I hate television.
Every now and then I climb aboard my high horse and pen another jeremiad against the state of television. Yet I am still in possession of a television and still find myself occasionally watching the odd show, and I actively follow two shows: Doctor Who and the Woodwright Shop. I also like to catch the odd war documentary. Which war isn’t all that relevant: such is my obsession for blood and fighting.
However, although I still imbibe upon the occasional show, I still despise television. The thoughts that drove me to write a little post on the subject tonight go around three things:
1. procedural cop shows.
2. Mad Men.
3. What the heck happened to the channels I once loved?
Procedural cop shows really need no further explanation. There’s about three hundred of them and they’re all the same, all pretending to be hyper realistic and all a cheat and a fraud, all written to satisfy the left leaning politics that are acceptable today in Hollywood. A right point of view is only raised as the thinnest of straw men. Beyond that you have the CSI shows, where the scientists arrest and question suspects, or Criminal Minds, where the profilers arrest and question suspects, or cross the border into Canada, and work with the wrong police force, and then arrest and question Canadian suspects on Canadian soil.
Mad Men may seem a bit odd on this list, and requires a little more of an explanation. I have watched it on occasion, and find it to be a very well written, well acted and well directed show about a bunch of despicable characters. Yet, like the cheating cop shows, I continually hear it proclaimed to be ‘real’, as though a group of hard drinking, chain smoking philanderers and adulterers is a glimpse into the core of human reality. Yet why is that? Why is this show seen as an antidote to the vision of the sixties given in Leave it to Beaver? Why is Leave it Beaver trotted out as a foil to Mad Men in the first place, as I have often heard?
This reminds me of a passage from the Screwtape Letters, where Screwtape explains two different ways of viewing reality- as an emotional revelation, or as an iteration of mere physical facts- and goes on to explain that there are reasons to support each view of reality, but the devils have so worked it that if humans feel degraded, that is the reality, whereas if humans are uplifted, only the physical facts are real. So the destruction caused by a hurricane, and the horror and terror of bloated corpses floating in the flood waters are a revelation of the deep reality of the world, whereas a sunny day is merely a weather phenomena about which people have pleasant associations. In giving birth, the blood and the pain is real, the feelings of having a child in your arms a mere association. And so on.
In the case at hand, a father who drinks, cheats on his wife, and tears his family apart is real, whereas a father who is fond of reading the newspaper in his den, and cheerfully dispenses hard earned wisdom to his sons whenever they come to him with a problem is a fiction. But why is the one real but not the other? Are they not both extremes, and not both equally as real and as not?
And yet, the sartorially splendid and well coifed men of Mad Men are inexplicably being held up across the internet as paragons of manhood, when nothing could be further from the truth. The women on the show had the measure of the male characters. In an interview, the ones who play Peggy and Joan were asked if men of that era had qualities sorely lacking in today’s men, and they laughed and answered ironically: “Gosh, I wish my husband would cheat on me more often!” “Yes! I wish mine would drink and smoke more!”
Lastly, what the heck happened to my once favourite channels? I speak of the channels I liked back in the paleolithic nineties: TLC and A&E. Both produced excellent television, or brought in excellent shows from elsewhere. I remember the Furniture Guys, or the James Burke series, Connections and The Day the Universe Changed, both some of the finest documentaries I have ever seen. They later imported Junkyard Wars, another show that I watched every week. And A&E had excellent arts programming, and they even co produced, with the BBC, some excellent adaptations of historical novels, including the still popular Pride and Prejudice, one of the finest adaptations from page to screen ever.
So what are they now? TLC features programming about large, preferably dysfunctional families, or shows about bad clothes, or cooking shows which teach us nothing about cooking, or shows about little people, or, in the case of Little Chocolatiers, a show about little people who cook, but still teach us nothing about cooking. And A&E, O how it pains me to say it, has gone from producing brilliant adaptations of great books to featuring reality shows about washed out stoned out rock stars, and long marathons of Dog the Bounty Hunter and Billy the Exterminator. I imagine people tune into the last two shows for the same reason they tune into car racing: to see a crash, and possibly a death.
How is this possible? How can any channel run a Dog the Bounty Hunter Marathon, segue into a Billy the Exterminator Marathon, and still call itself the Arts and Entertainment Channel?
At least I still have the History Channel. Hmmm what’s on tonight? Let’s see, let’s see. Ah here it is: The Mummy Returns. On History.
I hate television.