Friday, July 13, 2012

My Somewhat Scathing Critique of American Audiences or The Stories That Matter

Note:  I removed this post for a while, I can't remember why.  Now, I'm putting it back up.

This is the darkest timeline.

As some of you know, I love the show Community.  It is definitely my favorite show on the air right now and it is in a three way tie for my favorite show of all time.  I have truly never seen anything quite like it.  It's original.  It's hilarious.  It's touching.  It makes me think.  It makes me evaluate my relationships with the people around me.  And, unfortunately, it has been dancing on the verge of cancellation since midseason this past year.  This dark time period has culminated in the firing of Dan Harmon, the very heart of the show.

Many have complained and said their piece, and I know I'm a little late to the discussion.  Mostly, I've been sitting back in shock and disappointment.  However, I wanted to say something and I want to focus on a part of this problem besides the businessmen who decided to fire Harmon.  I want to focus on the people responsible for their decision:  I want to focus on American television audiences.

I hate the sheer level of cookie cutter shows that constantly soak up the most views.  You know what I'm talking about.  Here is a list of the most popular shows of 2011.  How many of the same format of crime-solving show do we really need?  There are two versions of NCIS in the top ten alone.  By number 36 I've counted three versions of CSI.  When will we run out of impossible crime scenes to shock people with?  When will we tire of being able to predict exactly who committed the murder?  We have the boring sitcoms, including, but not limited to, Two and a Half Men.  I've had the misfortune of watching several episodes of that with people who really love it.  It's the same sitcom that has been airing for the last thirty or forty years with a slight change of characters.  It made me smile a couple of times, but it didn't make me laugh and it didn't make me think.  Weak characters did unbelievable and stupid things and learned their lessons, but did not teach me anything in the process.  I could not see myself in their stories.  How was that show number 10?  It seriously moved up from the previous year!  Also, for some reason, people are still watching The Bachelor.  I'm baffled.

Then, we have Community.  For those of you who don't know, it's a show about a lawyer who has to return to college after his employers discover that his law degree is fake.  He goes to this absurd community college, run by a dean who is trying so hard to make the school like a "real" college.  His attempts to impress a girl land him in a study group where he (unwillingly, at first) starts building relationships with a strange, and somewhat random, group of people.  I first heard about the show through this article.  I was fascinated by the writer and by the sheer love fans had for the show, so I checked it out.  I was immediately hooked.

Sure, this show was different, but that's not all it had going for it.The characters were real.  They had depth.  It was one of those rare shows where you never really realize the actors and actresses are acting.  They're real people with real personalities and real struggles.  As they struggled with their own issues, their relationships with one another, and with life, I could relate to them.*  The situations on the show can get quite absurd, but the characters are always more real than the characters on the sanest of sitcoms. 

Every show tells a story.  The greatest stories, though, are the ones in which people can see themselves.  I saw myself in those stories.  Friends struggling with the unfair expectations of an insane teacher.  Growing to love a person in spite of his extreme closed-mindedness and blatant racism.  Learning to love the people around me who hold beliefs that I disagree with.  Realizing that I'm never going to be the best at everything and realizing that this knowledge makes life a lot more bearable.  Trying to do something that matters.  Not having the resources to get by.  Learning to accept help from others.  Trying to navigate the minefield of human interaction and relationships.  Being forced to interact with people I don't particularly like.  The threat of losing interaction with the people I love.  Realizing that I'm not perfect, and sometimes I'm responsible for my disagreements with my friends.  Loving others in spite of their faults.

In every episode, the characters deal with something that everyone has to deal with at some point.  As the show goes on, the characters don't remain at the same shallow and/or ignorant level.  Through life's challenges, they learn.  They grow.  Sometimes, I learn and grow with them.  Sometimes, I remember lessons I've learned and evaluate how well I still apply those lessons.  Sometimes, I get to see different perspectives and I become more sympathetic to the people around me.  

We may not experience these stories in the same crazy situations.  Our paintball wars aren't quite as epic.  Our schools don't erupt into pillow civil wars.  We don't build rooms where our imaginations become reality. We don't get harassed by high schoolers whose parent have taught them to crush everyone they meet.  Evil versions of ourselves from the darkest timeline don't try to enter our timeline wearing black goatees and attempt to destroy it.

But we do have to learn about loyalty, inclusion, and working together.  We do have to learn to consider our friends' wants and needs instead of just our own.  We do struggle to understand this crazy world.  We do have to learn how to deal with bullies of all ages.  And we do have to struggle against the darkness, doubt, and evil within ourselves.

Those are the stories that matter.  The stories that help us grow.  I wish they mattered to more people.

But, they don't.  For some reason, people don't want to be challenged.  They just want cheap laughs.  They want familiarity.

This is the darkest timeline, indeed.

*For a great read on how much these stories can impact others, read this blog.  (Some of you may be offended by the language.)