Of TV and War

I want to discuss an issue that has been weighing on me for some time now. In the past few years, our country has become fixated on two types of television, Reality TV and The Crime Drama. Why? Why do we care what Joe Smoe thinks of Sally Suzie and why do we want to subject ourselves to unbelievable amounts of gore during time we are supposed to be relaxing? Today, Dylan made this statement, “We are no longer interested in keeping our celebrities on pedestals. We are more interested in their demons.” Why? What was the shift. What caused this negativity? Our desire to see people fail? To see people hurt both physically and mentally?

This trend began long before 9-11 but it seems to me it ramped up significantly after that. There are several elements in play here that created this shifting paradigm and I will deal with our fixations on Reality TV and The Crime Drama seperately.

Our need for Reality TV at the moment is really a need to feel validated. A need to feel superior. In a culture driven by being the best, we want to know there are people out there who are not as good as we are. They are dumber, they are uglier, they are meaner, they are fatter. It all works toward creating a culture of “I can do that” attitudes. We all think we can do it better. But that’s because we were told so, weren’t we? In school we were winners. We got blue ribbons for everything. Everyone got Good Job stickers. Everyone was special.

Now, I am not knocking positive reinforcement, but we are entering a time where all Americans think they are equal in everyway and superior to everyone. Why are the American Idol auditions so awful and horrible to watch? Because these people have been told over and over again, they are good. Not because they are in fact good, but because we don’t want to dash anyone’s dream. But let’s face it, no one is good at everything, and sometimes, even the things we like to do we aren’t really any good at. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do them at all, it just means we need to know our boundaries. I, for instance, am not a very good volleyball player. I am not terrible, but I could never ever play on a “real” team. I can however, play on my beer league team, and have a great time.

But this culture is what is driving jobs overseas, and driving foreign workers to our shores. We all think we are entitled to a good job with a comfy chair and minimal physical labor. We squeeze through school partying and skipping class and then expect a good job. But in other countries, students work obscenely hard and then come over here and fill the jobs we thought we deserved. Or worse, we think working in a factory is beneath us, so we insist on doing something else, and our factories are left empty and deserted or filled with immigrants who know that a buck is a buck, and the job at Walmart doesn’t pay as well as we thought it would.

So then we watch TV. To take us out of our self-made misery. We watch people make fools of themselves for money. This makes us feel good. We aren’t as much of a fool as they are. But then we think, I would never act like that! I could win! I could win that money. So we get on the Reality show and someone else watches us make a fool of ourself and in turn feels better. Just perpetuating the cycle of self masocism.

I don’t really know what the solution to this distructive cycle is but it probably starts with teaching our children it is ok to fail. Soccer games can have scores, and your team can be bad. It doesn’t mean you are a bad person yourself, it means you either need to work harder or get out of the way, so you can find your own niche.

The case of The Crime Drama is another sign our failing psyches but this time it is our guilt that pursuades us to watch. In the past, during war time and depression, we have been drawn to comedy and the movies. They could take us away from the pain. But now, as our soldiers fight and terrorists reak havoc, we want more of it. We see it all the time, but we can’t get enough of the gore. Why? Why would we want to see more death and in such a graphic manner?

I believe it is out of a guilty conscience. We are waging a war that we know we started. We, the grieving people of America, wanted justice. We didn’t care how, we just knew we wanted it. We chose to question little and allow our president the freedom to do as he wanted.

But there was nothing for us to do. No real way for us to help. We didn’t need to hand in our nylon stockings, or build planes. It was all covered. But we wanted to help and feel the suffering of our soldiers and police men and women. We needed to feel closer to them. And we had an outlet, that had been left largly untouched, Law and Order. So we turned to it in droves, years after it first premiered. It allowed us to voyeristically feel the pain of our heroes. So we created more Law and Orders, and they got more graphic. And all of the sudden we have Law and Order, Law and Order: SVU, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York, Navy NCIS, Medical Investigation, Crossing Jordan and two new shows, Numb3rs, and Medium. We are fixated on crime and death.

This trend is frightening to me. And I am certainly apart of it. I watch those shows. I like those shows. The question is, what am I getting out of it. I now know to be afraid in my own home when I am alone, because women are raped and beaten in their own homes all the time on these shows. I now know what a morgue looks like. I now know they boil the skin off of skulls to learn how someone died. I know how to use vaporized superglue to dust for prints, and that that perfect wonderful guy I met could actually be a psycho just waiting for the right time to kill me. I have in essence, learned to trust no one. I have learned that the only honest people are the police. But wait, they aren’t honest either. They are corrupt. This is not healthy.

Again, I am not sure how to combat this trend, but the death of the sitcom is going to be the death of our innocence. And I fear that as the war becomes more and more unpopular, our guilt will grow, and we will see more shows that attempt to assuage that feeling with gore.

As these shows normalize criminal behavior, and as Reality shows normalize obnoxious, outragous behavior, what kind of society do we have to look foward too? What will we be like in 5 years, 10 years, 50 years?


3 responses to “Of TV and War

  1. Ty, You have some interesting points here. I think, perhaps I see this issue a little less fatalistically than you do.

    The Reality TV trend has always reminded me of Jed Bartlet quote: “The trouble with the American Dream is that everyone is waiting for the day when they will be rich.” Reality TV, to me, is less about the affirmation of person and more about the idea that, at any moment, any one of us can be swept away in a tide of fame and celebrity.

    As for the Crime Show boom in the past 5 years, I think you make an interesting point about the collective conciousness of guilt in our country. There may be something to that. From my perspective, in uncertain times, I think the familiar formula and the idea of justice that these shows portray makes them attractive. In these shows, there are almost always absolute rights and absolute wrongs.

  2. You are right, I may be being a little fatalistic. But it got you to comment!! 😉 No, I see your point. I think there is definitely an element of the ability for “ordinary” people to become famous, but when you are watching reality TV (or perhaps not you, but the general public) what do we relish in? The crazy characters, the wild card, the ones who are least like ourselves. The ones we can make fun of and talk about the next day–“can you BELIEVE she did that!!”

    And I like your ideas about crime dramas exhibiting absolute right and wrong. That certainly could be some of the draw. The good guys always win. But then, why are we so obsessed with watching the good guys win? Maybe that goes back to that guilty conscience. We want desperately to see ourselves, our country, as the good guys. And maybe if we watch long enough, we can fool ourselves into believing we are.

  3. Alfred Hitchcock said “One must always remember that the villian is the hero in his own film.”

    I don’t think we need guilt over current affairs to increase our desire to see the good guys prevail. Everyone believes they are the good guys.

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