Do not worry, Netflix binge-watchers — you can turn your love for television into a career, just like Emily Nussbaum did.
On Wednesday, Nussbaum, a critic for The New Yorker, spoke at the Kelly Writers House and shared her experiences reviewing television shows. The event was the third and final installment in the Writing About TV series.
As Nussbaum prepared to open with a reading of a column — one she wrote about an episode of HBO’s Girls — she revealed that she had never read her work aloud before.
“Criticism by nature has this very ephemeral quality ... so I’m curious about how things hold up when you read them out loud,” she said as a disclaimer.
Nussbaum was excited to write the piece since the episode was met with such visceral responses to an “ugly girl” sleeping with a “hot guy.” She wanted to write something emotional and specific that talked about sex. While it might be awkward for some to hear Lena Dunham and Patrick Wilson’s sex scene described so graphically, Nussbaum brought the room to a chuckle with her closing comment.
“What has two thumbs and really loved this episode?” she asked. “This critic.”
Starting her career as a poetry critic for The New York Times Book Review, Nussbaum was uncomfortable writing critical reviews of poetry made “from one person, with no money, with no audience.” She is comfortable writing critically about TV shows because they are collaborative works meant for large audiences.
Nussbaum is best known for creating the Approval Matrix at New York Magazine. The charticle plots out cultural and political events of the previous week and categorizes them vertically from “highbrow” to “lowbrow” and horizontally from “despicable” to “brilliant.”
“It’s a deliberately infuriating thing,” she said, adding that it is the anger that often causes people to love the matrix.
As a critic, Nussbaum understands that it is impossible to write an unbiased review and appreciates the negativity that often goes with critiquing.
“I have a distaste for people who write as if they don’t feel anything about the art,” Nussbaum said. “There’s something fun about reading a really critical review.”
Wharton freshman Peishan Huang enjoyed Nussbaum’s talk.
“She made me feel that it’s okay to take TV very seriously [and] allowed me to appreciate TV as a medium [for creative expression],” Huang said.
As for TV recommendations, Nussbaum suggests finding a new show and watching three episodes and if it does not “kick in,” drop it. Nonetheless, she feels everyone should try Freaks and Geeks and My So Called Life.
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