TV: A window to the world

Any longtime reader of my blog knows that I am not a fan of what I call “darkness.”

That’s not to say that I want the scripted TV or movies that I watch to be all light and no substance. Exploring sadness, loss and complex feelings in a person, in a family, in a community? Sign me up.

What the issue has always been, in my eyes, is when it’s the default setting of a story or a show, when it’s celebrated and embraced with little or no balance.

Several months ago, this was a post on General Hospital’s Facebook feed.

Self explanatory, no?

It should surprise no one that this show and this character are near the top of my list of dislikes.

I have no beef with the actor, nor with the initial arc of this character, one many of us expected to see play out a few villainous plots before heading off to pay for his sins.

But somewhere along the line, Sonny became a character with rooting value.

Never mind how many people he’s killed, or what nefarious things he’s done. He’s still considered the core center that this particular world revolves around.

It’s a template that worked well for GH, after all. They had the original recipe antihero, Luke Spencer.  And they’ve got a stable of handsome leading men who also have metaphorical (if fictional) blood on their hands.

Jason (whoever he may be), Valentin and Julian – all murderers in some way, at some time – are positioned as romantic leads along with Sonny. Their misdeeds are a challenge, perhaps a roadblock, for the women that love them to work through with them – together. Viva la supercouples!

It goes much deeper than that, of course. It’s also the female characters, and it’s also other shows.

If you think I’m being specific or literal about murderers, or saying that they don’t belong on soaps, you’d be wrong. Certainly soap characters have killed other characters as part of a story.

But for many years now, someone – the storytellers, the networks, the viewers, perhaps all three – seems to really be dwelling and living in the blood and gore of it all. It’s shown in a way that I think blurs lines, that feels less like entertainment and more like tragedy porn.

Sure, it’s probably a direct response to things like reality TV, to the sorrow porn of shows from the 90s like Maury, Jerry Springer and Jenny Jones, hours of human beings being horrible to each other and to themselves.

It’s impossible for me not to see a connection between the tone of these stories and the ugliness we all see and hear in the world today.

I don’t know if this is a “chicken or egg” debate, whether our changing world fed into these stories or whether our fears, projecting into our reality, made things worse.

There’s an academic theory, “mean world syndrome,” that gives some credence to the idea that much of our media – TV, movis, video games – make us think the world is far more violent than it is.

I just assumed for a long time that I must be a terribly old-fashioned viewer. I probably had relatively sophisticated tastes for a teenager.

There were edgy stories, dime store novel murders and guns and bombs in the stories I watched back then. (Let’s not forget, our GL hero Phillip once blinded true love Beth with a bomb.)

But there was also Nick, the Santa Claus stand-in. There were millions of smaller, quiet moments, and a willingness to embrace a loving moment, a happy ending, a resolution.

A few months ago, the Washington Post featured an article about the Hallmark Channel.

The headline? “The Feel Good Hallmark Channel is Booming in the Age of Trump.”

I wonder if I am still the only one with the soft spot for corny sentiment, the Pollyanna who yearns for those family centered shows.

Many programmers think that there’s extremes – that it’s either a saccharine sugary schlockfest where everyone hugs and learns lessons at the end…..or that it’s body counts, coroners and bloody gangfights in a gritty setting.

Is there no space in the middle? The world around us, I think, looks far more like that middle than it does either of those extremes.

I remember reading several articles expressing surprise that NBC’s Dolly Parton movies were so successful, that a Waltonsesque historical story with no mobsters, serial killers or antiheroes/antiheroines would attract such an audience.

Some of the success, no doubt, is the legend of Dolly Parton. But it’s also a story of family, of dealing with the difficulties of life as a family. It’s a hopeful story.

And whaddya know….it’s a story written by none other than Pamela K. Long – the former Guiding Light head writer who created many characters (including that lady who wore red all the time) and who loved those small, charming, mildly corny moments. Like Nick showing up on Christmas Eve.

Like Beth showing up on Christmas Eve – a moment (at around 43:00) that still makes me tear up after all these years.

Shows up, I should add in (a) an episode written by Pamela Long that (b) is filled with those kind of sweet moments and (c) ends with the cast and their families singing a Christmas Carol which just SLAYED me completely.

(Whew, it is really dusty in here…)

I love a good Christmas miracles, but we can be miracles for each other on other days, in other scenarios, too. We can embrace the good in all of us as much as we embrace the uncertainty, the fear, the ugliness. And we can have narratives of our lives that do the same.

Yes, uncertainty and tension is the friend of any writer. But if everyone’s at the edges, who will tell those of us in the middle a story?

And more importantly: Can we edge our way back to the screen with these types of stories? If the everyday soap isn’t feasible, where can we tell these stories, and see these people on screen? There’s an audience for them, a hunger for them, that much IS clear.

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