Archive for October 5, 2016

Breaking Good

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I’m thinking of taking a hiatus from television until mid-December – a plan inspired by retailers who insist on turning the Twelve Days of Christmas into the Twelve Weeks of Christmas. (Ah, that time-honored American custom, the Crass Commercialization of Sacred Celebrations.)  Rather than wear out the mute button on the remote, it might be simpler just to walk away from the set entirely.

Not that there’s much to walk away from in our cable-less household. If anything, this year’s menu of verbal porn (98 percent of sit coms) and brutally dark themes (98 per cent of everything else) is even less appetizing than in years past.

Take Two Broke Girls.  Please. “Constant sexual jokes and references, including breast and vagina references, orgasm jokes, allusions to masturbation, and kinky sex,” the Parents Television Council (PTC) observes. The brief glimpse I caught had one main character donning latex gloves to check the tip jar and saying, “This is Williamsburg. There’s a good chance even the dollars have herpes.” To which her ever-witty partner responds, “Well, if those singles have herpes, they should just lie about it till they get married like everybody else does.” As I said, please.

Then there’s the interminable Law and Order – Special Victims Unit. According to the PTC, in last season’s premiere episode Detective Olivia Benson turned the tables on her captor, a sadistic serial rapist and murderer, and beat him savagely with an iron rod.

Similar trends show up in contemporary literature, as some recent book reviews illustrate:  A Brief History of Seven Killings – a sweeping tale of politics and violence; Zoologies – Art and hope in extinction, a book surrounded by sadness; The Baltimore Atrocities – a pitch-black comedy about two young men trying to track down their abducted siblings; Let Me Be Frank With You – heading, gloomily, toward that good night; Cinderland – exploring that murky period of childhood when the author was molested by her piano teacher; Ordinary Sins – stories of tragedy in miniature, as each character’s weakness becomes his or her destiny; Empire of Sin – a tale of booze and fallen women.

Note that all of these sunny little blurbs appeared in just two consecutive editions of my local paper. Makes you want to sob out loud just reading the review subtitles. Pretty sure the books themselves are no more uplifting.

Which brings me back to the theme of this piece, and the one exception to my T.V. boycott: the  60s family series, Father Knows Best. When my husband and I recently discovered these ME TV reruns while lingering over a late lunch, we breathed a sigh of relief and gratitude.

The differences between the heart-warming portrayals of loving family life of this corny old series versus the twisted, low-brow take on anything-goes amorality that you run into with each hop to a different channel these days are too stark to adequately describe.

Hokey, some call it. Themes of faith, family loyalty, and the importance of individual responsibility, integrity, and honesty. A worthy life lesson delivered in virtually every episode. But even Billy Gray, who played teenaged son Bud on the series, later ranted about the unrealistic, cotton candy, sexist nature of the program he was part of for six years. “I wish there was some way I could tell kids not to believe it—the dialogue, the situations, the characters—they were all totally false. The show did everybody a disservice.”

But wait a minute, Billy. I don’t hang around with foul-mouthed bed-hoppers who misuse women (Two and a Half Men; How I Met Your Mother); think nothing of taking things that don’t belong to them and trash the notion of a committed relationship (Bad Judge); or make comedy out of parental abuse (Mom). Making it look like everybody does, is that not a disservice to the audience?  What’s wrong with holding up an ideal to aspire to vs. normalizing bad behavior?

Then there’s cable. “When chemistry teacher Walter White is diagnosed with Stage III cancer and given only two years to live, he decides he has nothing to lose. He lives with his teenage son, who has cerebral palsy, and his wife, in New Mexico. Determined to ensure that his family will have a secure future, White embarks on a career of drugs and crime.”

Now, there’s a slice of reality for you. Heaven knows that no one with terminal cancer graciously uses their final time on earth to put things right with God and their loved ones, share the Good Word, and ensure that their legacy is one of dignity and faith. Ummm, wait. I know these people. So do you.

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October 5, 2016 at 6:58 pm 3 comments


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Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

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