How television makes you a better person.



I hate reality television. It's a waste of time and energy. Sure, who doesn't like to stare at someone else and get that little air of superiority pumping, go human race! Ironically the watchers are those who don't even try. Given most contenders fail, but there they are, proud as punch and enjoying their 15 minutes. I have however seen some changes in the world that can only be attributed to television, and not all of them are bad.

"Fancy eats" are what my friend calls them. Culinary creations inspired, weekly, by the one show on the reality TV schedule that doesn't let the audience choose or holds up some arbitrary measure of success. Master chef simply makes people want to cook better food. And they buy from organic markets, they spend time in the kitchen, they make meals more sociable and then they enjoy the whole affair with a little spark of self-improvement mixed in. I'd hate to reverse myself, but if more shows on television did this, hell - maybe it ain't all bad.

My ex girlfriend used to say that people who watch a lot of television are more emotionally mature than people who don't. That's complete bullshit though, but I think her sentiment wasn't all the way off the mark. People who watch a lot of television are taught to communicate in a different way to people who don't. And if you're an especially empathic member of the society, television might have an even stronger effect on you. You can watch it at home, away from the pressures of real people, and you can start mentally emulating those personal aspects you value so highly in Meredith Grey, or Gregory house or one of those saucy vampires or whichever choice of the month show's lead strikes your fancy. You can learn to talk and act like someone you like, but someone who doesn't exist, and that's something people forget.

Here's the rub. You can't have deep, complex human emotion bubbling under the surface if all you have is barely over half an hour and you need to drive a plot line, and more often than not, a sub-plot as well. This season you need Dr man sexy to marry Dr woman sexy, but today you need them to work with their ex's to help an amputee orphan run with their puppy again, all the while maintaining some appearance of human complexity. All that salty emotional turmoil that we generally keep inside our heads until we find what we need to say and find the right time to say it, can't happen here. That's why there is very very rarely a situation where a character will change their mind.

Our lead characters need to verbalize every time their hearts takes a knock, so the audience knows that they aren't robots, but you can't just say every single emotional response you have, could you imagine what a nut job you would seem like? It would be like reading some deranged obsessive compulsive's twitter feed. Its insanity, no-one talks that much. But they don't. They always have some succinct summary of what a sane person would say, in one tenth of the time. Even when they've just been through more than a single person would go through in a lifetime.

Remember that this isn't a movie where you have the luxury of having time to show a single person's state of mind gradually present itself over the course of 2 hours, and tailored with specific supporting characters and a specific plot line. This is broadcast television, here you have many characters, each catering to a slice of the demographic pie, tailored to squeeze every possible pair of eyes onto the screen in that small prime time gap between work and bed.  So now we still need to make it interesting and cater to the deep need for human interaction that we
don't get anywhere else anymore, and we have to make it work with 6 characters, once a week and in 42 minutes (leaving enough time for advertisers to capitalize on our sudden emotional vulnerability) and as much as this sounds like a recipe for disaster - humans change, society and communication change as our ability to communicate changes, so it can't be all bad can it?

We're complicated creatures and it's not "I talk, therefore I am", we need time to make decisions. I'd rather hear a single sentence that says something than 20 different ideas that contradict themselves and hold no water.

This is television, and like anything that you devote a lot of time to, it will change you. I'm just hoping we all eat well while we change the way we expect other people to talk, and realize no-one can have a Gilmore girls conversation in real life.

On the one side, go on, keep making us better dearest television. On the other, let's remember that we were not put on this earth to vote for the next pop idol.

No comments: