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?!
Comments (67)
  1. I only like think pieces where Kelly indirectly talks about me playing saxophone in the bathtub.

  2. I don’t really experience this oversaturation because, as pop culture blogs go, I pretty much only read videogum, but I can kind of understand where this is coming from. When I got my first desk job I got addicted to celebrity gossip and would read like 10 blogs and get so frustrated if there wasn’t something new to read every ten seconds. That’s the kind of mentality that leads to the feeling of being ROBBED of Lindsay Lohan’s mug shots. I think I grew out of it.

    But if my whole job were to blog, and reading other blogs kind of like my blog were part of my blog job, then I’m sure I’d start to feel as burned out on think pieces as Gabe is. Isn’t every blog a think piece? Isn’t that why it’s a blog and not, like, an actual news article? Aren’t news articles basically turning into blogs now, anyway, with people just straight up publishing think pieces about how fucked up the situation is in Cyprus right now? That’s just where we are as a society – subjectivity is in vogue. In 60 years or so hopefully people will have tired of it, just in time for me to die.

    • I don’t know. I just think everything is terrible. Also, this morning nothing is sticking in my brain so nothing makes sense and I have to read this really long sciency thing about animal testing and it is making me sad, and I think I am having a mini-breakdown in this comment so sorry superglue. I’m derailing like a motherfucker. As apology here is a picture of the first cute thing I find because everything is hard


        • Aw LBT, just let it out. I feel you. This week has been crazygonuts. If it makes you feel better, everything actually IS very terrible, so you’re on the right side of that article. Also husbandglue showed me all these old videos of fucked up psych experiments on monkeys and babies and it just made me want to die. So we’re on a level. Also that link is worth the click-through I gave it.

          Feel free to let it out in replies to my comment, though, I don’t mind. I am here to read-listen.

      • New Genre: Feel Piece

    • For examples of “think pieces run amok” (side bar: can we stop the word “think piece” cause it’s the worst) just look at The AV Club’s constant For Our Consideration which includes such articles as:

      “What we talk about when we talk about Girls”
      “How Girls challenges the masculine expectation of “good TV”"
      “Parks And Recreation has a Leslie Knope problem”
      “Could Netflix’s programming strategy kill the golden age of TV?”
      “When should a band break up?”
      “Should some movies be taken more seriously than others?”
      “Did 12 Angry Men get it wrong?”
      “Why being a pop-culture “hater” is okay (and sometimes even necessary)”
      “What was the quintessential Charlie’s Angels undercover guise?”
      “The Tumblr trap: Is Internet culture turning musicians into content producers?”
      “Do documentaries need to be fair to both sides of an issue?”
      “The Grammys are worth watching (seriously)”

      So yeah, I get what Gabe is saying.

      • If everyone gets their own version of hell mine is the pitch meeting where the people that write those come up with them.


      • That anyone took the time and effort to write or read an article called “When should a band break up?” is extremely depressing.

        • The well is flush with young writers who just want to get their name out there and are willing to work for peanuts under the assumption that they will get famous eventually. (The dream scenario of the blogger in House of Cards, basically. “Blogging will get me on TV!”) That is why these stupid pieces exist. It’s also why I appreciate Videogum so very much.

          Plus the oversaturation of the market has driving the price down so low that I thank the world EVERY GODDAMN DAY that I learned to enjoy writing code more than seeing my name in a byline because you can’t pay your rent on Tumblr-famous $30 a piece please RT nonsense. (Plus the terrible stuff has driven down the quality of real things so much that it’s beyond frustrating. The goddamn Huffington Post has a Pulitzer and doesn’t pay any of its staff??? Ugh.)

          This being said, whenever I get really down on the Internet echochamber, I like to go to my very early Internet roots — insane conspiracy theory sites about aliens and the Illuminati. VigilantCitizen is a good one and GodlikeProductions is another. Of course the other day, I got into an Internet hole of terrifying bridges and wolf spiders carrying their babies on their backs, so you probably don’t want to take too much advice from me.

          • I just took a look at Vigilant Citizen. I don’t know whether to thank you for opening my eyes or curse you for the terrible burden of knowing the truth!

          • My favorite part about learning about #thetruth is realizing that the Illuminati basically have been around since the Reptoid aliens mated with humans to create human-reptoid hybrids who build the pyramids (Egyptian, Mayan, the ones sunk on the ocean floor next to Japan and Korea), founded the United States and then stayed mostly dormant until the rap music scene.

            And they all leave messages IN PLAIN SIGHT.

          • To be fair, the AV Club pieces aren’t freelancers and are, at least generally, the main writers on staff who aren’t very young.

  3. Sorry, I don’t read think pieces unless they are about sandwiches.

  4. I don’t know if I’m actually rebutting anything (WHAT IS YOUR THESIS?), but there’s no one way to experience or respond to a television show. It makes sense to look at a series as a whole, but it also makes sense to look at individual episodes, particularly if you are considering differences between directors.

    The only clear impression I get from that David Simon quote is that he’s unhappy with people fawning over the ratings-impaired Wire when he has another show struggling on the air right now.

    • Yeah I think if you make a series and then complain when people are evaluating individual episodes rather than the whole story, it’s you who doesn’t quite understand the medium very well. The problem with television is that it’s difficult for any person to commit to watching every single episode of everything they might want to. If I have to see every single episode to understand the next one, then I’m going to have a problem when I’m busy for two weeks and can’t understand the rest of the season. DVR helps, but not everyone has that and you can’t always record and catch up with everything. It also makes it difficult to pick up a new series mid season when you can’t really follow what is happening.

      This is why shows like Two and A Half Men and Big Bang Theory are pretty successful. They have simple backstories that you can pick up easily (BBT’s could seriously be reduced to “nerds” and you would pretty much be completely caught up) and each episode is a self-contained story that might refer to running jokes but usually no major plot points. They are easy to watch whenever you want to.

      I’m not saying this makes for good programming or that there are no exceptions but a lot of popular, long running tv shows have similar formulas.

      • It’s also difficult (in as much as anything that has to do with watching TV in 2013 could ever be called “difficult”) when you don’t have DVR and the streaming sites have limited time frames when episodes are available. For example, this fall I got SUPER into Nashville, and then over the holidays I missed a bunch of episodes, and now I’m tragically behind but only so many episodes are available and they become available so late after being on air, I’m never going to get caught up and be able to discuss it with my real-life friends. I KNOW! LIFE IS HARD! But this is why Bob’s Burgers is great. It’s something you can pick up at any point and pretty much everything always makes sense, and it’s quality. It’s not just crappy CBS sitcoms that are easy to watch, is what I’m saying.

        • Sorry. I didn’t mean to suggest that only crappy tv shows follow that format. I think Senifeld and the Simpsons are also examples of the same format and each has always held a special place in my heart. I used crappy CBS sitcoms with bafflingly high ratings as an extreme example to illustrate the point. Shows like this don’t have to be kind of stupid, but they certainly can be and still see ridiculous success.

        • I have although it was like 10 years ago, in Adelaide, Australia. They look cute, but the claws are mighty damn scary in real life. The fur is not very soft either, a little bristly. Plus Koalas are not known for having good temperaments—must be all the chlamydia!

          • Thanks for the info! It’s just what I wanted to know, and even though they sound scary, it’s still on my to-do-in-life list.

            Is it wrong that when I learned that chlamydia was rampant in koala populations, it made me love them a little bit more?

      • if you make a series and then complain when people are evaluating individual episodes rather than the whole story, it’s you who doesn’t quite understand
        Or you have a different understanding. I think when you are in the middle of writing a show — any show — your perspective is both very nuts-and-bolts (what joke works for Xander here?) and very overarching (Willow is now more powerful than Buffy and that’s a problem), and you are immersed in trying to resolve these problems. You have an overall intent and an episodic intent, but you are also dealing with accidents (some of which you can take happy advantage of) and unforeseen consequences (some of which you better deal with), and it all happens in a high-pressure arena of self-criticism, business considerations, personal relationships, bonkers office politics, and tight deadlines. I used to think that people who worked on shows loved to read reactions from critics and fans and drew inspiration from them, but now I believe — generally; with exceptions — that stuff is usually too far removed from the world these people are working in; that sampling that stuff would prove jarring and more often the opposite of inspiring.

        So it’s in this spirit I take David Simon’s anti-fan remarks, and Lena Dunham’s neglect of all the issues helpfully raised on these-here internets about her show.

  5. The penultimate Girls episode is an interesting example of the problems of serialized storytelling in the age of digital think pieces. A season of an HBO/FX/AMC style TV show is a bit like a novel in that its story arc is planned out in advance, and probably best considered as an artistic whole. But even Dickens had people commenting on installments of Bleak House or whatever and had to deal with fans making requests about the fates of favorite or hated characters — blogs are just the latest version. This dynamic is what makes watching the reaction to episodes of Game of Thrones so interesting if you’ve read the books. Book-readers know what’s going to happen for the most part but get to see non-readers responding (thinking Theon executed Bran and Rickon for a brief minute, for instance).

  6. Damon Lindelof didn’t ruin Lost. There are plenty of other reasons why that show sucked. He did, however, kinda ruin Prometheus IMO.


    I think you just defined “art,” Gabe.

  8. This think piece about think pieces made me think, “Laura Dern is beautiful and I should have been watching Enightened.”

  9. Yeah who needs think pieces when you can just recap an entire TV series in image form? Much more economical use of internet space.

  10. more gabe think-pieces please

  11. Eagerly awaiting the response to an open letter about a think piece about a kickstarter about a show that three people watched that one time.

  12. Certain shows need to have certain cycles – like Breaking Bad is ending and it’s time, if not a bit past. Lost well, the concept was good but the final execution still pisses me off. The Sorpranos and Six Feet Under are other good examples. Enlightenment ending is OK with me because of how they tied it up but Mike White said in an interview that he did that because he was afraid they would get cancelled. Shows like require less brain cells like How I Met Your Mother or The Big Ban Theory can go on indefinitely. They’re basic sitcoms (not bad but basic). Game of Thrones may catch up with the writer’s published books – what will happen then? Girls needs one or two more seasons tops. Everything goes on and on…too much…like this post.

  13. Here’s my messed up theory–stick with me now–about keeping people occupied with “art”. From areas of the world where there are few sports or tv shows and very little if any internet stuff, comes a disproportionate amount of trouble. I’m looking at you Middle East. And North Korea.

  14. Think pieces first and foremost help fill the content void, as others have said. The internet just demands more stuff all the time.

    But it’s also interesting because television criticism has moved into a new era. In the print-dominated age of TV Guide, critics were just there to say “don’t watch this” or “watch this.” It was very much outcome-oriented.

    Today, though, broader and more in-depth critiques are proliferating because no one’s worried about column width and the sheer number of entertainment options has splintered repeatedly. The Girls viewership might be small, but it’s voracious about its entertainment. There might be only 1-2 million of them, but they represent more clicks than, say, NCIS viewers.

    Finally, the think piece is consistent with how pop culture has always been discussed. Watch any “look back” type of show about sitcoms or whatever and people will talk about how Mary Tyler Moore represented a huge moment for women in America or how the Cosby Show represented a post-racial American experiment. It’s long been accepted that we can take the culture’s temperature by analyzing its entertainment. I don’t know how accurate that is, but it’s not anything new. There’s just more space to fill these days.

  15. I’d like to see think pieces about Zero Hour so ABC would release the remaining nine episodes to On Demand and Hulu so I can see how the evil cloning Nazis pan out. You guys, Zero Hour is so fucking good. It’s a Nic Cage movie as a TV show, and I love it so much. And it’s literally about CLONING NAZI CONSPIRACY THEORIES.

    Also that show got lower ratings than Nerds ‘N Hot Girls on TBS. Want to know why ABC has that stupid fucking TV show where celebrities jump into a pool? Because it gets better ratings than their real shows about CLONING NAZIS. The other night a Telemundo talk show beat Parks and Rec. And it all makes me so sad because quality scripted TV is just not created for the audience that will sit through in real time, live TV.

    But I just want to see how Cappie and that nerd from Revenge of the Nerds and the girl from Real World: London solve this mystery of CLONING NAZI CONSPIRACIES. But I will never know… (even if I bribe my friend that used to run the page for that show.)

    • I like all of this, but I especially like referring to Jacinda as “the girl from Real World:London”, which is my favorite season. Remember when Neil gave his girlfriend a pig’s heart with a nail through it on Valentine’s? So 90s and great.

      • How could I forget? Best Valentine’s Day EVER. I thought the girlfriend gave it to him bc she thought he was cheating with some American girl in the house. Also didn’t the note say
        THIS IS THE REAL WORLD ?? I think so? I forget.

        • Yes, you’re right! She gave him the heart, and then I think we saw a three-minute long montage where he went shopping to make his own valentine for her. And the whole time he was shopping, I was like, “Oooh, he’s going to burn her so good!” And then it ended up just being a cut-out construction paper heart with some barbed wire around it. And he gave it to her at work while she was on the phone. So good! Gotta love those crazy kids!

          • Remember when Jacinda did a modeling shoot and they were all like “oh wow, you’re really a model!” and then also that annoying frat boy wouldn’t shut up about his goddamn ranch dressing? And the playwright just napped all day? And they all got along more or less and no one was drunk and vomiting in a hot tub?

            I loved that season so much.

  16. All that being said, can you BELIEVE THEY CANCELED CHEERS??!?!??!

  17. I just hate weekly recaps so much because so rarely does the recapper say anything more interesting than “this is what happened and this is why I thought it was good”. Most of the time they’re just trying to list all the things they noticed so we all know how smart they are. The exception to this, of course, is Grantland’s recaps of reality television.

  18. I’m curious about the Frasier tag. Was there a Frasier think piece written recently? I ask because I’ve been re-watching Frasier, and loving every minute with that damn crew.

  19. who thinks the thinkpieces

  20. Gabriella. if you think Melissa`s remark is inconceivable… last thursday I bought a great Renault 4 after having made $5877 this-past/4 weeks and a little over 10 grand this past-munth. no-doubt about it, this really is the coolest job I have ever done. I started this 10-months ago and pretty much straight away began to bring in minimum $81 per hour. I use the details here……… BIT40. ℂom

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