Television and Real Life

My husband really wasn’t interested in watching another television show. We watch several shows together, usually on DVR so that when our schedules mesh we catch up. It is a nice consistent element to our lives. Sharing anything we both enjoy simply makes us both content and feel more like smiling. Since he is a night owl and I am not he watches other shows in the late night hours. He just wasn’t into another show. I persuaded him to give the the new show The Village a try.

 We didn’t plan on watching this show and it was not taped.  We talked through the commercials. He mentioned that he didn’t get what was going on with television programming and wondered why there are a lot of serious or deep television shows in the last few years. As we watched my mind wandered back to what he said.

After the show finished, I acknowledged what he had said and I told him “I think I see a blog here”. The shows that we watch together that seem to fit into this class are: This Is Us, New Amsterdam, and The Village. I watch A Million Little Things also. It fits into the same genre. These shows all have key components in common, and if you watch them I think you will agree. They are first and foremost about people. They show the characters’ past and present lives, and dangle a carrot about their future in front of us. These television programs are about the interwoven connections of the characters to one another. They draw us into the mental or emotional difficulties and the physical limitations or illnesses that the cast portrays. Shows like this expose humans being fragile and vulnerable. These shows illustrate life’s truest equalizers: death, addiction, morbid obesity, cancer, war, fertility struggles, loneliness, and relationships in which the losses are overwhelming. They try to depict reality as clearly as they can in a one hour time slot with commercial breaks. They make us feel, truly feel. Many times we feel empathetic and identify with characters. They are doing the job that scriptwriters and actors set out to do. Perhaps, they even guide us and give us some insight into our own lives and struggles.                                                                                                                                                                 

My husband talked about why we no longer see good quality comedies on the air.  There really aren’t a lot of comedies on television these days, and the ones that exist certainly do not have the meat or the bite that I remember from years past.  There are no new comedies like M*A*S*H and All in the Family – shows that are funny, but also have depth and messages.  There are no comedies that make to water cooler or coffee talk.

M*A*S*H  was on television from 1972 to 1983. It followed a group of doctors and support staff stationed at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital Uijeongbu, South Korea. It was characterized as a “dark comedy” or “dramedy” because the subject matter often had serious or dramatic  undertones and political implications. The show’s early seasons aired while the Vietnam War was still ongoing. M*A*S*H* was forced to walk a tightrope of commenting with innuendo and also clear opinions of the war without seeming to protest it.  After the war ended, the show took an even deeper turn with episodes consciously moving between drama and comedy to drive home thoughts and opinions of the U.S.’s involvement in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. 

All in the Family was televised from January 1971 to April 1979. The show revolved around Archie Bunker, who was a working-class bigot, and his family.  Archie, his wife Edith, daughter Gloria, and Gloria’s husband Michael Stivic, lived together in Astoria, Queens, New York.  On the surface, the show was was a comedy that drew upon the characters’ idiosyncrasies.  Edith was the sweet and understanding, albeit naive and uneducated wife.  Gloria was kind and good natured like her mother, but also had her father’s stubbornness and temper.  Michael was a college student with very liberal views, which often  challenged Archie’s thinking. The two couples illustrate the real life clashes of the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers, and living under one roof created ample opportunities to irritate each other. The show was considered ground breaking because it portrayed many  issues: racism, antisemitism, infidelity, women’s liberation, rape, religion, miscarriages, abortion, breast cancer, the Vietnam War, menopause and impotence. It became the first television show to top the Nielsen ratings for five years in row.

Both of these shows were set during times of great political divide and vast changes taking place in the country. Today, as a country, we are also going through times in which religion is a hotbed topic, women’s rights are at the forefront, and we are drowning in international struggles. The Me Too movement, priests being sentenced for years of child abuse, shootings at churches and synagogues, separating children from parents crossing over the border from Mexico, anti-semitism and anti-zionism, and our relationship with Russia, Israel,  and other countries, all exemplify these types of vicissitudes.  

We now have twenty four hour news on television, and even more of it at our fingertips online.  During the 1970’s and early 1980’s we had television channels 2 through 13. We did not have twenty-four-hour news and we did not have the internet. Printed newspapers were still the largest source of news. Today we cannot imagine only being able to watch the world news at 6:30 or 7pm on the major networks. Today, many people could not cope with missing the news for the evening.  The world is moving much faster and we are the recipients of this fast pace.

This has given us local and world wide news overload. We wake up and the first thing we do is check our cellphones for updates of personal and world events.  We crave information, and at the same time, crave distractions from our issues. One of these distractions comes in the form television dramas.  Watching another family’s lives on a television show distracts and coddles us. Each show brings us a comforting familarity even while taking us through their experiences with tough topics such as death, war, suicide, illness, addiction and unintended pregnancy. In the pain we share as bystanders to these lives, there is a certain sense of safety watching while we sit at home. Part of the reason we are comfortable is that these once taboo topics are now openly discussed almost all the time and everywhere. The other part of the reason we find them somewhat easy to take, while at times emotional, is that they are not dealing with politics and political  commentary. 

Nowadays, we vehemently thrust our opinions at other people. When we post on social media, political controversy seems to rear it’s ugly head. Often I find that people feel they must emphatically argue their point with their friends or contacts. Do they really think they will change someone’s opinion this way? We know of stories in which people have lost their friends or barely speak to their families due to social media wars about political candidates or news. To me, this is is as sad or even sadder than the shows we watch for entertainment or diversion.

I do think that comedies with a certain weight and purpose can be relevant to our world and at the same time distract us from all the problems. But, in recent years this has not been done while walking the thin line of subtlety and suggestions. It is as if everything around us has grown brash and garish. There is no softness in the political world, no quiet innuendo in comedies. It would be wonderful if intelligent script writers could write comedies that make us think  about the present issues without forcing their political opinions down our throats. Until that time I see us wanting television to distract us from the twenty four news cycle.  Due to all of the various social media platforms impact on us, we want to feel real connections to our families, friends and colleagues.  Sometimes, television dramas are a substitute for the intimacy missing from our lives. More often, it makes us feel that our problems are not atypical and we are not alone with our challenges.

We want our world to be a little quieter. We would love our planet to be still like the top of a lake on a warm day. While we certainly do not want to be faced with problems,  we know with certainty that they will always come along.  So,we want television to warm our hearts, soothe our minds,and make us feel less alone.



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