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Writer's Block: Becoming a TV Character

If you could be any character from any TV show, who would you be and why?

This is hilarious because I may actually do it. I would be someone like Bob Ross or William Alexander, one of the PBS Art Instructors. Yep. I would do a hobby show teaching drawing or painting. By choosing this, I don't have to put up with the heartbreaks, aggravations, car chases, being shot at and other crises that most fictional characters endure. Seriously, would you want to have everything in your life blow up in your face? That's what makes good story. I write them. Though it could be fun doing a writing show on the same hobby-show format, with lots of interesting bits on how to create characters or dialogue or whatever, little filmed examples of story to liven up the lessons.

Below the cut is a rant on television content and why I would not want to be any fictional character, least of all on television.

The other reason that's my only place in Televisionland is the conformity. The streaming, endless, mind-numbing conformity that has taken over the airwaves for decades. Television culture is not normal life. The situation comedies drag on and on with the pace of a joke every five to ten minutes that then gets beaten to death, it's not like good comedy where you get a blooper or gag every fifteen seconds. Watch a good comedian like Christopher Titus and check his pace, then go to any situation comedy and look at the pacing.

The pacing of situation comedies is the pace of anxiety and neurotic fussing over petty day to day social troubles, and it is often also moralistic in a sick and twisted way. The stories ultimately say that you should be normal, you should waste your time this way, you should waste your money this way, don't think, don't feel, don't be deep, don't have grand ambitions, you will be laughed at for any achievement. There's little passion and less individuality.

Now, it's been a couple of years since I sampled this medium. There could be a whole crop of new comedies out there that have good content and interesting ideas. Those come up once in a while, I'm not saying they don't. The Simpsons was very good. All in the Family was something that changed the face of television and had a profound impact on American society. But these shows, this quality of show is rare. Most of the time what comes up on television is shlock punctuated by commercials, and the commercials are so grabby and loud that they almost create a state like ADD -- you can't concentrate on anything or follow the story because of the interruptions. Soap operas are occasionally better at this but they do so by constantly repeating everything for the benefit of viewers who only watch it once a month, their pace is very slow and their plotting is interesting in relation to series plotting because it functions to give you an open-ended story.

The courtroom dramas and cop shows are chilling. The "reality shows" bring out the worst in people. A lot of the "reality" cop shows are white cops chasing down some poor black person, busting into their house, chasing them around, wrestling them down, beating them and cuffing them. That scares me. It constantly drives home an ugly stereotype of black men that they're all criminal, all dealing drugs on the side, all doing something illegal, and beware them if they have any prosperity like driving a nice car, they probably stole it. I'm reminded of a therapist friend in New York who routinely got stopped on his way home to a mixed-race nice neighborhood in his decent middle-class car, because he was a black guy in a suit in a nice car going through a good but totally white neighborhood. The cops didn't even get to know him or recognize him -- they did it every dang time, because they din't stop to think, oh, that road leads to this civilian's home. Always with the check to see if he stole his car.

That's the kind of thing on television that makes me not want to live in televisionland, and get scared of people who do live there.

You get the things like Survivor where people get vicious with each other and fight over popularity contests to win a lot of money. You get this constant emphasis on conformity and materialism, underlined and interrupted by these thirty second commercials with their slick intense pushy sales techniques. Some commercials are art. Some of them do grab attention that well because they are better than the shows for plotting, acting and visual richness. But that results in this mind-numbing confusion.

You don't have time to think about anything. You don't have time to make clear focused decisions about anything -- and in show after show, people react rather than acting. People just respond the way they're programmed and everything is so simple. All moral conflicts are in black and white, characters are Evil or Good depending on what small facet of their lives is shown in the drama, and there are no ambiguous situations, no difficult choices. Let alone anything to make the viewer think.

A lot of the heroes respond with brute violence to any situation that crosses them. This is admired. They stick to a few blunt principles but always rough people up and bully them along the way. It's better to catch a single guilty party than to be decent to the innocent along the way -- have you noticed how many lives these heroes wreck on their way to the guilty one? Most of the crime shows follow this format. The ones that admit to being fiction anyway. The news is presented the same way, with the crime-drama format -- suspicion, evidence and clues, apprehension, punishment.

It's taken for granted that the most entertaining thing out there is watching someone get punished for wrongdoing. It's taken for granted that no one is actually innocent and that the innocent are wussies who deserve to get stepped on by bad guys and good guys alike. Here I mean innocent as in "didn't do anything evil." Not innocent as in ignorance.

Since 9-11 there has been a horrifying backlash, one that disemboweled the news services and slapped levels of conservative censorship on reportage that would have been unbelievable when I was young. It also gutted many of the fictional programs too, serious social and political topics have vanished or been trivialized in favor of constant neurotic whining. Victim Thinking is presented as normative. A lot of dysfunction is presented as Normative, and what is Normative is held as the highest ideal.

Science fiction sometimes walks around this censorship because people don't take it seriously. If it's about aliens and special effects then the director and writers can come up with something of social and political relevance in the story, because no one takes that shit seriously, it's not about what's down the block from where you work or live.

Overall though, the message of television is "Be normal or get beat up/shot/killed for standing up for anything or being different."

I don't like the punishment theme. I don't like the celebration of mindless violence, the idea that fists or guns are the best resolution to any conflict. I am not normal or normative. I never really wanted to be normal.

I'm weird and I like being weird.

I think and I like being a thinker.

I dream and I like being a dreamer. I even like my nightmares. It came to me after my latest one that I'd forgotten something important -- that my nightmares are story seeds, that I need to cherish them and grin and be glad that was a dream and jump for my keyboard to write it down. That nightmare of sexual rejection rightly belongs to a nineteen year old straight white boy in my newest novel, whose girlfriend just blew up in his face and threw him out. She had some cause, he was whiny and obnoxious in his grief and shock and she had about all the patience and compassion of the average couch potato.

I don't belong on television except in the way I first mentioned at the top -- a teacher in one of the fun hobby programs, because it is part of my core beliefs that anyone who wants to can learn to draw. Or write, or paint, or sing, or dance, or do anything creative. These things are our heritage, we get those talents and capacities from being human. You don't need to become a superstar with it to become good at it, and the choice of doing it for a living is a choice that may limit what you can do with it to what sells instead of just buoyantly going in every direction that's fun. I respect hobbyists and respect the arts, and I could easily see entertaining people in thirteen lessons a season on anything I know how to do well, because the only difference between me and the viewers is that I took the time to learn that knowhow and apply it.
Explore-Oil-Pastels-With-Robert-Sloan.com Articles at eHow.com, ETSY shop, My Bonanzle Booth, deviantART gallery, SFFmuse and look for art by robertsloan2art on eBay. Listed on Art Blogs 4 U
Proud member of the Oil Pastel Society
Interesting art blog: Patrick's Art Blog focused on realism!
New Topical Blog: www.robs-art-supply-reviews.blogspot.com for all the cool art stuff that isn't oil pastels!


2013 Nano Winner
Robert A. Sloan, author of Raven Dance

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