Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fantasy and Reality

Maybe it's because I never watch the show, but I just don't get the phenomenon that is the television series "24." I mean, I get that it's an exciting drama and all that. What I don't get is the way so many people (including pandering politicians who should know better) seem to think it's reflective of real life:
Bauer’s fictional defense of torture and his fictional claims of its effectiveness are having very real consequences. Over the last two days, right-wing commentators have cheered Bauer’s belligerent Senate testimony, wondering how Congress could be so ungrateful to a torture advocate like Bauer. Often their commentary has been directed at critics of the Bush administration’s torture policies and suggests that the “average person” would approve of Bauer’s conduct.
Maybe people need to drag themselves away from the teevee a little more and get out in the real world with real people. The fear culture that is gripping this country is not healthy. People grossly overestimate the danger to themselves and their families from criminals, terrorists, child molesters, kidnappers, and so on.

I'm not suggesting that these things aren't real or that there aren't precautions one should take against them. But when the perception of risk is out of proportion with the actual risk, we end up doing things like overprotecting children so they can't even go outside to play or giving up fundamental rights and freedoms in exchange for protection from overinflated risks.

I realize that crime dramas and such can be very compelling, but they're not real.

I'm reminded of a line by Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller about people misunderstanding media (my emphasis):
We believe violence is exciting in entertainment. In America we have the First Amendment; there are no censors. But there are anti-violence censorship letter-writers. They want to make sure you'll never see anything that they wouldn't want to see. They say that if we had nothing on TV but shows like thirtysomething and Growing Pains all the world problems would be worked out in an adult, peaceful manner. They don't understand EVERYTHING's fake on TV. Homer Simpson doesn't work in a nuclear power plant! Homer Simpson is just an actor!
It seemed funny at the time. Perhaps, like many entertainers, he was just prescient.

2 comments:

Sue said...

Just a wee small quibble: Homer Simpson isn't even an actor. He's a toon.

TV's not the only distraction from real life. People need to get their noses out of papers, magazines, and even books. They (nay, WE) need to step away from our lives and see what's going on.

Terrorism should be the least of our concerns. Get out there and talk to the sick, the homeless, the mentally ill, the addicted, the elderly, the disabled, the imprisoned and find out what their day-to-day lives are like. If the prospect of just talking one-on-one with "them" is scary, get past it. Talk to them and find out what real fear is.

Sarette said...

T.V is a reflection of us, and we are a reflection of it. It shows us what we want to see. And what we want to see are the things that get us the most excited.

When conservative commentators start talking about things that happen on a TV show like 24, what they're really responding to is the larger culture war that's going on in the US. In essence, they're readying their arguments for when (they fear) the Democrats begin hearings on US torture in pursuit of the War on Terror.

24 is currently showing us the larger debate on torture that has been going on in this country for quite a few years now. The political commentators of which Chard writes are merely commenting on that debate.

That said, it would be a mistake to think that people who watch and enjoy "24" think that anything going on in that show bears any semblance to reality.

People get out more than enough in this culture. A little mindless entertainment from time to time isn't harmful. I, for one, enjoy "24" for what it is.

Is a little guilty pleasure such a bad thing?

Some people like "Dancing With The Stars." Some like Monday Night Football. Me, I like highly unrealistic shows in which a guy with a handgun can take out a whole platoon of soldiers wielding assault rifles. I also like watching things blow up. So sue me, I'm a guy. :)