Manufactured Drama: TV’s Phony Marriage to Reality

I get a lot of strange looks from people when I tell them that I do not have a TV set.  Furthermore, I emphasize that I would not watch TV if I did have one.  Many people then apologize and tell me that they agree with me and that TV is really bad but that they only watch the “good” stuff.   Pause!  Inevitably, this reasoning is followed by: “You really should watch:  The History Channel, The Discovery Channel or PBS.  There are some good shows on these channels.”  They generally ignore my explanation that I can catch any “Good Stuff”  on the Internet via Netflix On-Demand or even direct at the various channels where I can access archives of previous shows.  Thus, I see what I want to see, when I want to see it and without commercials or other idiotic distractions.

Of course, there is the problem that I slowly and inexorably become out of touch with the “mainstream” culture.  As new versions of “Survivors, X-Factor, American Idol, Pawn Wars, Game of Thrones, and NCIS come on, I have no clue as to what these shows are about or who stars in them or why I should watch them.  I feel like a person born in the 18th century who is suddenly catapulted into the 21st Century.  My clothing, concepts, ideas and knowledge of the current zeitgeist marks me as a “Stranger from a strange land.”  I am a Stranger in the midst of all these TV viewers with their myriad diaspora of shows each complete with followers, devotees and addicts.  God forbid I say anything negative about the Teutuls or Duck Dynasty or Holly Boo Boo or SNL.  I must be old or ancient or senile.  How could I miss the beauty and aesthetics of these shows?  (By the way, I will not include sports shows in this blog, since they merit a topic all by themselves.)

Nevertheless, for hours at a time, I am frequently obliged to watch TV.  It happens this way.  Karen and I go to visit a relative, friend, daughter etc.  We sit down in the living room in front of a MEGA 200 inch TV complete with loudspeakers, amplifiers, megaphones and surround sound.  We talk for a few minutes and then the TV gets turned on.  In the next three to four hours, we see snippets of over a ZILLION shows.  My mind starts to reel from the diversity of knowledge and useful information that is being directed to me from the BOOB tube.  I am gracious and do not say anything negative about TV.  Fortunately at some point, I am saved.  Either it is time for dinner, time to leave or time to go to bed.  In either case, my brain is overdue for “time-out” from TV land.  The good part of this travail is that I am now current again with 21st century culture. I now know what moves the hoi polloi.  I can converse with some degree of discernment on the relative merits of Simon Cowell as a judge versus Kelly Rowland.  I can reminisce with those who mourn the death of the Sopranos or Breaking Bad.  Furthermore, I have new content with which to write my next 1000 blogs condemning the inanity that I have somehow managed to survive before my brain totally rotted.

What have I learned from watching 21st Century TV?   TV today is all about “Manufactured” drama.  But you may argue, isn’t most literature and entertainment about drama?  Circus acts, war stories, murder mysteries, Shakespeare, opera, cartoons, police stories, sitcoms, sports and almost any other form of entertainment that one can think about all involve drama.  How is TV today different from “traditional” drama?  Let’s start by looking at the definition of the words we are using here:

Drama: 

1: a:  a composition in verse or prose intended to portray life or character or to tell a story usually involving conflicts and emotions through action and dialogue and typically designed for theatrical performance.

    b:  a movie or television production with characteristics (as conflict) of a serious play; broadly :  a play, movie, or television production with a serious tone or subject <a police drama>

Manufactured:

1:  to make into a product suitable for use

2: a:  to make from raw materials by hand or by machinery

     b:  to produce according to an organized plan and with division of labor

     c:  prefabricate <a manufactured home>

To get a better idea of what I am talking about, I will use a concrete example.  Let’s look at Shakespeare’s Macbeth and compare it to the TV show X-Factor.  Macbeth was a story about a fictional King who may have been meant to resemble in part a real Scottish king of bygone times.  The play’s main plot involves the desire of Macbeth to become King and the greed and depths of depravity that can bring someone to immoral acts to achieve their goals.  The themes are powerful because we can all identify with them.  The story is fictional, the lines are made up, and the characters are drawn from Shakespeare’s fertile mind.  Nevertheless, nothing seems contrived or artificial about this play.  The themes of power and ambition are strong because they resemble many such struggles throughout history.  In fact, all of us can imagine wanting something so bad, that we might even consider unethical acts to obtain it.  Macbeth becomes an icon for the individual who will sacrifice their morals and ethics for ambition.

X-Factor is a TV “reality” show in which singers and entertainers compete for a chance to win a grand prize. The format has one hundred contestants battling it out for just twenty-four places.  Each of four judges gives their favorite contestants one of their six seats.  The drama of competition is heightened by having four judges who alternately select and then reject the very people they selected.

The X-Factor producers are forced to create cruel twists to the competition because viewers are becoming immune to sob stories, a psychologist has claimed.  Chartered psychologist Dr. Rick Norris believes that program makers have to keep shocking the audience to keep up high viewing figures.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2449808/X-Factor-producers-deliberately-creating-cruel-twists-claims-psychologist.html

Watching or reading Macbeth evokes themes of morality, justice, greed, ambition, loyalty and ethics.  Watching X-factor evokes themes of contrived, fake, phoney, pseudo, cruel, malicious and obnoxious behavior.  Watching Macbeth involves strong emotions wherein I can reflect on the morals that must mitigate behavior and action in the real world.  Watching X-Factor, I am appalled by the fake melodrama and artificial behaviors of the judges and contestants.  While Macbeth has no claims to be “reality” drama, TV shows like X-Factor seek to portray themselves as real.

The feeling I get from watching most current TV shows can be summed up as “CONTRIVED and PHONY.”  Real people don’t behave like TV people do.  Real people work 9 to 5 jobs and don’t live on Fantasy Island or spend their days at Pawn Shops.  However, real people can be coerced by TV producers to act like “drama queens.”  A few examples will illustrate my point.  The following is from a graduate thesis:  Behind the Scenes: Uncovering the structures and manipulations of Tabloid Talk Show Workers, Guests and Audiences.  – By  Kelly Thompson Losch Deshotel

The producers have the ability to persuade and intimidate guests into any behavior they feel is beneficial to the program’s ratings. One associate producer (AP) tells the guests that they will be portrayed as cowards if they do not defend themselves during the last segment when the studio audience is given the opportunity to voice opinions or ask questions about the guests on the program. “Get mad, get out there into the audience, they’ll respect you more if you fight back,” this AP exclaims.  Directly following the commercial break, the guests jump out of their chairs and dart into the audience after every audience comment.

The next example is from Entertainment News and is about the Survivors.  In a question about the “reality” of this show the author states:

We’re not too sure about the “pure” aspect of the show, especially since nothing on Survivor is as real as you want it to be. The contestants are filmed as they walk to Tribal Council along jagged rocks and beautiful oceanic views, but as a matter of fact, the contestants merely walk about 500 meters before they get picked up by a production vehicle with blacked-out windows. The contestants are not allowed to talk during this one hour drive to Tribal Council and if they arrive at the Tribal Council destination before dusk, they have to wait outside of the Tribal Council area until the atmosphere is perfect for filming. Several contestants have complained about this fact in the past and have revealed that the time spent at Tribal Council sometimes stretched into the early hours of the next morning to get all the dialogue pinned down.

 With very little research it can be shown that almost all of the drama on TV is “Manufactured.”  There is little real about “reality” TV and there is even less about TV that can be said to have any ethical, moral or spiritually redeeming value.  TV was becoming a vast wasteland in the sixties and it has continued its march towards degeneracy, vulgarity, and mediocrity with little or no resistance from the vast millions of viewers in TV land.   In search of a means of transcending the banality and ordinariness of everyday existence, millions of Americans have become addicted to fake synthetic versions of life that seem to offer something missing in their own lives.  Turn on, Tune in and Drop out.  Americans have added TV to drugs in their search for an alternate reality.   The reality on TV is the reality of dreams while the everyday reality that most TV addicts lead is one of frustration, monotony and boredom.

 Get a life.  Turn the TV off.  Use your imagination.

Time for Questions:

What do I have against TV?  Why criticize something that brings so much joy to so many people’s lives?  Did a TV fall on me when I was young and forever prejudice me against the BOOB tube?  What would happen to America if people spent less time watching TV?  What if instead of 36 hours per week that people spent watching TV, they only spent 18?  What if we demanded an end to the fake reality that is a daily occurrence on TV?  What if TV was more informative and educational and less exploitative and demeaning?  How much TV do you want your kids to watch?  Do you think most images and characters on TV should be role models for others?

Life is just beginning.

Friends and Friendship: Part 1.

It is easy to measure friendship today.  Simply count the number of “friends” you have on Facebook and subtract the number of people who “defriended” you.  Multiply this number by the number of followers you have and divide by the number of people you are following.  This number or index will accurately tell you the number of friends you have in the whole wide world.  If you are not good with math and numbers, then simply call up each of your “friends” and see who will lend you a hundred dollars.  Another quick and easy solution to see how many friends you have is to count the number of your “friends” who bring you some chicken soup when you are home in bed with the flu.    

The subject of friendship has been written about since writing first began.  An advantage of friendship and perhaps one of its most enduring qualities is that you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your mother, father, aunts, uncles or other relatives.   While “blood” may be thicker than water, actual counts show as many dysfunctional families as dysfunctional friendships. (An observation extrapolated from my 67 years of experience as a relative and friend.)  Another advantage of friendship is that people seem to have more concern about being a good friend than they do about being a good relative.  To test this latter point, I went to Amazon.com and typed in “friendship.”  I found 57,722 books on the subject.  Next I typed in “relatives.”  I found only 20, 930.  Since this experiment did not seem very definitive I also tried the following.  I went to Google and typed in: “How to be a better friend?”   I found 1,470,000 hits on this subject.  Then I went back and typed in “How to be a better relative?”  I used the quotes to frame both question.  I found NO hits.  Not a one. NADA.  ZERO.  Go ahead and try it yourself.  Type in: “How to be a better relative?”   Here is what you will get:

   No results found for “How to be a better relative?”.

https://www.google.com/#q=%E2%80%9CHow+to+be+a+better+relative%3F%E2%80%9D

So there you have the second major or perhaps third major advantage of friendship.  Namely that people care about being a good friend but no one cares about being a good “relative.”  You are just supposed to love your relatives and that’s it.  End of subject.  “I love you brother.”  “I love you sister.”  “I love you Dad.”  “I love you Mom” are words taken for granted.  Your friends might regularly invite you over for meals and never say “I love you.”  However, your relatives may never invite you over for a meal, but they will not hesitate to say: “I love you.”  I guess love should be the subject of another blog, since the love of relatives seems to be something that needs better defining.  However, to return to the subject of friendship, let’s look at Aristotle’s three types of friends.  I will refer you to Amazon for more works on friendship.  Anyone reading all 57,722 books will receive a certificate as a bona fide “Friendship Expert.”  Simply mail me the ISBN number of all the books you have read or rip off the back cover and send them to me.  I will mail your certificate ASAP. 

Aristotle identified three types of friends.  I would like to compare Aristotle’s ideas on friendship to my ideas on friendship.  I wrote on the subject about thirty-five years ago and it was my first piece of paid writing.  It appeared in a Men’s Journal somewhere on the West Coast.  I regret I cashed the check as it would have been a nice souvenir and it was only for twenty dollars.  However, I was in graduate school at the time and twenty dollars seemed like a lot of money back then.  The title of my article was called:  “Male Friendship and the Three Types of Intimacy”.   I will return to my theories later, however let’s start with Aristotle since I give him a head start on the subject and much greater profundity.

Aristotle’s ideas on friendship were part of his larger work The Nicomachean Ethics.  Aristotle divided friendships into three types based on the motive for forming them.  These three types were:  Friendships of utility, friendships of pleasure and friendships of the good.   

“Friendships of utility” describe encounters with others that are very commercial or practical.  There is no love or intimacy exchanged in such relationships and they are simply based on a quid pro quo type of arrangement.  For some, these types of friends would better be called acquaintances but I think acquaintances lack the level of commitment that is sometimes necessary in “friendships of utility.”  Many of the people we work with, have business transactions with or even network with on LinkedIn would fit into this category.  Such relationships are not very intimate but they can engender a certain depth of emotional attachment. 

Aristotle’s “friendships of pleasure” include those individuals who we enjoy being around or spending time with.  These are people we like because they are fun to be with or they make us feel good or they bring some level of excitement to our lives.  Many of these types of friendships involve some type of shared activity.  You might be on the same bowling team, church council, or simply hang around in a bar or coffee shop together.  The intimacy involved in this type of friendship is deeper than in “friendships of utility” but it is often is limited to the activity that is being jointly pursued.  Once the activity ends, often the friends go separate ways.  Such friendships may end unless there is some other reason to create a bond or another reason to interact together.  

Aristotle’s third and deepest friendship is the “friendship of the good.”  Such a friendship is based on the enjoyment of the other person for some “good” or character trait that the person exhibits and which you find compelling or attractive. You like the person not for what they can do for you but because of who they are.  According to Aristotle these are the enduring type of friendships since they are not based on utility or shared activities but on a mutual liking or affection between the friends.  As long as the character traits enjoyed by each friend do not change, the friendship will continue. 

While I find Aristotle’s three types of friendship interesting, I do not think they go far enough or deep enough to define friendship.  I think he comes closest to my idea of friendship with his “friendship of the good” but even that does not go far enough.  The major fault I have with Aristotle is that he misses what I think is the key ingredient of friendship, namely intimacy.  A friendship must involve intimacy or it is not a friendship.  Intimacy is the key ingredient for all “true friendships.”

Intimacy:

1. the state of being intimate.

2. a close, familiar, and affectionate personal relationship.

3. a close association with or deep understanding of a place, subject, etc.

4. an act or expression serving as a token of familiarity or affection: the intimacy of using first names.

5. a sexual liberty.

6. privacy, esp. as suitable to the telling of a secret: in the intimacy of his studio.

I believe there are three types of intimacy upon which a friendship can be founded.  I do not include sexual intimacy here since for the most part, I am describing “non-sexual” relationships.  Relationships between lovers usually involve sexual intimacy but they do not have to include much if any of the three types of intimacy that I think are a key to a good friendship. It would be a better relationship if they did.  You will note though that it is frequently hard for ex-lovers to remain friends because once the sex part ends there is often little of the intimacy necessary for true friendship. 

I have labeled the three types of intimacy as: 

  • Face to face
  • Side to side
  • Back to back

Face to face intimacy is more emotional and affective and generally involves two people sharing feelings, problems, emotions, and issues that they would not discuss with anyone else.  Women are typically considered to be very good a face to face intimacy.  You can find women sitting together over coffee discussing any number of emotional issues.  Dealing with personal subjects with another party is central to face to face intimacy.  No gender has a monopoly on this type of intimacy but in the past, men were brought up to avoid dealing with emotions making such intimacy very difficult.

Side to side intimacy is doing and conative.  It is active and involves sharing some physical activity with the other party.  This could be working together, playing sports together, helping each other with some tasks or chores or simply taking a walk together.  This is an area where men in the past found much of their intimacy with other men.   Sports and other side to side activities were more condoned for men than sitting exchanging emotions together.  Time has changed and women are now as active in many sports as are men and we increasingly see men spending time with other men talking and sharing feelings.

Back to back intimacy involves a willingness to share risk or face a threat for the other person.  Soldiers develop strong friendships because of their need to rely on each other.  Police also develop strong friendships with their partners because of the element of shared risk and the strong need to rely on each other during emergencies and threats.  Any individuals that help each other during emergencies or dangerous situations can experience the type of intimacy that I call back to back intimacy.  (Just as an aside, I used this phrase before the term “I got your back” became popular but the current phrase  does express the essence of this type of intimacy.) 

A friendship may involve one, two or all three of these types of intimacy.  They are not all required for a good friendship.  A friendship based on only one of these types of intimacy can be very strong and profound.  However, all things being equal, a friendship based on two or three of the types of intimacy will be stronger than one based on a single type.  The caveat here is that when the intimacy no longer exists, there is a good chance that the friendship will fade away or become only a source of memories. 

In my blog next week, I would like to address some ideas for developing, maintaining and even enhancing our friendships.  I speak from having some experience at developing friendships but also at losing many good friends over the years.  Friendship much like love, romance, marriage or any other type of strong bonded relationship must be worked at.  A failure to commit to working on a relationship is the death knell for that relationship.  Bonds are only as strong as the glue that cements them together. When the glue loses its adhesion, the bond falls apart. The glue for friendships is intimacy.  Lose the intimacy and you lose the friendship.

Time for Questions:  

Do you have many good friends?  What do you do to maintain your friendships?  Have you ever lost a good friend?  Why?  What do you think you need to do more of to have stronger friendships?  Which type of intimacy are most of your friendships based on?  Do you have friends that fall into Aristotle’s three types?  Which ones?  How much work do you put into your friendships?  Do you put enough? 

Life is just beginning.

 

 

 

Ghosts, Goblins and Zombies

Let me say right now that I have never seen a ghost, a goblin or a zombie.   I have seen more movies, TV shows and plays then I can count wherein I was regaled with such characters.  I have been alternately charmed, frightened, amused and threatened by the antics of the “undead.”  From Casper, to Ghost Busters, to Count Dracula (a Vampire) to Bud Abbott and Lou Costello meet the Mummy, I have seen ghosts and other undead critters going back to before the Pharaohs.  Just last past spring, Karen and I attended a séance, in Kentucky at a “haunted” mansion.   Do I believe in the undead, in hauntings, in spirits, in creatures that have come back from the beyond to warn, inform or harm us?  You must be kidding!

It is 10:19 PM here in Frederic and I am all alone in my house.  Dare I ridicule or malign the spirit world?  Do I have the gumption of Houdini or Blackstone?  What if I am wrong and they come for me?  Who would know?  Such creatures are very sneaky as well as creepy.  I better say that while I don’t give much credence to such claims as the paranormal, parapsychology or para-anything, who is to say what exists in the beyond? Who is to say what might exist in the next world after this world?  Can 1/3 of the population that reportedly believes in ghosts and spirits be mistaken?  Can all of the reported sightings of spirits and other beings (besides the living) be hallucinations?  Can all of these sightings be attributed to daft, lying, gullible, naïve, superstitious and uneducated people?  Can I alone be right?  Do you really want to know?

My mother, sister, many friends, relatives, uncles, aunts and cousins believed in ghosts; spirits who still walk the world due to unfinished business.   Doomed to tread this earth until their souls are satisfied with remorse or retribution.  Perhaps their bodies were never found or their murderers remain free?  Perhaps they ran afoul of an evil spell or a curse assigning them to remain “undead” until they achieved some sort of resolution.  One of my favorite Marvel characters is “Ghost Rider.”

The Ghost Rider is former stunt motorcyclist Johnny Blaze, who, in some kind of a deal with the devil, agreed to give his soul to “Satan” (later revealed to be an arch-demon named Mephisto).  At night and when around evil, Blaze finds his flesh consumed by hellfire, causing his head to become a flaming skull. He rides a fiery motorcycle and wields trademark blasts of hellfire from his skeletal hands.  He must forever travel the earth righting wrongs and suffering unrequited love.  There are various versions of this story but you can get find our more by reading the old Marvel comics or seeing the movies featuring Nicholas Gage as Johnny Storm.  Great graphics!

Image

As I was saying, I am surrounded by indisputable evidence and testimony of the myriad visits and hauntings that plague our petty world.  Nary a country or culture exists that does not have stories of ghosts, goblins, witches, zombies, werewolves and other undead fantastical creatures.  Who am I to dispute the existence or possibility that such beings inhabit our world?  Would it make any difference if I were an “unbeliever?”

One night when I was only seven or eight years old, I was walking with my father and he decided to take a short cut through a cemetery to get home.  I was terrified.  I had perhaps just read a telling of the “Headless Horseman” or Poe’s “Raven.”  I loved horror stories back when there was more scare and less blood.  Nothing is as much fun as a good fright.  I was getting more and more frightened as we got deeper and deeper into the cemetery.  Towering pillars of granite and concrete screamed blood and curses at us as the night seemed to grow darker and darker.  We were leaving the land of the living and journeying through the land of the dead.  Each step brought us closer to evil and doom.  I could see specters rising out of indignation that we dared to disturb their resting places.  On and on we went as the night grew even blacker. Soon there was not a drop of moon light to guide our way.  I was sure we were hopelessly lost.  It only remained for the undead to arise and take us back down into the hades or whatever place lie beneath the earth.  We were doomed.  Finally, my father noticing my unrest and anxiety said the following words.  Words that forevermore changed my feelings about spirits and ghosts and other undead beings.  His exact words still echo in my thoughts and hardly a cemetery or a graveyard have I passed since wherein I have not reflected upon his words.  Here is what he said:

“Son, you have nothing to fear from the dead, only the living.”

The profundity and truth of his words have been proven to me more times than I can count.  I have never seen or heard of anyone killed, maimed, wounded, tortured, bombed, beaten, eaten, or abused by anyone who was dead. I have never seen a ghost, goblin or zombie on the “Most Wanted List.”  Do I believe in the undead?  Can the world be wrong?  Would a good agnostic not admit the possibility if not probability that such creatures might exist?  Could the human mind imagine such beings if they did not exist?  What about the Spanish, Africans, Basques, Irish, Malays, Hindus, Koreans, Haitians, Chinese, Japanese and other countries that have such undead creatures as:

Anchimayen

Draugr

Dybbuk

Jiang Shi

Toyol

Ro-langs

Dokkaebi

Iratxo

Jinn

Kyöpelinvuori

Nilbog

Oni

Orc

Púca

Pukwudgie

Tengu

Trasgu

Toyol

Vinayakas

So many creatures, from so many different countries.  Can all these countries, can all these people from the north to the south, east to the west, from temperate climates to arctic climates to tropical climates be wrong?  Could they all be imagining such beings if they did not exist?  Would you like to know what I think?  Probably you do not care.

“Whence cometh the superstition that infests our world?”  No, this is not a quote from my dear departed dad or my dear departed mother, both of whom have never returned from the grave with even one further bit of advice for me.  I sit up at nights like this writing and waiting for a voice from the beyond to let me know how much longer I have on this earth.  What is to come next?  Where will I go?  Could I possibly become one of the undead?  What would it take for me to find peace on this world if I have not found it in this life?  I am surrounded by people who see ghosts in every room and on every street corner. Why am I denied such visitations?  What have I done not to be blessed with even one sighting?  Not one plate has jumped off my table, not one picture has fallen off a wall, not one unearthly midnight knock on my door. No spectral sightings or glowing blobs appear in any of my photos.  Why?  What have I done to offend the undead?  If they exist, why do they show themselves to everyone else but hide from me? What harm could I do them?  I have always said life is unfair but how could so many spirits ignore me?  I have been to over thirty countries and I have not yet encountered a ghost or a spirit anywhere.  It is not for want to trying.  I look under the bed and in my closet every night and not a ghost or a spirit have I yet found.

Well, it’s nearly 12 PM now and I am going to go out for a midnight walk.  There is a good old cemetery up on the hill nearby where several of my wife’s relatives are interred.  In fact, we have an old deed to two plots up there where we are going to be buried.  Perhaps, if I stroll up there silently I might catch a spirit hanging around a recent grave.  They cannot all have been satisfied with their lives.  Surely some of the spirits in the Maple Grove cemetery have unfinished business in this world?  I wonder if I could catch a spectral image on my new digital camera.  Do you suppose you need a certain amount of megapixels for a good image?   I wonder if I have enough.  If you do not receive any reply to comments to this blog that you post, would you please let the authorities know that I was perfectly healthy before I left for the cemetery and that I had no intention of leaving this earth any earlier than possible.  Thus, if they do not find my body, please check in any of the recent graves.  If you do not follow these instructions, I will be forced to come back to haunt you.   Don’t think I won’t.

When the night is dark and scary, and the moon is full and creatures are a flying and the wind goes Whoooooooooo,

you better mind your parents and your teachers fond and dear, 

and cherish them that loves ya, and dry the orphans tears and help the poor and needy ones that cluster all about, 

or the goblins will get ya if ya don’t watch out!!!

 From – Little Orphant Annie by James Whitcomb Riley

 Time for Questions:

Have you ever seen a Ghost?  Do you believe in Zombies and Goblins?  How about Angels?   Why do you suppose so many people believe in spirits? Are these the same people who believe in “extraterrestrial” beings?  How many of these spirits are just fantasy?  Do they make our lives less banal?  What about the “Holy Ghost?” Is the Holy Ghost a he or a she?  Why did we reject polytheism for monotheism and yet we still embrace the idea of “other” beings besides God?  What would be wrong with having multiple Gods like the Greeks and Romans did?

Life is just beginning.

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