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.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Peggy Jones
    Oct 22, 2013 @ 15:16:37

    Quite an interesting essay for today. I do not watch TV any more myself. First I only watch my Kindle and as you say can pick and choose what I want to see. I particularly love the video presentations of the classics. Most of the shows you mentioned I have never watched. In recent dramas and TV shows I have started to watch on Netflix I cannot tolerate the use of the “F” word, cannot get through the first episode. I agree it is pretty evident that the demand for those violent and outrageous type films are what are selling. Have been crocheting up a storm making Christening outfits for our first 2 great grandsons due in early 2014. Hope you both are in good health and enjoying life as usual.

    Reply

    • johnpersico
      Oct 22, 2013 @ 16:00:00

      Thanks Peggy for the comments. I love to hear what you think. Two “Great” grandsons. Wow, makes one feel old thinking about it. We are now down in AZ and enjoying the 80+ degree weather. Hope to come to Kentucky again next year if money is right. I do like Netflix and catch many old tv series there without commercials. There did seem to be more redeeming value in the some of the old shows. Shows like Andy Griffith always had a moral.

      Reply

  2. Fred Broussard
    Oct 26, 2013 @ 11:54:15

    Way to go, John!
    You’ve captured my thoughts in words more eloquent than I ever could.
    It seems to me that TV is hellbent on destroying things sacred except the concepts of radical Muslims. The bulk of tv producers and writers seem immoral and take pleasure in scarring over societal ethics. We’re losing our respect for each other I virtually every way..violence and conflict are glorified. People becoming I sensitive to the pain of other humans.. kids killing and committing suicide; gory crimes copy cats of TV (and “Hollywood”movies).
    I, too prefer the Internet where I choose ..not some corrupt, immoral director trys to order my mind’s thoughts.
    They seem to delight in glorifying escalations of conflict due to people not having the skill to resolve conflictin a sensitive, intelligent manner. Seems like the older movies of yesteryear were more useful to guide us towards good, moral goals. We still enjoy viewing older films with good scripts with quality acting..things in short supply today.
    I’ve had the thought that perhaps we and the radical muslim terrorist have a common enemy that corrupts society. It’s the destructive, mind decaying elements of TV and movies.
    On occasional I have a radical thought that requires I ask God to forgive me. I usually have it as my wife watches a soap opera.
    My evil thought..” If God ever wills that we endure another 9/11 event; I’d rather it be directed at those dastardly devils in TV land (and Hollywood) who create the garbage tossed on society”. It’s the type things you refer to that’s being dumped on global society. I think it negates all the proper intelligence that good parents and teachers work so hard to instill in young minds.
    Old Pogo’s popular words comes to mind as I rant about such things..”we have met the enemy, and he is us”.
    Thanks, John.,again.:-)

    Reply

  3. johnpersico
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 14:24:11

    Thanks Fred, I agree. TV brings out the worst in people and not the best. It has become another addiction in this country but like drugs, I don’t think we can simply abolish it.

    Reply

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