"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Friday, September 2, 2011

What the New TV Shows for This Season Say About Us (Hint: It Isn't Good.)

I accidentally happened onto this listing of the new TV series for the 2011-12 season.   So I read through it over lunch and what jumped out at me is the sheer lack of realistic, meaningful, adult jobs that the main characters hold.  To be sure, I suspect that they'll all live in nice apartments or nice houses, but where exactly does the money come from?

Of the 41 shows, ten have no suggestion that any of the characters hold down real world jobs.   The shows appear to be simply about relationships.   Is this the natural outgrowth of a relationship obsessed culture where people know how to "hook up" on Facebook, but don't know how to fix their own cars?   Probably a little.

But it gets worse, particularly for men.   In shows where women are the leads, the jobs the women hold down are: 
bail bond collector
1960s stewardesses (this show, Pan Am, looks like a Mad Men rip-off)
professional crisis manager
public relations executive (twice... but in my whole life I've never met one!) Playboy playmates
Broadway songwriter
Now for the men, here's the list:
marketing director (but his wife has a better job and just got promoted)
insurance salesman (but he hates his job)
pharmaceutical rep (but the men have to dress up like women to get the jobs)
a "brilliant, charismatic surgeon" (but the ghost of his dead wife convinces him to quit and work for a free clinic)
writer (but he's described as effeminate)
personal trainer
rogue CIA agent (OK, so at least there are male fantasies left)
home remodeler (but he's a failure at it and he's also a gambling addict)
attorney (but it's Grisham, so it's really a male fantasy thriller)
public relations executive (but his girlfriend works at the same job)
Broadway songwriter (but he teams with his girlfriend)
Notice anything?  

Here's what I noticed:

1.   The women in our popular culture seem to always be depicted as being able to do any job men can do, and to do it better.   They're successful, they're "tough"  (the word recurs a couple of times in the article), they love their jobs, but they're still beautiful and sexy.

2.   Meanwhile, the men in our popular culture don't like their jobs (the surgeon who leaves to work in the free clinic, or the insurance salesman who hates his job) or aren't very good at them due to personal flaws (the failing home remodeler who's a gambling addict).

3.   Most importantly, no one, male or female, works in a job that makes anything.   No one manufactures a product.   No one builds anything (with the exception of the failing home remodeler, and even that's not the same as being an engineer or a manufacturer).   They all do these vague administrative jobs (public relations executive, marketing director, pharmaceutical rep, lawyer), or else do fantasy work (detective, CIA agent), or else, in comedies, work in service industries (waitresses, bartenders, personal trainers).

Now maybe this is just a sign that the people who write for TV don't know much about the real world.   After all, they are people who have chosen to write for TV.   Viewed in its worst light, I could make the point that our supposed cultural elites are people who don't know any people who work in manufacturing or who run small businesses that actually have to make and sell real products.    And that that's bad for the country.   Barack Obama would fit this profile... that's why he likes "green jobs" so much... they would be the type of jobs you would write for yourself if you were a writer who didn't know much about the real world and didn't care whether there was a market for your fictitious product.

But I think it's worse... I think our "real world" is actually too much like this.   We live in a place and time, 21st Century America, where too many of us, including too many American men, don't make anything real.   At best, we push paper (as a lawyer, I'd fit into this).   But that ends up being unsatisfying at least on some level, so we retreat into our "relationships," which is what these shows tend to reflect too.

On the other hand, fewer and fewer people are watching network TV, and I'm sure that I won't watch any of these shows, so it may just be that the people who watch TV are a lowest common denominator population, and we shouldn't care too much that their brains are being addled with this nonsense.

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