Image credit: SciFiNow
It makes me sad to share this news with you: it looks like I have become unable to enjoy TV shows. Yes, it is true, and I allow you to feel bad for me.
Oh, how I used to love them! In fact, it is probably thanks to American TV shows that I am where I am right now, geographically, intellectually, and professionally.
In my twenties, back in Russia I spent hours binge-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Deadwood, The Wire, Dexter, Dr. Who, Battlestar Galactica, Veronica Mars, Breaking Bad, and many many more. Those shows made me laugh and cry, they were my comfort, true friends of an introvert. Eventually, I used these experiences to generate a research idea that propelled me to a doctoral program in the United States. (My paper "Something about evil twins: American TV shows on Russian television" was never published but I am still proud of it.)
Then in came the doom: media literacy. Ok, ok, I probably should not make it sound so negative and dramatic. After all, I do media literacy education for a living! I guess it is just like the old saying goes: with much wisdom comes much sorrow. But I do prefer bittersweet knowledge to sugar-coated ignorance.
One important thing that I learned is that commercial media is very much shaped by the need to get profit. This is not necessarily a bad thing. We all need to earn our living somehow. People who work in the media industry are not an exception. But once I started noticing tricks used by TV shows to stay afloat, I simply could not unsee them.
Cliffhangers meant to make viewers come back for the next episode and season; neat structure within each episode with just enough room for commercial breaks; emotionally exploitative plot twists; and the worst offender of all: I shall call it "zombification".
I don't mean turning audiences into zombies. I don't believe in this hypodermic needle kind of shit, and neither do most of contemporary media scholars. I mean artificially keeping a TV show alive by slowing down its action, developing characters and plots in ways that betray the show's internal logic (and sometimes having characters sleep with each other in weird combinations, ugh). I hate to see show producers preferring for a show to get cancelled because it sucks rather than wrapping it up when it still makes sense.
Of course, from the profit point of view a show that drags on forever is a dream. But for me it has become a nightmare. I have seen too many shows with the great first season turn into nonsense (in fact, Buffy was an exception in this respect but it suffered from other flaws). Recently, I realized that it just make me too sad. I can't take it anymore.
P.S. This is just about me. There are some great TV shows out there and I actually envy people who can get a kick out of watching those. I think one can be aware of a show's commercial nature and still enjoy it! Alas, I can't do it anymore. Is this what getting old is all about?..
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