David Foster Wallace on Television’s Value to Fiction Writers

David Foster Wallace, on how television can be great for writers…

First, television does a lot of our predatory human research for us. American human beings are a slippery and protean bunch in real life, hard as hell to get any kind of universal handle on. But television comes equipped with just such a handle. It’s an incredible guage of the generic. If we want to know what American normality is — i.e. what Americans want to regard as normal — we can trust television. For television’s whole raison is reflecting what people want to see. It’s a mirror. Not the Stendhalian mirror that reflects the blue sky and mudpuddle. More like the overlit bathroom mirror before which the teenager monitors his biceps and determines his better profile. This kind of window on nervous American self-perception is simply invaluable in terms of witing fiction. And writers can have faith in television. There is a lot of money at stake, after all; and television owns the best demographers applied social science has to offer, and these researchers can determine precisely what Americans in the 1990s are, want, see — what we as Audience want to see ourselves as. Television, from the surface on down, is about desire. And, fiction-wise, desire is the sugar in human food.

From A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, by David Foster Wallace.

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