Okay this post is going to be a bit of a thematic stretch, but it really does edge into my media theme for this blog.
The missus and I have been watching a lot of British TV programming lately, and I find myself comparing it to the domestic TV fare. Of course any casual watcher of British TV will notice the subtleties of plot and characterization that are in large part missing in U.S. TV programs. But there are other differences – let’s call them nuances – that separate the tone of these two English speaking nations’ TV shows. The two main themes of twenty-first century voyeurism are the obvious ones: sex and death, so I’ll mention only those.
But to the cultural te differences: violence on U.S. is blatant, explosive (Can you think of a cop show recently without at least one explosion per episode?), extravagant. In the Brit versions (sure, there are exceptions to this), there’s a plot-and-character build-up to killings and a simple BANG! usually does it.
And sex: gay sex has gone mainstream in both, and sex in general is a topic that enters almost any sort of TV conversation. The U.S. versions are titillating; sophomoric, virtual burlesque – the sort of tone we broached in junior high as we were just beginning to feel our sexual oats. The British shows we’ve seen deal with the same gamut of sex as ours, but, well, there’s not a better way of saying this: it’s handled more maturely. Sex there can occur as a human foible, can be extramarital, gay, or whatever else. But, again, there are character and plot build-ups to these “events” that give them human depth, no matter the end result.
See where this is going?
In the U.S., as the new season begins, we’re seeing a conflation of violence and sex that tends to be sado-masochistic in tone. One show we viewed had an hour-long segment of dialogue between a kidnapped woman and her male captor that veered back and forth between torture and sex. Another constantly deals with mentally disturbed individuals that kill victims in the most heinous and extravagant of ways. Both shows are on the surface trying to be psychological dramas, but at their root they’re appealing to our baser instincts that are essentially carnal, emotional – cruel and superficial in both categories.
As Warhol wondered, does art imitate life, or vice versa? In the case of TV programming, and in this most modern of times, we’re finding it hard to separate real life from that which purports to imitate life in the form of art. In other words, we’re becoming deeply affected by our virtual worlds, and we’re finding it harder and harder to separate reality from the virtual image. And what’s the effect of this difficulty? We’re psychically confused, and when we’re in this state, we fall into self-absorption, a state that leaves little room for considerations of anyone else.
Witness our fascination with guns in light of the accelerating mass killings in the U.S. Witness the lack of political concern with “the other,” in our winning-is-all mindset, while schools, culture, infrastructure, are crumbling about us. A significant portion of the population sees though all this, yes, and pushes us to resolve our macro-problems. Yet another portion is caught up in cognitive dissonance, and falls back on social, political, and religious fundamentalistic precepts – sort of a “let’s stop-and-start-all-over-from-scratch,” approach to life while the rest of the western world goes on progressively, solving its social problems, admittedly in a slap-dash fashion.
I don’t purport to resolve our issues here for the U.S. of A. Sure, problems have to be resolved on the level of the individual and allowed to grow into a collective consciousness sort of thing. But do we have the moxie to do this? Do we, in fact, have the time? I don’t know. All I can do is express my concern and hope that amounts to something.
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