Commercializing Quality Entertainment

In a recent essay by Emily Nussbaum in the New Yorker, Nussbaum tracks how advertising fits in with television and how, as the television viewer has become increasingly able to bypass commercials, the television business model has changed. Nussbaum writes, “Advertising is TV’s original sin. When people called TV shows garbage, which they did all the time, until recently, commercialism was at the heart of the complaint.”

To think of Charles Dickens as an entrepreneur is to recognize him as the pioneer of serial narratives. Not only did this format allow Dickens’s work to be more affordable and accessible to more people, advertising could also be sold along with the novel installments. However, some people frowned upon Dicken’s serial format, as if changing the amount of text published at a time and the amount of advertisements that accompany it somehow changes the quality of the content of the novel. Now, when we read Dickens’s novels, the novels are reformatted to be read in one continuous volume instead of serially.

Nussbaum’s article gets at the idea that our society is traditionally uncomfortable with the idea that something can be of great quality and also be commercialized. Whether it be novels or television shows, the immediate conclusion is that the economics of the entertainment business does not allow for the quality of art that we desire. However, our ability to regard Dickens’s novels or shows like Mad Men as great demonstrates that there is an ability to overcome the “original sin” of advertising to create a space in which the two can coexist comfortably.

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