I have not been playing a lot of games recently. Part of this is that my weekend video game time is almost entirely taken up with Rock Band 3 and Rocksmith; part of it is that we’re watching more movies than we used to and we’re going through Deep Space 9 as well; part is that I have bunch of blog posts that I want to write, and I don’t want to get back to playing until I’ve burned through most of that backlog; and part of it, frankly, is that other events in my life have been keeping me too distracted to focus as well as I’d like.

But part of it is that I’m spending some of my time doing fairly unusual for me, namely watching current television programs. The other factors mentioned above would keep me busy, but I’d still have one or two evenings free a week; as is, though, I’m spending one-and-a-half evenings a week watching TV, and there goes my game playing time.

I don’t want to claim that I’m so much of an anti-TV person that this is completely unprecedented. For example, when we first moved out here, we watched a bunch of baseball, and fairly soon on discovered the original Iron Chef; a few years later, we watched the U.S. version of Iron Chef, and Liesl not infrequently has other Food Network programs on that I’ll pay partial attention to. (The Next Iron Chef, Chopped, etc.) She also watches some fashion design contest programs that I’ll pay a smaller amount of attention to (e.g. Project Runway); and I did watch The Glee Project with here. (Which I liked a lot more than the few episodes of Glee itself that I’ve seen, though I didn’t think the second season of The Glee Project was as good as the first.)

That list almost entirely consists of reality TV. (Liesl also watches some shows that aren’t reality TV; I pay less attention to those, though I did watch Downton Abbey with her.) Which is a favorite genre to bash from a cultural snobbishness point of view; it would seem that I like it, though, and I don’t think that’s solely my reflexive low culture boosterism coming out. And, actually, the major TV watching that I’ve done since moving out here that isn’t reality TV consists of watching baseball: and, as far as I’m concerned, the fact that sports doesn’t fall under the “reality TV” label is a pure accident of history. (Well, an accident of history combined with cultural snobbishness.) Because sports is unscripted TV filming actual events; when I look at the Wikipedia article on reality TV, it says that, in addition to those factors, the genre “usually features ordinary people instead of professional actors”, but shows like Iron Chef blur that line pretty seriously as well themselves. I’m not saying that there aren’t potentially interesting/productive distinctions to be made between the genres of reality TV and sports, but from where I sit, they look like they fit on the same continuum, and judging from my viewing habits it’s reasonable to say that they both satisfy the same parts of my brain.

Which isn’t to say that I like all reality TV, either. I’ve never watched shows like, say, The Real World, because in general I’m not attracted to the more voyeuristic side of reality TV. What I like is TV shows that show people performing activities skillfully, activities that are frequently of an artistic or culinary nature, and I’m happy to have a game framework wrapped around that performance. In fact, written that way, it’s completely unsurprising that I like reality TV: if I spend a noticeable chunk of each weekend playing video games that focus on music, then why shouldn’t I be drawn to watching games on television that focus on music?


One example of such as show is the one that is taking up my viewing time these days, The Voice. And that show really does focus on music: its titular shtick is that contestants are chosen sight unseen, so right from the beginning the quality of their singing is what matters. And this season, the singers have been really good: even the initial round had generally solid performances, and with two weeks left we’re already seeing singers being eliminated whose future solo careers I am actively curious about.

That’s not the only reason why I like The Voice this year, though. Because there are several contestants this year who are freaks, and who are my kind of freaks. The most striking example of that is Nicholas David: he’s gotten noticeably better groomed in recent weeks, but he was amazingly scruffy for the first week or two, I don’t think I’ve ever had as strong a feeling of recognition/identification when watching somebody on a popular TV show as I had with him.

Even the bits that don’t match how I actually look do match me conceptually: elbow patches on your jacket are an academic cliche. And his hippie bowing mannerism is dear to my heart as well.

But, unlike me, the guy can really sing: he’s still there in the final four, and he deserves that spot. And that’s the case for the other freaks in the show: they sing very well, and in a way that very much brings their own character to what they’re singing, much more than the more standard contestants. I’m not going to argue that MacKenzie Bourg should have lasted for many weeks than he did, but his version of Call Me Maybe was amazing in its own way, and week after week we’ve gotten to hear Melanie Martinez put her own, very strong, stamp on songs. (Though I am also a big fan of her style in hair and clothes.)

So, yeah, reality TV in general and The Voice in particular are open to talented weirdos. And, of course, open to talented non-weirdos, too: Trevin Hunte occasionally absolutely floors me with his singing, and I do not understand why Amanda Brown got knocked out this week. (The ending of her rendition of Dream On was probably my favorite performance on the show so far, and she’s had a lot of other excellent performances as well.)

Which isn’t to say that I like everything about the decisions on the show: Cassadee Pope is fine, but I don’t understand why she’s made it this far, so people are seeing something in her that I’m not; and Christina Aguilera’s excessive boosterism of styles (both vocal and presentational) that aren’t to my taste grated on me enough that I was glad to see her artists all get knocked out. (Though wow, what a charmer Dez Duron was.) And I’m not sure what I think about the show’s approach to diversity in the judges: it’s super by-the-numbers (the black judge, the female judge, the country judge, and the judge who is unmarked by virtue of being a white male pop singer), but at least the show is trying to show a bit of diversity within its basically mainstream framework, and in general I think the judges are doing a good job of bringing professional skills to the table?


So: that’s where my time has been going. And I’m happy with that. But it will also be nice to get back to games: Mark of the Ninja has been calling to me for a month! Fortunately, The Voice only has two weeks left, and I’ll have a lot of free time starting next week, enabling me to burn through the backlog of blog posts to write. So I should get back to a more normal artistic regime soon.

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