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Murder, Mayhem, and Misery…for Pleasure?

I have officially entered the realm of old-fogy-dom, since I am about to complain about what’s on TV.

Last week 13 people were murdered in Binghamton, NY, a town I drive through regularly on my way to my in-laws’ house. It seems that every day we hear that children have suffered abuse, and families have been decimated by murder-suicides. We hear about strangers around the world being brutally killed in schools, day care centers, and hotels. The latest shocker is that criminals in China are kidnapping and selling young boys, since parents consider it shameful to have a girl (still, after thousands of years, girls aren’t good enough).

Sometimes, after a hard day of work and reality, I just want to sit on the couch with my kids (good enough girls!) and watch TV. We do watch the news together (my favorite is BBC World News America). And it’s tough to watch. But it’s about the real world, and it’s important to talk about what is happening. My problem is when we all sit down to watch something fun—like the Country Music Awards or American Idol—we are inundated with commercials for TV shows filled with darkness, murder, fear, and hatred. It seems perverse to me that people should take pleasure in watching others’ misery—even if it is fictional. Getting pleasure from other people’s pain has a long and illustrious history in the world. A few hundred years ago, people would come out en masse to watch hangings or beheadings, just for the excitement of it. But that doesn’t make it right.

I realize that there is an advertising shortfall and spaces need to be filled—but when I hear that the TV networks are dying, I think maybe it’s because of the shows they broadcast. The only things more upsetting than the commercials for those miserable, gruesome TV programs are the commercials for antidepressants, pharmaceuticals, and yard and garden chemicals. Fortunately, we at Rodale.com and Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen don’t accept advertising from those companies, so you and your kids are safe from their messages here!

The other day I was talking with some doctors, and we all agreed that we feel better when we watch and read things that make a positive difference—whether it’s a story with a happy ending or a story with a strong but positive message. While there are not a lot of studies about those effects, there are studies that show optimists live longer than pessimists. Optimists don’t ignore reality, they just don’t dwell in the darkness. And these days, with all our economic woes, there is plenty of real-time darkness to go around.

Cue the old-fogy music: When I was a kid, we had good shows. We watched the Sonny and Cher Show, Carol Burnett, Laugh-In, The Partridge Family, and MASH. The most violence I saw was on the old reruns of The Three Stooges or in Saturday morning cartoons. (To this day I still laugh when someone bonks their head—it’s an unfortunate habit—but it shows the power of TV!). We all love American Idol in our house. It’s a show the whole family enjoys. It’s just the commercials that I can’t stand.

Thank God for Tivo. (I’m so glad we had this time together.)

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3 Responses to Murder, Mayhem, and Misery…for Pleasure?

  1. Anonymous April 8, 2009 at 9:55 am #

    I’m sick of the violence too! There’s enough in real life that we don’t need any more from tv and movies.

  2. Amanda April 8, 2009 at 10:21 am #

    My 2-1/2 son loves music, so we usually watch the beginning of American Idol before he heads up to bed around 8:30/9:00. Last night I was also disturbed by the violence on some of the commercials that ran. Horror movie previews during “family” viewing time have been catching me unawares lately, too. The previews are often nightmare-inducing for me as an adult, I can’t imagine how they would affect my little one who’s ability to separate fantatsy from reality is not yet fully developed.

    On the other hand, I’ve never been one to shy away from reading some pretty horrific old-time fairy tales (witches eating children and so forth). I guess I’m a little bit of a hypocrite, but there is just something different about watching a visual dipiction, versus using your own imagination. One can’t imagine something for which one’s brain is not yet developed, right?

  3. Mark April 9, 2009 at 1:39 pm #

    My absolute favorite Carol Burnett sketch was when she played Charo’s aging mother. Complete with pendulous breasts (actually they were bird-seed filled sacks). Hilarious and brilliant!

    Thank YOU for the memories.

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