“Little Boxes: 12 Writers on Television” edited by Caroline Casey, 124 pages, $16.95 paperback original.
V. V. Ganeshananthan is a novelist who teaches at the University of Minnesota. She is also the non-white daughter of a doctor which is why the one TV show she was allowed to watch growing up as a kid by her doctor father was “The Cosby Show” with its “intimate” tales of the family of non-white Dr. Cliff Huxtable. What on earth is she to make of “The Cosby Show” now that “the intimacy I admired on the show as a child and thought a signifier of safety was turned to [Cosby’s] advantage when he wanted to prey on women who sought his professional guidance and mentorship? He wasn’t silly; he was vicious.”
How do any of us, for that matter, deal with any equanimity at all with the collapse of a reputation we might once have assigned to the Rushmore of Mid-Century Entertainment?
It has been true practically since television was invented: some of the worst writing on any given subject is that traditionally accorded television. To say that it instantly turns into planned obsolescence is practically a compliment, considering its trivial disposability. It is also true that some of the best writing in America has been about television--often in secret because respectable cultural Americans really don’t think it deserves anything better.
And yet what a glorious tradition writing about TV has been: Michael Arlen, Clive James, John Leonard, James Wolcott, David Foster Wallace, so many others over the years. It isn’t likely that you are conversant with any of the writers who so splendidly fill the pages of “Little Boxes” which purports to tell us “what it means to have that blue glow as part of your cultural DNA.”
Justin Torres wrote the bestseller “We The Animals,” Edan Lepucki wrote best-sellers “California” and “Woman No. 17.” Otherwise these writers will not likely be familiar. But they can be terrific, whether the subject is “Twin Peaks,” or “Northern Exposure,” of “Days of Our Lives” or “My So-Called Life.” Here, then, is some secret literary excellence which needs to be outed as soon as humanly possible. If ever there were an ideal book from a “little publisher” earning its keep, it’s this one.