All those recorded shows you know you really should watch, because they will reward your effort when you finally bring yourself to get started? Mark Harris says it's time to push the button
Generation Kill
Credit: Paul Schiraldi

Generation Kill

‘Generation Kill’: Too good for DVR hell!

I was a huge fan of David Simon’s HBO series The Wire. I never missed an episode. You probably read about The Wire, since it was the kind of show that caused 1 million journalists to write 1 million articles complaining that only 1 million people were watching. (Hey, we tried.) So when HBO scheduled Generation Kill, Simon’s seven-part miniseries about the members of a Marine platoon during the early weeks of the Iraq war, it went straight to the top of my must-watch list. And stayed there. For a really long time. Unwatched.

I don’t remember why I missed the first episode, but I get credit — don’t I? — because I DVR’d it. In fact, I DVR’d all of them. They sat in an orderly list on my ”My Recordings” screen, glowering at me, reproachfully saying, ”You must watch me. I must be watched. Man up!” I confessed this to a friend via e-mail, and she wrote back, ”I know just what you mean. This show is constipating my DVR!”

Cultural constipation: It’s the gift that arrives and then refuses to leave. Like a PBS documentary about World War II, it can strike anyone, in any area, without warning. Besides your DVR, it can afflict your bookshelf (I really, really am going to get around to Denis Johnson’s National Book Award-winning novel Tree of Smoke…soon, maybe). It can clog your Netflix queue (a night will come when the stars will magically align and I will decide to watch Into Great Silence, a well-reviewed 162-minute documentary about monks…but first, I’ll just have a quick look at Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay). It can even freeze your iPod: I have been waiting to be in the exact mood to give Bruce Springsteen‘s post-9/11 album The Rising another listen for six years.

There’s a snob theory and a slob theory about cultural constipation. The snob theory is that the Internet, reality television, minisodes, and the general dumbing down of everything have so completely turned our brains into mush that we’re now incapable of sitting down and concentrating on anything that actually requires our sustained, undivided attention. The slob theory is that we the people have a sixth sense that allows us to stay away instinctively whenever a piece of pop culture is boring or overpraised or ”pretentious” (the all-purpose label of abuse that too many people now apply to anything that seems smart and difficult).

NEXT PAGE: ”Gulf War Movie Syndrome is caused when a gap opens up between the kind of entertainment consumers we want to be (intelligent, discerning, thoughtful) and the kind we actually are (oh, look, The Mole is on!).”

Let me propose an alternative. Cultural const — okay, I just can’t type that word again, so let me rephrase in a way that brings us back to Generation Kill: Gulf War Movie Syndrome is caused when a gap opens up between the kind of entertainment consumers we want to be (intelligent, discerning, thoughtful) and the kind we actually are (oh, look, The Mole is on!). We are not entirely at fault, though we’re not innocent, either. There’s a lot to choose from, a lot of hyperbole to thrash through, and — when it comes to the Iraq war — a kind of sullen resistance to movies that either tediously tell us what we already know or dangerously tell us what we don’t want to know about a topic we desperately want to be rid of. All that is reinforced by a sort of smug, why-bother tone to much of contemporary pop culture commentary that is more comfortable applying the word genius to I Want to Work for Diddy than to something that involves, say, a level of actual creative brilliance. And yes, a TV show like Generation Kill that requires your sustained, undivided attention is, on some level, work. And work is the opposite of what entertainment is supposed to be all about, right?

Actually, no, not necessarily. Sometimes, as my niece once said while doing a puzzle, ”Is harder is funner.” If she figured that out at 3, we can all probably remember it as adults. There are only two ways to cure cultural you-know-what. One is to say, screw it, I’m totally comfortable with the fact that Friday Night Lights is never going to happen for me, hit that delete button, shake it off, and move on. (Unless you’re planning to do that with Mad Men — in which case not making the effort to start from episode 1 would be the biggest mistake of your TV-viewing year.) But the other is to take a deep breath and jump in. Come on. It’s not that hard. You just spent part of the last two weeks pretending to care about synchronized swimming, so you can give Generation Kill a try. Just press play.

Meanwhile, I’d like to hear what movies, books, and TV shows are stuck on your personal runway. Post them at

Generation Kill
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