The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism this afternoon, “for television reviews written with an affection that never blunts the shrewdness of her analysis or the easy authority of her writing.” It was the second year in a row that the prize was awarded to a TV critic, after the Los Angeles Times’ Mary McNamara won in 2015, suggesting that the Golden Age of Television is also bringing forth a golden age of TV criticism. According to Pulitzer’s website, the finalists for this year award were Hilton Als, also of the New Yorker, and the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis.
In his letter nominating Nussbaum, New Yorker editor David Remnick wrote:
“As The New Yorker‘s critic, Emily Nussbaum has become indispensable to our understanding of how television reaches us in all facets of our lives. In the last twenty years, television has become the dominant cultural product of our age–it reaches us everywhere, and has replaced movies and books as the thing we talk about with our friends, families and colleagues. As Nussbaum writes in “The Price is Right,” her groundbreaking exploration of advertising on TV, “Those of us who love TV have won the war. The best scripted shows are regarded as significant art–debated, revered, denounced.” In Nussbaum, we finally have a critic who approaches television with a love both passionate and cerebral, free of condescension but unwilling to cheerlead for an industry that often goes awry.”
For a taste of why Nussbaum won, look no farther than this week’s profile of “black-ish” creator Kenya Barris, which explains why the show’s deft exploration of racial and cultural politics in the context of a network sitcom matters so much. (You can read all the articles in her submission here.) Nussbaum caught Barris as he watched “Hope,” the show’s groundbreaking episode about police brutality, and worked on “Good-ish Times,” the season finale that pays tribute to the Norman Lear sitcoms of old:
“The longing to see a positive portrayal of black life feels particularly fraught as Obama leaves office, and as Trump’s openly racist rhetoric attracts followers. Although Barris’s early life was punctuated by police violence, his ugliest memory, Barris said, was something a cop told him when he was sixteen: ‘You know, no one will care if you die.’ A network sitcom could never address anything quite so raw, he knew. Even the most topical sitcom isn’t an op-ed; it’s more like Silly Putty that’s been pressed against Page 1. But, although ‘Good-ish Times’ had many more jokes than “Hope,” it shared a stark central insight. It found dark laughs in the dialectic of striver psychology, as the Evans family flips between two equally extreme reactions to racism and poverty. One minute, they’re fatalistic to the point of self-sabotage; the next, they’re spouting affirmations of empty hope — ‘Tomorrow’s gonna be a better day!’ They might in fact be ‘rich in love.’ But their lives are all decisions, no choices.”
Hot damn. I won a goddamn Pulitzer. Thank you to this wonderful magazine for letting me mouth off & think out loud.
— emily nussbaum (@emilynussbaum) April 18, 2016