Prepare for the glass shattering effect. Remember that episode of How I Met Your Mother, where Ted pointed out to Marshal that Lilly chews loudly and then Marshal couldn’t not notice it after that, well I’m about to do that for western television.
It is something that I hadn’t noticed until my friends and I stupidly made the mistake one Christmas break to watch all of a show called The League in one sitting. The League is a comedy about adults playing fantasy football, and how into it they get. I used to think it was really funny, until about 12 hours in to the 18 hours of watching this show… When you binge a show like this, especially with such a simple premise you really start to notice something, these are bad people and as the show progresses these people regress and become worse and worse. After realizing this during this marathon of TV watching (seriously a marathon, we lost people do to exhaustion and lack of stamina) I couldn’t enjoy the show anymore, and I have not watched a single episode since. The new seasons could be hilarious, but because the proverbial glass has been shattered I know I can’t enjoy it. I can’t laugh at characters that I feel sorry for, pity even, and that actually should probably be seeking some sort of professional counseling.
I know what you’re thinking, OK that’s a comedy with such a simple premise that the characters can’t grow because the show and its antics must revolve around fantasy football, and I was hopeful for that too. That is until I started trying to watch other shows that people kept recommending, telling me how good they are. Well, they are not. You find the same thing; these characters in these shows are bad people that get worse and worse e.g. Orange is the New Black, Power, Empire, How to Get Away With Murder, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, I could go on.
Life is about facing challenge after challenge and finding a way to overcome and keep going; growing, changing, and adapting in order to get to where you want to go and becoming better for it. Yet the television we watch does not reflect this. Here in lies the problem with western television, show after show I have lost interest and can’t finish because there is no growth, it is regression—characters becoming worse and worse in order to keep the comedy, drama, or suspense high. I will give you Breaking Bad, where that is the whole point of the show is the fall, however this is not about nit picking one show, but about a trend that I have noticed in our entertainment industry.
There are multiple reasons for why this trend is occurring, for instance when you are writing a show and you don’t know how it is going to end when you begin, you are in trouble for this happening because if its making money networks will keep resigning for new seasons and writers will have to find ways to keep things interesting and thus create more drama, unrealistic situations and characters poor responses to these situations. If they were written with a definite end then you can have the fall, but also write in the rise of these characters without it seeming cheap and predictable. If every time a character is faced with a decision and they always make the wrong one that is no longer interesting as it is predictable and unsatisfying as a viewer.
However, I believe the real problem lies in us, and not the shows themselves or the networks. Networks create shows based on proven formulas and test audiences. Therefore they are a reflection of our tastes as a culture. I find it depressing and yet very telling that we prefer to watch television that instead of inspiring us to be better makes us feel better because hey our lives aren’t as screwed up as that. I have actually had people say that to me, especially when talking about bad reality television which also fits into this trend. I love story telling in all its forms because you can travel to places you’ve never been and experience things you never will, but I like this for how it can change your way of thinking and make you better, inspire new ideas, or give you that little extra motivation. However I feel like that is missing from our prime-time television.
We as humans are very susceptible to “priming”, meaning that stimuli will actually affect our behavior, by the mental connections we form. They have done studies with students, and through priming have successfully altered behavior. It’s like when you have no singing talent, or even the slightest desire to sing, and then you watch American Idol, and hop in the shower and now your suddenly find yourself deciding which song you will perform when you audition. That’s the effect priming can have, and taking that into consideration the television we bombard ourselves with, shows where characters regress, constantly make the wrong decisions, and get themselves in more and more trouble can be detrimental to us. Imagine how different we would be as a culture if our stories focused of growth, and overcoming adversity. That also doesn’t mean it has to be all sunshine and rainbows, but a better reflection or representation of real life and characters that you can connect with, and if a show like House of Cards is a good representation of reality then we as a people should recognize this and come together to make change. It comes down to this, would you rather be lethargic and content, or growing and striving to be better? The choice could be as simple as what you choose to fill your thoughts with.
What do you think, have you felt this way, or do you completely disagree? Let me know it the comments below.
Bonus: A recent show that went against this trend that I really enjoyed – About a Boy