Formulaic television. Write-by-numbers. It’s got all of the interpretational challenge of a Dick and Jane book.
Is the hero troubled? Handicapped in a way that makes them just different enough from the rest that they can see/feel/understand things the rest of us can’t? Are they rugged or sexy? Or both? Maybe they’re intentionally odd-looking.
The case today. Will solving it rely on a logic that confirms our deeply-held beliefs? Will it marginalize some group that it’s still fashionable to marginalize? Will we look in the wrong direction for a while, until someone says something to the flawed hero that makes her suddenly understand?
Or maybe the cases are irrelevant, except to push along a long, drawn-out love story, whose denouement will either cause the show to jump the shark or to have to introduce some other feature to keep the lovers apart.
Is there a priest involved? He’s an abuser, or a principled man who will struggle with the sanctity of confession.
Since the days of radio, the timbre of a man’s or a woman’s voice will determine their role. How low is the man’s voice? Is it too low, and therefore a villain? Is it too high, and therefore either a weak character, a villain (they come in all shades), or a (disposable) confederate to the hero? What about the woman? Is her voice high enough to be a pure, entirely sexualized, love interest? Or is she meant to be intelligent, too? Better put a little Bacall raspiness in there. Not too low, though. Everyone knows a woman with too low of a voice is worse than a male villain of a similar timbre.
Anaesthetizing audiences of the size that tune in to prime time television is no simple business. There’s a lot of money that goes into figuring out what we’ll watch. Our public logics are affected by nothing so dramatically (forgive the pun) as television. Our resistance is low. We’re tired, and we don’t have to think. It’s like a low-level orgasm machine for the mind. Sex in the age of Barbarella.
A student once remarked to me—in anger—when a course had finished, that she left my course with more questions than she had coming in. I will be honest and tell you that there has never been a higher compliment paid to me as a lecturer. These big brains of ours seek out patterns, and have done for the totality of modern human experience. But this tool that evolved in our species has too much capacity. The patterns that we can produce and reproduce go well beyond our needs as animals. Agent Smith’s perspective in The Matrix isn’t far off.
Our pattern-seeking in the modern world has nowhere to go, but it remains a feature of our evolutionary capacities. So it can be channeled. Like libido, like hunger, meaning is a need, and there are only too many people, organizations, corporations poised to make money off the trickle-down effects of our desires.
So I watch. I watch to see what pathways we’re being led down. I look for the logics that are assumed. I watch for. Like troop movements in the build-up to possible war, or the signs of a lover losing interest.
Our temptation to meaning is hard to surrender. It’s nearly impossible to accept that there is no meaning. There are too many layers of sense to examine, to engage with, to submerge oneself within. It’s patently the case that nihilistic perspectives are a pretty tough sell.
So I watch, and I hope, in my small way, having seen our collective unconscious’s desires playing across the small screen, to effect change in the manipulation of our public logic.
Bring on your flawed heroes. Slip me the pill. I can’t know until I’ve seen what you are trying to sell.