I'm a TV junkie. I admit it. I watch everything from the cable news shows to reality series to drama. But lately I've noticed a disturbing trend in my TV viewings: binge watching old and new series on Netflix and On Demand.
It seems this is a common phenomenon in our culture these days. Getting hooked and binge watching TV series. For me it started with The Sopranos. I heard a lot about it but never saw any episodes until last year. And of course, I became addicted and watched the whole six seasons in a few days.
More recently it was Homeland, House of Cards and Scandal (as I am a political junkie), "Breaking Bad", and Orange is the New Black. Outside of Orange is the New Black which I find intriguing with interesting characters, my recent revelation was that most of these series were affecting my psyche in a negative way. The lack of sleep from staying up late binge watching doesn't help either.
My observation is that in many of these shows morality is sorely lacking. I couldn't tell the good guys from the bad guys. And often the good guy becomes the bad guy as in the chemistry teacher turned drug lord in
The Sopranos is so well-written and acted that it had me liking a Mafia don (Tony Soprano played so deftly by James Gandolfini) who routinely murders or has others kill for him without a second thought. It may be realistic but should we be glorifying these individuals?
And how did we go from The West Wing where the presidency was revered to Scandal where all the characters are flawed (including the president) by being sucked into a cesspool of the political world of D.C.? Same premise on House of Cards. Call me an idealist but even though many politicians are corrupt today I don't believe they would commit murder. Or if they do, I would like to believe they will get caught and pay for their actions.
While I was watching Breaking Bad I thought maybe it was a good thing to expose the world to crystal methamphetamine addiction. But I found it quite disturbing to watch. Especially the episode where one of Walter White's dealers is hijacked by a drug crazed couple with knives. The woman's delirious laugh haunts me to this day. This is not a series I would want my children to watch if I had any children.
I'm not saying it is not well written and acted. In fact, Breaking Bad recently won a lot of Emmys. It is produced so well that it is habit-forming and that is the problem for me. It is an addictive show about addiction.
In fact, all of the above mentioned shows draw the viewer in, hook you, and don't let you go until the series is over. And then the reruns are shown On Demand for years.
My question is: Why do we like to watch violence? There are many shows I won't touch because I saw one episode and concluded it was too dark for me. These include Game of Thrones Grimm (too grim, not the way I remember fairy tales), The Blacklist, and any CSI or Law and Order series.
I don't even watch the local news because it is filled with reports of murder, rape, and child and animal abuse. And it is real life that makes it even scarier than made up TV.
And even the cops and robbers shows such as Dragnet in the 1950s and 1960s taught us right from wrong where we could tell the good guys from the bad guys and crime never paid. The Fugitive featured a supposedly bad guy trying to clear his name in the murder of his wife who went around doing good deeds as a doctor. Back then the bad guys often turned good as opposed to the good guys turning bad in today's hit series.
And the lines are so blurred as to what is right and wrong, good and bad, just or unjust that I think it causes us to be morally conflicted. To me, murder is a sin, no matter the justification.
Having these addictive series create a disturbing, dark feeling in my own psyche, I often wonder how these shows and violent video games have affected the upcoming younger generation. I grew up being taught right from wrong and it stuck with me. We didn't have the Internet back then. Schools and religions instilled civil and uplifting principles in us and TV often was a positive source of entertainment and moral clarity. Shows like The Twilight Zone had a moral message and sit-coms like I Love Lucy displayed true comic genius not dependent on sexual humor.
Today sex and violence rules the TV and cable channels are filled with obscenities. Call me old fashioned but I prefer Dr. Kildare over House MD and Superman (who has a moral code not to kill) over The Dark Knight(I know, it's a movie not TV but you get the point), and President Bartlet (The West Wing) over President Grant (Scandal) or President Underwood (House of Cards) any day.
With all of the gun violence and drug-related deaths in this country and our TV habits, I am wondering if it is a case of art imitating life or life imitating art? Either way, this nation is in trouble. TV used to be an escape to forget the world's problems. Now TV is something we need to escape from.