I Like to Watch by Emily Nussbaum

Title and author copy in big black block letters with a rainbow of drop shadow behind them.

By Rebecca W.

I’m not sure if anyone else spent the end of summer comparing the lengths of their summer reading list to that of their Netflix watch history… but for me the latter is headed for a sweeping victory. In a last ditch effort to slightly even the scales, while not venturing too far from my comfort zone, I picked up I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution (also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook). In a collection of her own criticism, author and TV critic Emily Nussbaum reflects on her work from 2007 to the present. 

Nussbaum’s anthology, a personally curated selection of work from New York and The New Yorker, explores the revolution in how we view TV; from “it will rot your brain” all the way to “binge-worthy”. The book begins with an introduction by Nussman explaining how Buffy the Vampire Slayer turned her away from her doctoral studies in literature in pursuit of TV; a pursuit that, in 2016, earned her the Pulitzer Prize for criticism. Now this, a mere three pages in, was about the place in the book where I was hooked. As an avid Buffy viewer, anyone who places her on the same tier as Tony Soprano has my full attention. 

Throughout her work Nussbaum continually defends TV’s place among “high-brow” art. As Nussbaum recounts her first episode of Buffy in the mid 90s, she also recalls public opinion of TV watching as shameful, an opinion that Nussbaum writes “was true not only of snobs who boasted that they ‘didn’t even own a TV’; but was true of people who liked TV.” While this view has definitely changed since the 90s, I found myself comparing the thought to my own TV habits. In the current age of television, I can simultaneously feel shameful for clicking “next episode” on my latest soapy obsession, while at the same time apologize for not keeping up with the latest hard-hitting drama. I am able to rationalize this feeling through another major theme in Nussbaum’s work. While we find ourselves in a place where acclaimed TV can be found in the same space as acclaimed films, there are a number of people left out when determining what is great TV and what is guilty pleasure. 

What I truly enjoy about this book is how Nussbaum navigates the gender, racial, and cultural biases all too common in the television industry through strong arguments, humor, and, at times, contradictions to her own thought. In the end, this book gave me a perfect end to my guilt-free-TV-binging summer. 

Becky is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS East Columbia Branch who enjoys art and everything science.

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