I think we all have to stop watching television. I realize this is a tremendously stupid thing for me to write as I seek work writing for television. Still. I think I’m right about it.
Tonight, saddened by the election results as they came in from Wisconsin, my wife and I turned to the reassuringly empty-headed entertainment of a Criminal Minds episode followed by a Flashpoint* episode. As I watched the programs I had an odd sense of looking through the hypnotically familiar dramatic structure to the underlying messages I was receiving.
Understand that both episodes were the sort that the far right would see as having a left-leaning bias. In both cases the perpetrators, whose misdeeds required the attention of our heroes, were somewhat sympathetic. In the former, a woman who had lost a child in an auto accident was overcome with grief, feeling that her child was forgotten and her sorrow unheard. In the latter, men who had lost their homes, their jobs and their life savings, one of whom had lost his wife to a financially inspired suicide, used a threat of violence in an attempt to get a high-powered, ruthless money manager they held responsible for their woes to apologize on camera. In both shows our heroes stopped these – what? Anti-villains? – from completing a final act of violence and brought them to their senses enough to take them into custody rather than shooting them down. In both cases the series regulars showed empathy and understanding.
Given the power of the televised medium to bring complex ideas to a widespread and disparate audience, both of these story-lines had the potential to change the way people think. How are those who suffer losses treated by those around them? Is society really comfortable with an economic system that constantly rewards those who profit from the labor of others while allowing the hardworking men and women on whose backs the economy is built to lose everything?
The far right would say that just raising these issues is an indication that the entertainment industry is rife with bleeding heart liberals. There are those who would say that the last thing they want to see in their law enforcement officials is empathy, sympathy or a desire to handle violent criminals with dignity and respect.
The underlying message of a story, though, does not lie entirely in the elements that story contains. No, the underlying message is always revealed in the outcome presented. Who prevails? Who is brought low? Who remains when the smoke clears.
Most of you are well enough acquainted with television as it currently functions to know that the broken woman on the killing spree is captured, the men pushed to the point at which they sought to make their point with
violence unsanctioned violence are taken away in handcuffs. The law enforcement teams prevail. The unfeeling culture that allowed all this to happen goes on unaffected, save for the brief, thrilling or frightening moments of suspense spent awaiting an outcome which can only be one of two things: the perpetrators are caught or the perpetrators die, shot to death by the ‘heroes’. The callous high-finance administrator goes on with his life.
As long as we watch hour long television dramas, we allow ourselves to be constantly inundated with a dangerous cultural indoctrination. Law enforcement is always on the side of good. No matter how valid one's grievance is, no matter how one is victimized by society, one must find a way to express it within the system or else one becomes instantly a villain. The status quo will be maintained.
As long as we allow ourselves to be fed this message time and again, night after night, we will continue to believe it. We will allow the injustices, the indignities, the inhumanities perpetrated daily upon us and upon our fellow humans because we will believe that to speak out, to speak up, to disturb the implacable calm in any way will make us worthy only of the dark end of a sniper rifle’s barrel or a grey cell and a fenced yard. Taking any action will give us away as crazies, psychos or schizos.
Our nation, our culture, our society is deeply flawed. Income inequality has reached shameful levels. Poverty spreads as a plague. The worship of capital has overgrown and overpowered the love of humanity. I do not believe solutions to our problems ever lie in violence. Solutions to problems, particularly ongoing, systemic problems do require change, though. They require fundamental change, new ideas, shocking, radical approaches that cannot be conceived by people who are trained to self-censor such critical exercises through an unspoken but constantly reinforced belief that just thinking about shaking things up will make them a S.W.A.T. team’s target or an enemy of the state.
Entertainment is designed to capture the imagination. Revolution requires that we set imaginations free.
If we wish to alter the status quo, it starts with us listening to our neighbors, our spouses our hearts, our consciences and yes, even our inner voices. This does not make us crazy. It makes us caring, active humans. None of that can happen until we turn off the television.
*For the record, I LOVE Enrico Colantoni as an actor. I think he would be a huge star if he had a more memorable name. I think the moment he moved to Los Angeles he should have changed his name Rickey T. Colon.