I just missed the boat when it comes to the music era of what I refer to as “Maternity Television,” or MTV for short. I vaguely recall exposure to it for a brief moment in my youth, images of Eminem’s The Real Slim Shady music video flashing across a modest 32” screen attached to a giant box housing wires and other things apparently no longer required for modern television manufacturing, a moment no doubt cut short by my mother rushing to switch the channel to more kid-friendly programming. Alas, the majority of memories I am left with of the formerly kick-ass staple in music entertainment consists of pregnant teenagers and quarreling housemates. Both of real world origins as well as the outlier: New Jersey.
Guilty pleasures, I spent the majority of the time viewing these shows with mindless consumption, spawning my second favorite nickname for the channel “Mindless Television.” However, I found my world rocked by the scripted series Awkward, one that I watched inconsistently but still always found my way back to, thanks in large part to the always entertaining Tamara-isms. In the latest season of Awkward, I became concerned. Not for the show, which I always held an impartial view of. But for the message and the realities it presented in terms of the young writer today.
In the season opener, we meet the series protagonist, Jenna, fresh from a year away at Wycoff College, presented as an Ivy League-esque east coast school brimming with stuffy intellectuals ready to jump into a mean debate on the most obscure of literary classics over a steaming hot cup of tea and some sort of vegan burrito concoction at the campus café. To say I am disheartened by the stereotypes here is a colossal understatement. Strike one.
Throughout the season, Jenna participates in a coveted summer fellowship at IdeaBin, a wannabe version of BuzzFeed, but with less GIFs. The goal of the fellowship? Get something published onto the website. Fair enough. However, it soon becomes apparent that the measure of a post’s success is solely based on its viral status. The author of a viral post is rewarded with praise and recognition, while everyone else is warned that not achieving a viral post by the end of the summer is the surest bet to not being asked back the next year. This got me thinking. Actually, questioning is probably a more accurate word. How realistic is this? Do young writers really look to this and think that this is what writing is? Random smatterings of text amid an array of pictures that vaguely tie together thoughts in the lamest type of way? Pardon the harshness, but this just didn’t sit well with me. At all. Strike two.
Then, after all the inner-monologue and turmoil we slog through in Jenna’s indecisive head, she finally gets a post to go viral. I can’t remember what it was exactly. Something about best friends. Heartwarming fuzziness that looked to be more pictures than words. She was ecstatic about it, clearly letting the public response validate herself as a writer. Strike freaking three.
Not to knock anyone that truly aspires to be a viral BuzzFeed list author. But with all that effort and schooling, I would hope that young writers would pursue more ambitious efforts. Novels. Short stories. Something contributing to the world of literature. Not one-off articles published online, read and forgotten in the blink of an eye. I found that I could not shake this feeling, this concern that the development of new writers in this social media age might hinder the creation of the next great work of literature. That might sound a tad dramatic, but what can I say? I’m a writer.
After further exploration on the subject, I ended up with an article written for a platform much larger than my own personal blog: the San Francisco Book Review. In the article, I discuss the effects of social media and the internet on the next generation of writers, drawing comparisons to the likes of Oscar Wilde and what type of writer he might be in this day and age. To read more, see the article titled: The New Generation of Writers: Clicks, Lists and GIFs.
MTV’s “Awkward” Strikes Out
June 7, 2016