Friday, October 22, 2010

TV SIT-COMS – PAST AND PRESENT

I just read a New York Times editorial that I want to comment on. The column is titled: “The Flock Comediesand it’s written by DAVID BROOKS (October 21, 2010)

Family sit-coms throughout the years
David Brooks, the columnist, writes about the history of television sit-coms and how they've changed over the years. He calls what we used to watch and enjoy on TV, family situation comedies. Those sit-coms included Mom, Dad, and the children. They had a small cast of actors who represented lifelong relationships between family members and their good friends and neighbors. They worked their differences out because they had a great sense of responsibility and love for one another.

But times have changed and our TV sit-coms with them. We’ve moved from the old themes of “All in the Family” and “The Cosby Show”- featuring parents and kids - to newer shows based on one-generational happenings. Instead of seeing loving families, the new sit-coms often show tension or open conflict with family members and particularly with their parents' generation.

More recent sit-coms featuring the "flock"
Today, whether we like them much or not, we watch non-functional family comedies, based mainly on the “flock”. Brooks calls them flock comedies because they represent groups of loosely connected friends, mostly young or young-ish who live in proximity, but not necessarily together. Flock-friends don’t seem to accept much responsibility for themselves and much less for other people. Today’s shows highlight people who have the time to lounge around - homes, coffee shops, workplaces, even bars - exchanging the most light-hearted types of remarks, cynicisms, and quips. The underlying foundation of these comedies is “no-sweat-needed”. This says a lot about our "do-nothing" society - doing as little as possible to get by for yourself and even less for your family and neighbors.

The popularity of the more recent TV comedies reflects what has happened in our present-day society. Young people delay marriage until around 30 years and, during all those years between high school and marriage, most are outside of traditional families, creating a youthful tribe or "flock". Many other people get divorced after a very few years, and they, too, look for the “flock” to replace the close family attachments that no longer exist.

So, this flock-friendship mentality becomes the background for a new kind of comedy of manners. This trend began with ‘Seinfeld,’ ‘Friends,’ and ‘Sex and the City.’ Now we have ‘Desperate Housewives,’ ‘Glee,’ and ‘The Big Bang Theory.’ Instead of spending time with family and lifelong friends, these comedies, according to columnist Brooks, whirl around a kind of "friendship machine" - almost comic-strip chronicles of unrelated people, bonded together in intimate contact, but often demonstrating irresponsibilty with one another.

Since a lot of people don't want or haven't been able to experience total commitment, one-on-one, they prefer to live, or at least contemplate in their viewing hours, low-density networks featuring a large array of friends. These same people tend to avoid any kind of emotional proximity in their own lives because of fear - too often they've seen close relationships turn to anger and avoidance. For them, it's a lot easier to dwell on (and idealize) shallow and dispersed connections to a "flock". While aimed primarily at the youth - as is almost everything in our consumer-ridden mass media, the flock sit-coms also appeal to many older people who want to continue fantasizing about those early friendship-bonding experiences. It so happens that that these middle- and golden-agers, for any number of reasons, have never been able to replace the intensity of their early friendships (and romances) with successful marriages or good relationships with their children.

"Flock" mentality side-steps need for responsible relationships
The central point here is that the main-stream population a few decades ago or, at least, their former sit-com heroes, always had time for family and friends and a strong commitment to working out their differences. That's just not so, today - working people, singles and couples alike, have to be working two and more jobs (if they're lucky enough to find them) to pay the rent and put food on the table. There just isn't enough time to work through problems that arise with family and friends. Also, unfortunately, some unknown - but probably substantial - part of the population is incapable of dealing with life's real problems due to alcoholism and dependence on mood-changing substances, both legal and illegal. So, both youth and older folks turn more and more to substitute relationships in Facebook, Twitter networks, and other kinds of low-commitment interaction - trading temporary convenience for lifetime loyalty.

Frivolous group friendships don't seem to threaten us like more traditional societal values based on mutual responsibility. Low intensity relationships side-step the necessity of working through interpersonal problems and, sometimes, being forced to accept compromises. It's no wonder that today’s comedies are hollow. They parallel our other TV obsessions with violence, casual sex, confrontational politics, and highly biased news reporting. If we have any trace of traditional values left, then we need to understand that what's being fed to us through the mass media - conspired or not - is a lot of highly digested gibberish. The garbage being served-up is aimed at replacing real considerations about such topics as family life, common sense, and a commitment to making things work.

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