I watch a handful of television shows, mostly the addictive ones that suck you in, leaving you to hang from perilous cliffs between episodes. For example, I have sporadically watched “The Walking Dead” series and finally caught up to the mid-season finale show that aired in early December 2013. About half-way through this particular episode, perhaps from the shock of storyline events, I abruptly decided to stop watching. Some boundary had been crossed and the reaction was immediate. “Nope, I don’t buy it,” I said to myself and clicked the screen off, a $1.99 wasted. An investment had hit rock bottom, depleted, zeroed out. With that last severed head, I had severed my emotional connection to the characters; their past, present and future.
This reaction was extremely interesting to me; especially, the emotional investment aspect. The script writers had created their vision of the zombie apocalypse world and I could believe it for a couple of seasons. Then, certain elements began to crumble until the whole thing exploded into tiny pieces in that episode. I could no longer believe that in a system failure, only a few humans maintained their moral integrity, and that those who did were somehow weakened and now victims who would be ultimately murdered.
Even though the writers may have needed to continue the fabrication in that direction to progress the story, why would I invest my time, attention, and emotional energy in perpetuating a point of view when I do not believe in its underlying messages? If I do not believe in a vision that someone else is providing, why not just stop watching, listening, or investing?
While this perspective can be applied to every energetic decision made, to stay on “television” topic, the questions made me think of emotional education obtained (with one’s knowledge or not) through watching shows and movies. It’s common place to discuss stereotypes and “normalized” opinions perpetuated through Hollywood-generated plots, but what about learned emotive responses based on the manipulation of viewer’s emotions through the presentation of the writer’s vision of the world, expressed through a character’s actions and reactions, or fate.
Is emotional manipulation an intention so entrenched and normalized in our relationships off-screen that they are inevitable and the norm on-screen? Does this create an unhealthy relationship between a viewer and the television show? From experience (ie I have watched “The Walking Dead” for four seasons), compromises and excuses may be made by a viewer internally to maintain those unhealthy relationships with damage or “energy suck” occurring sometimes without realization. Specifically to “The Walking Dead” series, this type of unhealthy relationship, could lead perhaps to a detachment from emotion or caring altogether, after repeated emotional burns. (Example: the graphic murders of well-liked characters who appear to represent wisdom, compassion, innocence and future in a brutal manner and then tugging at the viewer to forget about it, move along, disconnect. Maybe after a few repetitions of this action, the viewer will remember not to get attached and to expect violence and murder. In that presented environment, why would it be “safe” to connect on any level to any other characters again?).
So, does the repetitive intake of a world vision, through one or multiple television shows become a type of emotional education for the viewer? And does that emotional education influence the viewer’s off-screen interactions and personal visions and perspectives? Of course, this brings up the discussion whether the art is a reflection of society, or if the society is a reflection of the art. Why would it need to be one or the other? Perhaps, they help each other along.
As a seasoned audience member, I realize that in most cases, the world presented on-screen is make-believe, not necessarily a representation of the world we live in; however, since humans are depicted in most storylines, there is an inevitable and undeniable connection and therefore, a likelihood of miniscule to maximum influence experienced with viewer awareness or not.
© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2014