Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Storytelling: An Art With Many Forms, or Why TV Shows Are Cool

I keep feeling a need to write, and have felt for the last few days like I should write a post on unschooling.  Because, you know, that's what this blog has become almost entirely about.

But you know what I really want to write about today?  I want to write about TV shows.

A couple of years ago, I hardly watched any TV shows.  There were maybe one or two I watched with any sort of interest or regularity, but that was about it.  Yet in recent times, I've come to truly appreciate about ten different shows, and really, really love a couple of those ten.  Having discovered the joys of watching shows on DVD when possible, I've devoured whole seasons in the space of a few days, caught up in wonderful worlds filled with compelling characters.  Current favorites include:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Though a classic of modern television to most people, I only started watching it in July of this past summer, after having heard rave reviews from multiple people.  I was quickly sucked in (no vampire pun intended), and after having gone through all seven seasons during the course of the summer (and very early fall), I can say that this is my favorite show, ever.  Terrific, hilarious dialogue; genuinely believable character development; great characters; clever storylines...  I was by turns literally falling over laughing and bawling my eyes out.  So yeah, it's just great!

Being Erica: A sweet, funny, and moving story about a woman who's building the life she truly wants through time traveling "therapy".  My only favorite Canadian show, since, well, there don't seem to be many Canadian shows to choose from at all, so considering the overall small percentage, the good ones are few and far between.  But this one is a real gem! 

Supernatural: My newest discovery (I'm currently nearly finished the first season), this show is about pretty guys fighting malicious spirits, demons, shapeshifters, and various other creatures of the night.  Since I'm someone who likes both fantasy/supernatural stories, and pretty guys, how could I resist it?  The interaction between the two main characters is great, and there's plenty of humour, a must for me (I can't think of a single show I like that isn't funny at least at times...  If there's nothing to laugh at, I get bogged down in serious shit and just get bored).

Sherlock: Really a mini-series more than anything, I've decided to count it anyway because it's a recurring mini-series (can't wait for the next season!  I sure hope it's longer than the first one...).  By far the best on screen take on Sherlock Holmes I've ever seen.  Set in modern day, this fast-paced, sharp, and witty show is just wonderful.  Also?  I usually (well, okay, mostly) refrain from shipping non-canon couples, but it's obvious that Sherlock and Watson are made for each other (and the show's creators totally play on that!).

Other shows I enjoy include Inspector Lewis, House, The Mentalist, and Doctor Who.

And what's the point of my telling you about a few of my favorite shows, you ask?  Well, besides recommending them to you, I want to talk a bit about storytelling.

You see, some people have this idea that storytelling is only worthwhile, only a valid way of spending time, if it fits a certain format: most often, those who feel this way consider books to be that format.  Yet storytelling is an art-form, or more, a collection of art-forms, that are incredibly diverse: books, comics, plays, movies, TV shows, puppet shows, musicals...  All of these are different ways to tell a story, all can be equally, though in very different ways, captivating, interesting, thought-provoking, and just plain entertaining.  I think there enters a certain snobbishness though, as people try to cast certain forms of storytelling as "better" than others.

There is the argument that TV has many harmful messages: that there's obvious sexism, racism, classism, homophobia and transphobia, fat-hating, and other really nasty things present in most shows.  And that's completely true.  But, since we live in a society that is sexist, classist, etc., everything created by members of this society, be it TV or novels or puppet shows, is as likely to perpetuate oppression as anything else.  In a society where oppression is so ingrained, it's virtually impossible to find something, anything, without at least some nasty shit in it.  I suppose you could decide to not come into contact with any media whatsoever, and in the right circumstances that could certainly be managed, but even then, if you still talk to people, you're going to encounter those some attitudes and things you're trying to avoid.  Which leads to my next point:

There's a big difference between passive absorption and active engagement.  The first is what I think most people against television picture when they think of TV: blank faced zombies sitting in absolute stillness in front of a flickering screen, their brains passively absorbing whatever passes over said screen.  Yet in my house, that's not how watching TV works.

To start with, it's a social activity: I virtually never watch TV shows alone.  All four members of my family like Sherlock and Inspector Lewis; the three women in the house like House, Being Erica, Buffy, and Doctor Who.  Emi and I like Supernatural.  And we like discussing what we watch.  And when I say discussing, I mean we talk about everything from how hot that guy is, to the fact that in this show, that person is being treated as the Token Gay Guy, or how police are glorified in many shows.  We discuss the building of stories and characters, scriptwriting etc., as well as how commonly found stereotypes and social norms are reinforced in TV shows, and how that might affect the people who watch said shows more passively than we do.  It's not unusual for one of us, when watching a show on DVD, to snatch up the controller, pause it, and bring up some interesting point about something that just happened on the show.  Active engagement might seem like a strange way to describe watching TV, but for my family, it seems pretty accurate.

Does this mean I think that people who don't watch TV shows or don't own a TV are seriously missing out?  No, it doesn't.  If going TV free makes someone feel freer, more whole, more relaxed, or in any way happier, hell, I think it's great!

This also doesn't mean that I love modern technology, or think it will exist in the future.  I see a future of radical decentralization, and a return to truly sustainable communities: technologies based on exploitative practices have no place in that future.  But seeing as I'm a part of this culture for now, as are we all, I either embrace (like Buffy the Vampire Slayer) or tolerate (like money) many aspects of it that I might think hold no place in an egalitarian and sustainable future.  

Life is adaptable, and perhaps I'll decide at some point, maybe even in the near future, that I think the negatives of TV's and TV watching outweigh the positives, and decide to make some changes around TV in my own life.  But for now?  For now I want to see if Emi wants to watch the season one finale of Supernatural, because I can't wait to see what happens...


  1. OMFG. You are so awesome. I'm going to show this to my best friend when zie gets home! Zie was unschooled... well, sort of. It would be more accurate to say that zie unschooled zemself.

    Zie's one of the smartest people I know. But then, I value observation, curiosity and changeability as indicators of intelligence more than I do booklearninz.

    Though I know zie's going to say this, so I'll just get it over with: you should really go vegan. If you're not already. I just now found you off of A Radical Profeminist, so I'm still reading.

    We're anti-civ too. Primitivist, actually; we (by which I mean we sort of evolved our ethos and belief system in tandem; we've been living together for the past three years) both have a stricter form of it that doesn't really include humans-as-primitivist outside of our natural habitat (we estimate it to be in the northeastern rainforests of Africa, without the large pools or rivers of slow-moving water that would cause mosquitos and other problems for us). We view all human society outside of that area - which requires tool usage, systematic hunting, etc. - as civilization, even if Westerners view it as "primitive".

    We've evolved another, less-capitalistic way of looking at nature and evolution, which I'd be glad to talk about if you're interested in it.

    Oh, man. I think we're going to love the ever-living fuck out of you. Man. You are awesome.

  2. I just started watching Buffy this fall, and am loving it! I'm in the middle of season 2 right now. Great post, thanks so much.

  3. Awesome post. I think there's a lot of anxiety among anarchists about "Am I allowed to do this and still be a Good Anarchist?" Sometimes, that thought makes it really hard for them to just have fun with stuff.
    Totally with you on Holmes/Watson. And I'm not even into guys. :P

  4. @Delianth: Aww, thanks so much!! :-) Cool! Yeah, I'd agree that you unschool yourself. It isn't really something that's done *to* you!

    I've considered becoming vegan in the past, but my diet has been (and continues to be) something I've put a lot of thought into. Food is something I both love and find fascinating. And honestly, at this point I'm quite happy being vegetarian, and don't plan to change the way I'm eating anytime soon.

    Cool! I'm definitely not primitivist: just anti-civ/green anarchist in a pretty relaxed way...

    Again: thanks! It's great to *meet* you. :-)

  5. @Starcat: Isn't it great?? I just adore Buffy. And thanks, I'm glad you liked the post!

    @Anonymous: Thanks!! And yes, I TOTALLY feel like there's that pressure sometimes to be a "good anarchist". I hesitate on occasion to mention certain likes/hobbies in certain company, for fear it'll lower my credibility with some people. Haha, yes, there are some couples that, regardless of personal sexual orientation or anything else, just obviously belong together. :-P

  6. Active tv watching is fun! It's cool that you pointed out the difference between that and zombie absorption. =]
    I love the show Going Tribal, but I can only watch it with friends who aren't quick to jump to harmful assumptions about indigenous people. I love seeing the particulars of each community-- food sources and diet, spirituality, rituals, parenting, etc. I often find something that bothers me personally about a certain group, which is why I can't stand to watch the show with people who don't also have a strong respect for indigenous peoples. Cause my purpose isn't to bash or judge any group, but to explore what a healthy culture really looks like. For example, there may be a tribe with gender roles that strike me as oppressive/abusive/limiting, and I'm eager to talk about what causes this, what exactly feels wrong to me and why, and how to truly have healthy gender roles. Another tribe may have gender roles that feel right on, but something else seems "off." I just love exploring these things. It's a great show!

    Six Feet Under is a favorite of mine, so much richness. The storytelling has quality, the characters have such depth. Maybe the only show where I felt the characters as real! I guess that's what I cherished (I use past tense because watching this show had some crazy context in my life, so I can't really watch it again for a decade or so, haha) so much about it, the colorful sense of realness.

    Lately my boyfriend and I have been watching House a lot. It's so funny to me how there's often a scene where the patient is convulsing, shaking, or something like that, and the doctors grab on to the patient and look SOO worried, even when they know what to do to actually help. In the last episode I saw, the patient was suddenly unresponsive, and the very dramatic reaction followed:
    "What's happening???" *dramatic!*
    "She's having an absence seizure" *dramatic!*
    "*patient name,* are you okay???" *dramatic!*

    Okay, I have absence seizures. Daily, for years. In the seizure world, they are really no big deal. They last for no more than a few seconds and are pretty damn harmless. During them, you are unable to respond, which was what I found so funny about the "*patient name,* are you okay???" line... if the doctors on the show had had years of medical training, it seems to me that the only reaction to an absence seizure would be, "Oh, an absence seizure. Interesting, I'll go tell House. Oh and leave her alone please."

    If I was passively absorbing this particular episode and didn't know what absence seizures were, I'd assume they were a hundred times crazier and more dangerous than they are!

    I totally get that the show is based on drama-- I hope it doesn't come off like I'm all-serious-like criticizing this! The drama-emergencies are just really funny to me, especially when they're things I've experienced. It seems that the formula for the show is that the more dramatic a scene becomes, the more the actor-doctors lose their medical know-how, haha.

    I've had other kinds of seizures, too (not including the common stereotype that pops in people's minds when they hear "epilepsy" and imagine convulsions... that's just one kind of many, and I've never had that kind). But, of every kind I have had, which is at least 4, the most important thing for people around me to do is: leave me alone (no questions!) and be chill (no stress! stress can make seizures worse!). So when I see doctors on tv freaking out all over a patient who is seizing, I'm just like, "lol, are they trying to cause brain damage?!"

    Anyway, I'm coffee-talkative and felt inspired to comment =D