Monday, November 16, 2009

Television...a reflection of a nasty society


I just finished watching a rerun of an episode of Little House on the Prairies. The show is utterly charming and extols family values, kindness and charity. As I was watching, I thought back to the shows that I enjoyed while growing up.

There was Bonanza and despite the odd "shoot em ups", Hoss, Little Joe and Adam were all honest, hardworking and caring types. Pa Cartwright would always negotiate with the natives, or greedy lumber barons. He believed in a better world. The Cartwrights were the kind of people you would love to have as neighbours, especially Little Joe! Another show I liked was Sea Hunt. Here diver Mike Nelson exposed and fought against underwater corruption and crime. He was honest and helpful often risking his life to safe another! Most people would call those shows corny or overly sweet.

Essentially all the shows that I enjoyed had one thing in common that of a triumph of kindness over cruelty, of truth over lies and basically good over evil. Why are these themes so absent today?

I think that there has been a subtle change in television. The shows have gradually become cruel and nasty. The survivor series are a good example. There is no kindness there, only brutal self serving survival.... nasty selfishness on the screen. The survivor series of course is a genre in itself. Then there are disturbing series like Dexter, a serial killer. What does that tell you? Unlike the Cartwrights or Mike Nelson of Sea Hunt...I would NOT want Dexter within 100 miles of me!
The same is true for the endless sea of CSI type shows. Who wants to watch as the police investigate yet another sadistic murder and rape scene? What pleasure is there in this? What does it teach us?

It is trite to say that television is there to teach us, but I believe it is accurate to say that the shows that we enjoy, ie have the highest ratings, are a reflection of us, and of the spirit of the times. If one is to believe Rick Mercer, the times today are cynical, there is no good and no evil, it is all about self. The books we read, Self made millionaire, Self help, Self enlightenment..that genre of book typified by Ekhart Tolle and other self proclaimed gurus who promise to cure what ails you...if you buy their book, weight loss books, all point to same thing. We have become, or have been led to believe we have become, an utterly self absorbed society.

This is reflected in the disturbing trend of a marked decrease in the number of volunteer hours that people do. People have a thousand excuses, they are too busy, they have the children, the children need to go to soccer practice etc. etc. but the wane in altruism is simply a reflection of the fact that we have become a cynical and self absorbed or selfish society. The reason that television is nastier is because we have become that way. We delight in watching Survivor or Dexter because we think to ourselves, we cant be that bad, and therefore feel a little better. We are like the Grinch, and our hearts have become two sizes too small. Like the Grinch, we snigger and scoff at that which holds us to a higher standard and perhaps calls us to account for the way in which we spend our time, in service to self or family rather than to others.

Television is a mirror of our society. The shows like Bonanza or Little House, or the Waltons are relegated to specialized channels and are by no means mainstream. The ideals of service and kindness have been replaced by cruel and nasty principles. What television shows us is not a very good image of ourselves.

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