Saturday, June 10, 2017

Catching up to TV culture


My personal life lately has included binge-watching of TV shows I had heard of but never watched before, like Mr. Robot, Breaking Bad, and Walking Dead.

All of them are bleak, dystopian. The last two were saturated with violence.

I'm currently watching episodes of Handmaid's tale and Vikings.


By far the most disturbing is Walking Dead, on so many levels. And it also seems to be the longest lasting with season 8 coming up. (Maybe this show is a zombie itself.)
Each episode is a waking nightmare of zombies, gore, betrayal, existential crisis, prisoner's dilemma, trolley dilemma.
The protagonist group can't go anywhere or do anything without having to expend energy fighting off/slaying "walkers." Other humans are constantly stealing from them or threatening their existence in multiple ways. They constantly steal and threaten too. Whether they decide to trust others or not seems to depend a lot on whim. As the episodes and seasons have rolled by (99 episodes total so far) the outer threats have become much more about humans in groups than the walkers. The walkers are fairly slow and thoroughly stupid, easily dispatched with a bit of physical force. Killing them requires a stab in the head, through a ridiculously soft skull filled with dilute ketchup. The ketchup budget must be huge in that show.

Here is a short list of things I like:
1. The exploration of ethics and values and how humans behave in groups, how groups treat each other.
2. Women have strong roles, gays are included, racism (apart from the first episode) is a total non-thing. Diversity is valued.
3. It reflects US culture wars.

Here is a short list of things I don't like:
1. Zombies. The premise is stupid, literally. Slightly more plausible metaphorically, perhaps (people who are zombie-like throughout life, mere system-wonks working for/supporting institutions, religions, and political parties that are like un-thinking zombies).
2. The premise of increased environmental stress leading to more egalitarianism, not less, is quite stupid. Humans, especially white male humans still imbued with the value system they have designed and deployed down through generations, do not go from being racist, sexist and gay-phobic to not being any of those things, so instantly, without considerable effort. Especially under the sorts of increased environmental stress posed by having no food/clothing/shelter security, constant vigilance/dependence on others to watch out for all these blood-thirsty mobile walkers, poor nutrition, little sleep, outdoors in the rough, dirty/filthy/no toothpaste, never being able to ever go off to eliminate by yourself (because walkers), and even if you do get hands on some stuff to help you survive, other people will be right there to take it away from you by force.
3. That CGI tiger. 


So, why do I watch these implausible TV shows?
They are immensely popular. I think they are morality plays, disguised, dripping in blood.
I want to catch up to wherever the TV watching culture thinks it is at.
Also, I remind myself that for long long long stretches of time in human evolution and history, life kind of was kind of like that, living rough, minus the zombies of course. Which reminds me to appreciate that I have lived and still live in an era where people like me can lead a comfortable safe private reflective life separated from societal expectations without having to join a monastery. And also that I don't live in the US, although I appreciate how hard its regular people have worked and still work to make it into something, in spite of the current president and his Neganesque amorality, which he seems to be trying to institutionalize.

Vikings is set in the 8th century AD; life is rough, violent, bloodthirsty. Wars are common and mainly fought up close with sharp blades. The premise is valid.

The Handmaid's tale is based on the notion that when push comes to shove, women lose to male-supported institutions. Their default value seems to always end up that they are mere uteruses with arms and legs. The premise is valid.


I have come back in this post to add this: I am also reading these days. Not much in a row, but a few pages or chapters at a time. I've finished Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari, and am in early pages of his latest book, Homo Deus. I'm concurrently reading Behave, by Robert Sapolsky.  Here is a nice interview with Sapolsky, You Have No Free Will.

Here is an excerpt of the interview with Robert Sapolsky about the book, and for me, a reflection on The Walking Dead, given that it takes place in the rural US south:

(Q) "What if you're from the rural South?" 
(A) "There's a famous study where student volunteers thought they were involved in a study surrounding their math abilities, but the experiment actually occurred outside in the hallway. Some beefy guy walking the opposite way bumps into a student as he walks past, then says, "Watch it, asshole," before marching away. When the student comes in to take the math test, the researchers take their blood pressure, check their hormones. And if you're from the American South, your blood pressure will be higher, and you'll be more stressed out. This impacts your judgement and how you respond to a given situation.
"This is because, by best evidence, the American South was settled by herders and pastoralists from northern England and Scotland, who had a culture of honor. Centuries later, there's still a residue of that. So this makes culture not such an intangible factor of brain development and behavior. Within minutes of birth, this kind of training starts."

1 comment:

Agashem said...

I agree with you that the appeal of Breaking Bad and Walking Dead has more to do with morality than the actual premises which for the Walking Dead is admittedly stupid. I like the idea of a zombie rather than trying to use an actual human subgroup because there is no way to do that without introducing some stereotype or other. For me, it is the ingenuity of some of the story lines that has kept me going.
Breaking Bad to me was much more an American story that the Walking Dead in that the basic plotline would not have happened virtually anywhere else on the planet. But again the story line had me hooked from the start, especially with its ordinariness in the looks of the main characters. That reminds me of why I love British TV so much more, people look real and not like Barbie dolls off an assembly line and I think Breaking Bad had a lot of that about it as well.
Just wanted to also point out that I think it is important to be able to talk to our clients about a wide variety of topics and for what it's worth, TV is a big subject for conversations to start and flow and allow a client to feel connection with us as therapists.
My two cents.