2011: The Year That Wasn’t – A Cultural Rewind

“Introduction”

Looking back on 2011, I think it will be clearly marked as the year in which I no longer came to associate with the term “blogger.”

Now, to be clear, I do not mean to suggest that I have done so due to this term being derogatory: bloggers are good people, and serve as an important voice within the world of people who write about television (and, of course, numerous other subjects). However, more simply, I don’t think I updated Cultural Learnings enough in 2011 to justify laying claim to the title (given, for example, that this is my first post in well over a month).

The dropoff in posts has come out of necessity, primarily – the time I would spend blogging has been swallowed by increased responsibilities related to the “real life” side of my existence, which has left the “online life” side of things to occasional Twitter observations and my more “professional” work at The A.V. Club. On some level, my semester became a choice between continuing to watch television and writing about it, a devil’s gambit that led to a lack of content here on the blog and a surplus of content on my DVR.

I will admit, though, that I’m not entirely convinced I missed it. As Twitter becomes a more prominent form of discourse within the world of television criticism, and as my teaching responsibilities became more connected to the television I watch (and the meanings we draw from it), I haven’t felt as though I’ve said nothing about the things I’ve watched. However, I realize that on some level I’m going from over-explaining my thoughts about particular shows (like, for example, Community) to largely letting occasional 140-character observations represent my general opinion. I’m sure a psychiatrist would consider this a breakthrough given my penchant for verbosity, but it does create a vacuum of sorts for regular readers (especially those of you who might not use Twitter, who may think I’ve fallen off the face of the earth a bit).

This brings me to the subject of lists, perhaps in a backwards fashion. While I am generally against the idea of lists, creating them only when I absolutely have to, I think this vacuum has made me appreciate the idea more. Despite the nature of this season, in which lists become a major source of end-of-year debate (and end-of-year traffic), lists are for the people who make them and not the people who read them. They’re a source of reflection, an excuse to either force yourself to consider a year you’d rather forget or revisit a year you’d like to remember. While I know that all lists posted on the internet (including the list I’m introducing in this post) are designed to be consumed, there’s something disconcerting about lists that feel as though they’re made with that consumption as their primary (potentially exclusive) purpose. You don’t make a list so people will read it: you make a list because it will offer you something as its author, something that might just find an audience among those who typically read work related to the subject (for a great example of such a list, see Michael Z. Newman’s “Faves, 2011”).

In wanting to reflect back on the year that was, and look forward to the year that will be, my mind turned to a list in part because I felt like it would force me to consider the shift in my coverage of television more carefully. While I may no longer feel like a blogger, I perhaps feel more like a critic than ever before, even though I’m writing less than back in the days where I felt like my claim to the term was tenuous at best. And yet because it’s not my full-time job, I don’t get to write about everything I want to write about (as someone like Alan Sepinwall might come closer to attaining), which raised an interesting question to me: if I had only had the time, which shows airing in 2011 would I have most wanted to write about week-to-week? And, on a related note, which shows were I somewhat glad to have no time to write about, allowing me to sit back and observe their seasons without feeling like I needed to be taking notes?

Over the next week or so, I want to explore this question both to give myself an excuse to write about some things I really enjoyed (and wish I had had time to deconstruct) and to give myself a chance to reflect on both the function and value of episodic television criticism when it comes to how we, as critics, watch television.

So, if you’re so inclined, join me later today (and daily, as 2012 begins) to look back on The Year That Wasn’t, imagining a 2011 in which I wrote about the shows that I simply had no time to write about. While I have some idea of which shows I’ll be discussing within the feature, I’m also open to suggestions, so if there’s any shows that fell out of the rotation that you might be interested in reading about, feel free to leave a comment below.

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1 Comment

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One response to “2011: The Year That Wasn’t – A Cultural Rewind

  1. Thanks for the link, Myles. I’m looking forward to your reflections on the year. I think I collect my annual favorites in a blog post partly to please myself by thinking back over the time that has passed and assessing the experience. I also do it to share, obviously, and I’m continuing to write lists year after year partly because of positive feedback I have had in the past. I feel like there’s an audience I can satisfy. What I don’t really like that much about lists is the authoritative performance of connoisseurship that goes along with the idea of choosing the “best” — as though this could be independent of individual taste and social position, and as though cultural products can be ranked like tennis players or graded like beef (though we do this pretty routinely, I’ll admit). Emily Nussbaum’s New Yorker rant made the case against best-of lists pretty well. Maybe part of what you mean by writing lists for consumption is the idea that you’re offering up this supposedly authoritative account for others to judge as good/bad, right/wrong, rather than as the expression of the individual’s preferences and experiences. I’m comfortable with saying “this is what I like” but not with saying “these shows are the best,” though I realize these statements are not really that different from one another.

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