“Criticism is a lot of different things: it’s a conversation and it\’s a form of theater. It’s a way of thinking out loud, while letting everyone overhear you, which means risking getting things wrong and on occasion, being obnoxious” -Emily Nussbaum
For my standards, it’s far easier to read about tv shows than watch the actual show themselves. By starting a tv show, I risk liking it and wanting to finish it. But with essays and critiques, I get the interpreted distillation that I really want from watching the show anyway. Here’s where a book like I Like to Watch comes in.
Aside from Black-ish and Jane the Virgin, I had not seen any of the shows Emily Nussbaum writes about in this book. I was still able to appreciate her sharp observations stretching from the times of Norman Lear and Joan Rivers to the Marvel Universe. What I really admire about Nussbaum is that she actually loves television.
She writes a little at the start about how she kind of had to give herself permission to love it and analyze it seriously and it really shows through all of the essays.The not-so-subtle crowning achievement of this book though is her essay “Confessions of the Human Shield,” where she asks a salient question of the #MeToo era, “what should we do with the art of terrible men?” Nussbaum makes it clear though, in her lengthy and personal discussion of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, this question has been on her mind long before #MeToo.
In short, the answer to her question is another question: can we really get rid of it? If we can’t un-experience the art, and all of the subsequent art that it inspired cannot be unmade, how do we use revelations to reinform the complexity of the art? She exhibits, in a sense, an appropriate writer’s bias, prioritizing complexity no matter how fraught it might be if only for the benefit of the reader. Like any good essay though, it opens more questions than it answers, interrogates a range of emotions and cases, and never tries to present a universal solution to the problem.
Part of me does wish that the essay didn’t end as it did, which really just shows my own penchant for nice comforting bows that tie everything back together.For any fan of art or anyone who has thought about the separation of art and the artist before, this essay is a must-read and of course, anyone who loves TV, should read the rest of the book.