Following a Writer: Joshua Rothman

Having gotten comfortable with The New Yorker as a venue, I decided it was time to break away from topic of video games while sticking to that same venue – mostly because nothing new or interesting had been published on that topic since my last post. I returned to the Culture section and browsed for a bit, but finding nothing on the front page that interested me I resorted to digging through writer’s archives for something more to my taste. This led me to the work of Joshua Rothman, namely his article “How TV Became Art” from last August (new enough for me). The early parts of the article mainly cover the early history of television and how journalists went about covering it, including The New Yorker‘s history of television coverage. The article gets interesting once it gets past these simple historical observations and onto the question of how TV was perceived by the press and the world at large, Rothman noting The New Yorker‘s own struggle in deciding what television was and could be. Was it “the decline of civilization” or “a new frontier for dramatic and civic life,” a new form of art? This question and the history of how it was tossed around is important to me as it is currently being repeated with how we talk about video games – I know I said I was getting away from that topic but I could not help but point out how this article connects to the larger canon of my posts here. Eventually, as is evident with the advent of widely acclaimed shows like Game of ThronesBreaking Bad, and The Sopranos, TV entered the realm where it could be considered art. Rothman also writes about TV news and the major impact it has had and still has today, and how this is still very much an open debate and unresolved, ever evolving along with the technology and public perception and such, but that is less interesting to me and only mentioned here as it would be a discredit to Rothman’s writing to ignore it completely.

Rothman is able to capture the essence of a massive body of work in only a few paragraphs, covering the magazine’s coverage of TV since its inception through to the present. It helps that he (along with the article’s co-writer, Erin Overbey) is the magazine’s archive editor, so no doubt has extensive experience perusing the extensive catalogue of material that the magazine has accumulated over the years. His expertise on the magazine’s overarching trends and attitudes comes through impressively in this piece, and looking over his other work appears to be a staple of his voice. Given how much I enjoyed this article, I will likely return to read more individual work of Rothman’s, as well as that of Overbey, who I can definitely see myself covering in another post in the near future.

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