Archive for the ‘television’ Category

As a result of watching the recent presidential debates I’ve had the opportunity to catch glances of local broadcast news. I don’t watch a lot of tv and certainly not the news because in the past I found it to be shallow, superficial in its coverage, and slanted deep into sensationalism. These recent glances have reconfirmed my views and I now believe news exists purely as an instrument of fear mongering.

To what end, what purpose is all this fear sold to us as information that we feel compelled to need?

Fear, I’ve decided, is our national drug, our soma, one that once consumed requires a steady diet. Politicians dispense with rational and honest discourse in favor of getting votes by pushing fear like drug dealers earning loyalty – and dependency – by giving it away freely. The media redistributes this fear-drug after cutting it with good old-fashioned advertising hucksterism, knowing the consumer won’t consider the harmful side effects and decay to their ability to reason because they’ve become dependent on it. Thus the constant need for greater amounts of fear just to feel sated.

Enter dystopia.

The Science Fiction genre has a long tradition of discussing our current problems by masking them in constructed worlds similar to our own but distant enough not to cause us anxiety. They feed our strange human desires to explore new worlds, engage with the possibilities of life beyond our solar system, and through various proxies shine a light on our very human condition. They are cautionary, sometimes moral, tales with the promise of salvation or a warning of ruination as a matter of choice.

With kids constantly fed a steady diet of fear – on tv, in politics, in classrooms, anywhere it can be pedaled in favor of the ability to think for oneself – it shouldn’t be a surprise that they have grown to expect a dire future as entertainment. The ultimate message may be one of the human spirit triumphant over forces of darkness-to-come but rarely does it extend beyond the narrative hero. It is the flaw of hero-worship, this notion that one person may triumph in the end with the assumption that all will be right with the world from that point out. Revolution and change are rarely the carefully orchestrated desires of one individual motivating the masses, they are the will of the masses unified to rise up against the individual for the good of all.

The dystopic vision doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it isn’t the will of one person forced down on all, it is a collective agreement and a surrendering of free will and free thought that allows for the worst to happen. Over time, and with a steady diet of dark futures without workable solutions provided as road maps, dystopia as entertainment may condition readers to readily accept these worlds as eventualities. Fear re-conditions the mind to accept being afraid as a standard state of affairs, thus requiring a constant feed of fear in order to feel normal.

It took decades before people broke free of the fear and political inevitability of a nuclear Cold War. As entertaining as dystopic fiction can be, I hope it isn’t decades before readers (and writers) snap out of the coma of fear and seek out the roots of new stories that honor rational thought and honest discourse, and that politicians and the media lead, follow, or get out of the way.

Or, to bastardize Vonnegut: Tomorrow becomes the illusion we choose to believe, so we must take care in the illusions we choose to believe.

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“You were wrong, David. You were wrong about everything!”

That was the pronouncement made by my younger daughter as the final credits rolled for the season finale of the TV series Smash on Monday night. What I was wrong about, specifically, were my predictions about the show’s story arc. To be fair, my guess was made after the first or second week, when I saw a lot of potential in the various elements and couldn’t imagine the show would get almost instantly stupid.

I was not an actual fan of the show, though something more than a casual viewer. Apparently there’s a love-to-hate contingent out there but I never really followed the armchair quarterbacking that has become almost de rigueur of any TV series these days. But given the scope of what the show set out to accomplish — a backstage story of the creation of a Broadway show — I didn’t feel it was out of line for me to expect something more than a fifteen week version of an old MGM musical.

So what did I expect? I expected that they wouldn’t tease out the lead for the show-within-a-show all the way up to the very end; I thought they were going to stumble with funding and lose the director back to his old show, taking the rising star with him (his Eliza Doolittle as it were); that Smash would become a show about two separate shows with torn allegiances going up against each other, each becoming competitive in their successes; that the finale would involve the Tony awards where the two battling leading ladies were up against each other and when they announced the winner… fade to black, see you next season!

What we got was a very drawn out process of a show in workshop that was held together with preposterous sub-plots. The adoption of a Chinese baby, by the least realistic family on TV (and a teen son who was unarguably the show’s worst actor); the constant need to give the competing leads opportunities to sing popular songs to fill in for true emotions in storytelling; a determined producer whose lines were clearly written by a computer sampling dialog from old movies and phoned in by a sleepwalking actress… and in the end the show barely-but-miraculously makes it through its out-of-town previews with hints of Pregnancy! Suicide! Divorce!

How could I have expected anything more from TV?

So I won’t return to Smash for its second season, and maybe one day someone will develop the backstage drama worthy of Broadway that is also quality television.

Until then there’s always Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz.

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