For those of you unfortunate souls not aware of Penny Arcade, allow me to quickly illuminate you on the subject. Penny Arcade is a long running web-comic that spawned a multifaceted international corporation consisting of conventions, comic series, video programming, podcasts, a charitable organization, and probably more to come. While at times the company has come under criticism and ire, the people in charge manage to acknowledge their errors and come out the other end a little bit smarter and more compassionate.
To be perfectly honest, the lessons contained in PA: The Series would be enough to fill several tomes of analytic research and theory, so containing them all within a single post seems futile. Perhaps I will write several posts about the series but for now I want to focus on three specific lessons found in the show.
First off, reality television does not have to be utter crap! I know; I was surprised as well with this revelation. The entire premise of Penny Arcade: The Series is a behind the scenes look at the company of Penny Arcade and how they began, work , and continue to create and grow. Obviously, this did not revolutionize or create a new premise when it comes to reality television programming. However, unlike standard reality fodder, there are no convoluted situations to drum up drama or scandalous enjoyment. Instead, the audience views actual people who want to be creative and productive with each other. They do not tear each other down or try to gain an advantage over the other. They work together and care for one another. Amazingly, this not only does not deplete the enjoyment of the show but actually makes for entertaining and compelling programming.
Second, I have written on the topic of choosing a family through friends before, but PA: The Series exemplifies this concept throughout the entire show. Every person that works for Penny Arcade can best be described as an ‘odd duck.” Yet, at Penny Arcade, their collective weirdness merges to form a “work family.” They are not just coworkers but friends and family, perhaps even more so than the family they were born into. No episode demonstrates this more than “Happy Holidays.” At one point during the jovial celebrations, Mike and Jerry actually specify what role each person plays in their makeshift family.
Finally, for now, PA: The Series demonstrates, through interviews with Mike and Jerry, the creators of Penny Arcade, the perils of creative work. By all measurable, and intangible, accounts, Penny Arcade is a successful company. It is profitable, self-sufficient, and ever expanding into different avenues, creative and commercial. The creators are not unaware of their success and are even more conscience of the fact that it could all be taken from them at a moment’s notice. In the first season of the series, the interviewers ask Mike and Jerry if they think about what would happen if everything just stopped or went away. They consider that possibility every day and that is why they continue to put their heart and soul into their work to be “worthy of the audience they have been given.” Though some might have become complacent or focus on the funds, these two manage to continue to care about the art and making sure that they earn their audience every day. Hopefully, all artists will be so luck and thoughtful.
I know this post was a bit long so here is the shorthand: reality (television) does not have to suck, the “family” you choose is at times better than the family your born into, and artists, regardless of their level, should earn their audience and recognition with every act and piece.
Thus ends the lesson.
(All images are © COPYRIGHT 1998 – 2014 PENNY ARCADE, INC.)