they force us to reflect on ourselves and each other.
Even though the success of a television show comes from ratings, which connected to money is why it isn’t viewed as much like a creative expression—fine artists often rely on understanding and support from communities and patrons to continue communicating their message. Knowing our place in this medium, as critics and supporters of this art form, helps us to be conscious of not only televisions ability to portray human experiences, but also its intention in portraying them.
Here lies the ultimate reason for which premium entertainment like the titles I listed earlier are among the most superior displays of artistry.
When you take a television show at face value and only appreciate the actors and the plot, you are taking for granted the army of creative minds — directors, production designers, costume design, script writers, (sometimes) animators, audio engineers, makeup artists, art directors, set designers, music editor, composer, sound engineer, cinematographers, prop-makers and visual effects technicians — that are necessary in producing the final product. A company that resides in the same category of programming as Netflix has the artistic freedom and capital to push the boundaries creatively, and tell the stories that are too risky or provocative for regular-access channels. Therefore, their intentions are purely that of creating a program that resonates with viewers, inspires critical thought, and gives us a sense of community in an often isolating society.
When you’re an HBO or a Hulu, you have the time and talent to create the culture-defining, experience-reflecting art that makes a difference. So, the next time you’re mulling over the decision to spend less than ten dollars a month on a cable service, remember why it’s worth it.