I posted a link a couple of days ago on my Facebook page from an article at Cracked.com about the "5 Things TV Writers Apparently Believe About Smart People" (great read if you haven't gotten to it yet) and it got me thinking about the hyper-reality world that exists on-screen and the disconnect between it and the real world. The Cracked.com article specifically speaks to the super-intelligent types we see on shows like "House" and "Fringe," and the bad behavior they can get away with thanks to being smarter than anyone else in the room. But I think the topic can be broadened to encompass all kinds of behavior that we'll accept as normal just because we see it on television. But what would we REALLY tolerate?
Batman is the classic vigilante of the geek crowd. We don't just love him because he fights crime, we also love him because he has all the cool gadgets and a cape. But the television show Dexter takes vigilantism to a whole new level. Based on a series of books by Jeff Lindsay, Dexter follows the story of an ordinary seeming guy who has the heart of a serial killer. Trained by his adopted father-- a career cop-- to only target the unpunished dregs of society, Dexter preys on the worst-of-the-worst criminals. On screen we can sympathize with Dexter because the idea of a child-predator getting what they have coming to them isn't hard to root for. But how would we feel if we found this was happening for real? Something tells me this kind of compartmentalization can only happen in a fantasy world and I'd be mighty nervous with Dexter as my neighbor.
Would We REALLY Tolerate Someone Who Turns to a Life of Crime When Things Get Tough?
We already know the answer to this don't we? We hear stories all the time of people who fall on hard times and resort to theft, drug-dealing or other crimes to supplement their income, and our usual fall-back position is one of get a job! But shows like Weeds and Breaking Bad somehow get us to suspend judgement long enough to watch the hair-raising experiences of an average Joe (or JoAnn) try to negotiate a path through the sleazy world of selling drugs. We bite our nails and cringe in sympathy as long as we know it's not real, but if these people ended up the nightly news I doubt we'd think twice about their jail sentence no matter how compelling the sob-story is.
Would We REALLY Tolerate Rudeness if it Was Delivered as Comic Aside?
Suppose for a second that the Transformers story was plausible. I know I'm asking a lot-- but just pretend. And imagine if you were an alien who observed the human race through our entertainment. Just think of the kind of behavior they would think was normal. They'd assume a Vince Vaughn style monologue was a normal means of communication. That Jane Lynch's nasty comments as Sue Sylvester on "Glee" wouldn't get her fired or sued. That, like the Cracked.com article states, you can get away with murder (metaphorically speaking) if you have a high I.Q. Insults fly fast and furiously on our favorite shows and while they might register, briefly, thanks to the laugh-track, the snark goes mostly unrecognized and unpunished if it's delivered in the right way. But supposed this happened in the real world-- how would that go over?
Would We REALLY Tolerate Comedic High-Jinks in Place of Common Sense?
Those of you who are a little bit older, like me, will remember the show Three's Company. It set the standard in my young mind for situation comedies back then. For those who don't know the premise-- it's this: Jack Tripper (John Ritter) is a single guy living with two attractive women (Suzanne Sommers and Joyce Dewitt). In order to keep up his living arrangement (which apparently was the business of the landlord in those days) Jack pretended to be gay (which raised fewer eyebrows in the 70's than co-ed living in this scenario). Every week a new crisis would occur that could "out" Jack and he and his roommates would have to come up with some elaborate scheme to keep their secret. Make sense? Yeah, absurd I know. But this is what situation comedies do. Instead of just telling someone they have bad breath, an unflattering hairstyle or that you don't like their cooking (the normal solution) these shows have our main characters coming up with convoluted plans that often involve dressing up in costume (if you have kids you see this on Hannah Montana all the time) or some other ridiculously unrealistic ordeal. When has this happened in real life? Ever?
Would We REALLY Tolerate Someone Coming to Work Dressed Like a Catholic School-Girl?
I know all the guys are thinking yes-- yes I would. If you watch NCIS then you probably know where I'm going with this one. Abby Sciuto (Pauly Perrette) is the forensic expert on the show who regularly comes to work in very short skirts, dog collars and platform boots. A goth Catholic school-girl really. She's presented as being savant-like smart and therefore oh-so-quirky. But does this happen in real life? I mean, my husband works for a corporation that frowns on male facial hair (I don't know what the policy is on feminine facial hair). It seems like a lot of shows have this fantasy portrayal of science/computer geeks as being so indispensable that company policy never applies and they can be as sloppy, rude or anti-social as they want to be. But I have never actually seen this in real life. What I think this really means is that a lot of geeks end up writing television scripts.
I could go on. When I think of NCIS I also think of Jethro Gibbs and the whole renegade-boss thing. You know, the guy who constantly breaks the rules but get's away with it because he's that good. Or the super-sexy female agent like Ziva David, who fits into the same mold as Sidney Bristow ("Alias"), that can not only kick your butt but speak five languages while doing it.
It's obvious that we like our fantasies. And that's fine. But there does seem to be a line that is invariably crossed that makes it harder and harder to play along when the storyline gets really outrageous. When it 'jumps the shark' as it's commonly now referred to. It's also becoming clear that Hollywood is pretty much always recycling ideas. I mention a few specific shows here, but I'm sure everyone can think of more than one show (or movie) that fits each example above.
What would you REALLY tolerate?