The Aura of HBO

From the first fifteen minutes of Six Feet Under, it is undeniable that what the viewer is going to experience with this series is unlike any other TV show one has watched before. Six Feet Under, form the start, already gives you sex, drugs, and death. You get various reactions to a father’s death while one daughter is experimenting with Crystal Meth, and a son is returning home, but learns of his father’s death after having sex with a stranger in a closet in the airport. And this all happens on Christmas Eve

Anderson illustrates that HBO’s charismatic ideology, “the belief in the artistic vision of a sole creator,” (37) allows for a television series to take on these intense, deep plotlines. HBO needs to prove to subscribers that what they offer is the highest quality of television, and worthy of “aesthetic appreciation.” Clearly, what a viewer experiences during the pilot is not something one can see on a network television show. One may not get a Fear Factor larvae competition, but will instead become immersed and get something out of the show. There is the standard of taste that Anderson discusses, and it relates to the Bourdieu quote at the beginning of the piece – watching a series on HBO is like being in a museum, everything is labeled as art. HBO both has that privilege and disadvantage as they must uphold the grand impression bestowed upon them, but also know that when they introduce a new series it will likely be embraced because it is on HBO. The subscriber will at least will give the new show a chance because, well, they are paying for it. HBO definitely benefits from the water cooler discussion too, as people can both boast about how the TV they are watching is of such high quality and question why others aren’t watching.

Returning to charismatic ideology, Anderson talks about the praise David Chase received for The Sopranos and once that had been bestowed upon him, the viewers and the public believed Chase could do know wrong with his show. Especially since there is no denying that it is his show and his vision. When Journey started playing in the series finale, lots of viewers were left astonished and wanting some sort of closure, while others just attributed the decision to Chase’s brilliance and accepted it. I’m not saying there is a right choice, but it is hard to get upset with Chase and the way he decide to end his series because he is the sole author. Anderson discusses this point, “HBO promotes the creators of the drama series and encourages reporters to flesh out their biographies so that the public learns to identify the artistic vision of a single creator behind each series.” (36)

Six Feet Under and The Sopranos deserve their praise and their high quality TV status because they are a step above cable television series. Charismatic ideology allows for this with the freedom HBO provides of not being restrained to cable television. By paying extra for television the viewer expects more, and HBO delivers with the model they have in place. Anderson nicely says, “HBO has contributed a measure of legitimacy and cultural authority to those who would speak about television series as works of art.” (38)

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