New York Times blogger Virginia Heffernan writes in today’s NYT Magazine about one of my other favorite shows, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. In it, she raises up shows like BATTLESTAR GALACTICA as prime examples of what FNL is not, in a fascinating discussion of some reasons why FNL may not be succeeding within pop culture the way other shows have:
The fault of “Friday Night Lights” is extrinsic: the program has steadfastly refused to become a franchise…There will be no “Friday Night Lights: Origins,” and no “FNL Touchdown” for PlayStation…
This may sound like a blessing, but in a digital age a show cannot succeed without franchising. An author’s work can no longer exist in a vacuum, independent of hardy online extensions; indeed, a vascular system that pervades the Internet. Artists must now embrace the cultural theorists’ beloved model of the rhizome and think of their work as a horizontal stem for numberless roots and shoots — as many entry and exit points as fans can devise.
This is an enormous social shift that coincides with the changeover from analog to digital modes of communication, the rise of the Internet and the new raucousness of fans. It’s a mistake to see this imperative to branch out as a simple coarsening of culture. In fact, rhizome art is both lower-brow (“American Idol,” Derek Waters’s “Drunk History”) and more avant-garde (“Battlestar Galactica,” Ryan Trecartin’s “I-Be Area”) than linear, author-controlled narrative, which takes its cues from the middle-class form of the novel.
…Even though NBC.com offers plenty of streaming video — whole episodes, as well as tightly produced hagiographies of the show’s actors — no independent “Friday Night Lights” wiki has formed on the Web to rival the “Heroes Wiki,” “Lostpedia” and the polyglot “Battlestar Wiki.” Nor has “Friday Night Lights” inspired any significant body of fan fiction (viewer-written stories that take off on the canon), though at the outset a few viewers eagerly awaited an outpouring of “slash” fan fiction (chronicles of hypothetical romances between male characters) from a football show.
Perhaps the characters’ motives and futures are too haphazard and lifelike to be guessed at by fans. Perhaps the “Friday Night Lights” narrative lacks a set of logical givens, the kind that are a staple of sci-fi and fantasy, which empower fans to speculate about outcomes. Perhaps the series is like fine embroidery or precise machinery: it extinguishes the desire in laypeople to try it themselves. It’s possible that “Friday Night Lights” even brings on museum fatigue, a sense of uselessness and enervation in the face of art that doesn’t need us.
Interesting, isn’t it? IDK Virginia – I suppose the ultra-fine embroidery and quilting techniques of BSG are learnable. (j/k.) But they are still very fine.