"The world into which the first three seasons of Arrested Development were released is dramatically different from the one we live in now," wrote Will Leitch on Vulture last week. The show that Mitch Hurwitz created a decade ago was meant to be dissected and loved, but viewers and technology weren't quite there yet. It's a detective story as much as it's a zany sitcom, and people are asked to pay attention for weird allusions and timely references. The more you spot, the better the experience viewing the show.
With the release of the new season of the show on Netflix, and the hype and viewing parties happening as we speak, it's clear that many things have changed since Arrested left the air. Lots of attention has been paid to new business models for television programs, but there are other factors involved in the decision to bring it back for this swan song. When Leitch talks about the world we live in now he means one where we dress up like our favorite characters, make original fan art, tweet at the actors (and characters), creators, and network, and share our favorite quotes and predictions with an online community of like-minded individuals. A place like Reddit.
The Internet has unquestionably reformed how we consume. The level of attention and dedication that many of us give to our favorite TV shows is both remarkable and strange. If I'm not on Twitter during Mad Men I'm reading IMDB biographies of guest stars or seeing what the actors have revealed in recent interviews (Vincent Kartheiser is particularly evasive regarding spoilers). Whatever the shows we're choosing to watch, we're investing in them. Depth of characters on a program is met by depth of interest from viewers. There's an unspoken deal in place between producers and those at home -- keep pumping out the goods, and we'll keep talking up the series online and offline.
Because of these strong commitments and communities, it's understanding that conversations with groups of four or more people inevitably find their way to the topic of television. This weekend, though, I was faced with an unfamiliar topic that found its way to our lunch table: Art.
I was dining with some people who have the background and appreciation for art that I have not yet discovered. Discussion turned to whether one requires all of the history and context for a piece of art in order to have it speak to him. During this discussion, I realized that people will often dismiss art as a whole, arguing that it's not for them. Compare that reaction to how we talk about films. I've seen my share of classic, black-and-white movies and many of them haven't impressed me. But what I don't do is chalk up the entire medium before a certain era as being stupid or pointless or outdated.
Thanks to the Internet, you can find the history of styles, camera positioning, storyboarding, and other important methods and aspects of filmmaking. While some people are willing to make an effort to appreciate a piece of art that they saw at a museum, chances are they'll sooner label it nonsensical, confusing, or misguided. Back in 2000, CNN contributor John Pavlik recognized the shift to the Web taking place in the art world. He wrote:
You can see digital versions of paintings, drawings and more. You can watch videos of artists and art critics commenting on the collections or on issues in the arts. You can participate in online discussions with other patrons and even with artists themselves.
This was a revolutionary idea just 13 years ago. It was supposed to bridge the gaps and make everything accessible and even. We could see the Mona Lisa from our home computers and introduce our kids to da Vinci. So much more information was becoming available than ever before. The caution of this way of thinking, of course, was best illustrated in a scene from Good Will Hunting.
As we've moved to be more online over the past decade, a subtle shift has affected not only how we consume media, but also how we digest it. Every day, we take in so many videos, images, memes, and articles that it's hard to keep up with all of the stuff. We go from looking at one thing to the next without lingering any longer than we have to. Art isn't designed to be that way, however. Imagine someone racing through an art exhibit, spending a couple mere seconds on each painting, in hopes of reaching the end faster than the next patron.
That's a side effect of the world that Leitch describes. Arrested transcended, as do some of a generation's great shows. It deserves recognition for that achievement. A well-timed or well-veiled joke that we catch on a second viewing is seen as a deserved reward. Yet, how many of us are willing to look for that same sort of depth inside a painting that we deem at first glance as just being a black canvas with nothing behind it? When we do this, we sell not only the artists short, but also ourselves.
If only we approached everything with the same curiosity and attention that we give to Arrested Development, that would be a world full of openness, positivity, growth, and education.