5.14.2015

Let's Go On An Anti Hero Television Cleanse!

Do you feel like a tainted human being every time you watch a "prestige" TV show in the Golden Era of television?

Will no amount of exfoliation, showering, and enemas purge the evil inflicted on your soul through watching endless evil television characters destroy themselves and the entire world around them?

Do you desperately wish we could get back to the good old days when we knew beyond a doubt the good guys were good and the bad guys bad? Are you suffering from what others have dubbed Anti Hero Fatigue, a very serious and lasting psychological condition?

Well you're not alone!

If you are anything like me perhaps it is time you go on an Anti Hero Television Cleanse!

The program is simple: all you have to do is turn off your sets and stop watching.
That is what I will be doing this coming summer (and for perhaps even longer). Yep, I am going to (almost) stop watching television.

This is not some high-minded snooty I'm-above-television kind of posturing. 

I actually feel sick to my soul; a deep weariness pervading my being. I have watched too much television over the years and lately all the shows I have been watching contain either mostly morally ambivalent or outright evil characters at the center.

Currently I am half way through season 4 of Breaking Bad, which I had never seen before.
This is how I have felt for months (via the LA Times:
http://www.trbimg.com/img-524c25f8/turbine/
la-et-ct-hed-here-20131001-001/600/600x424
Despite its brilliance, I cannot get this show over with soon enough. I almost cannot take it anymore. From the constant lying and manipulation, to the throat slashing, to the running people over, to the widespread release of hard drugs into the population, I am all but done with shows of this ilk.


I get it. They are deep. They are beautiful. They are serial storytelling at its finest. They cause us to think about our responsibilities as citizens of the world and members of our families. The out-and-out evil of anti heros forces us to contemplate our own behaviors and actions: what am I capable doing in order to get what I want?

But over the years I have subjected myself to enough of it and I have decided I can only take so much. It is time to draw back—significantly. 

Over the past decade I have viewed the entirety or almost the entirety of:
The Larry Sanders Show
Louie
Portlandia
Nathan Barley
The Boondocks
Arrested Development
Garth Marenghi's Darkplace
Veep
In the Thick of It
Freaks and Geeks
My So Called Life
The Wrong Mans
Maron
Friday Night Lights
Extras
An Idiot Abroad
Curb Your Enthusiasm
John Adams
The Armstrong and Miler Show
Father Ted
The IT Crowd
Black Mirror
Sherlock
The League of Gentlemen
Psychoville
Inside No. 9
Rev.
Community
The Office (British and American)
30 Rock (only half the series, really)
South Park (only half of it, really) 
The X Files
Tosh.O
Flight of the Conchords 
Spaced
Moone Boy
Snuff Box
Key & Peele
East Bound and Down
Broadchurch (half the series, that is)
Battlestar Galactica
The Walking Dead
Mad Men
and now Breaking Bad

There's more actually, but you get the idea. I will begin my cleanse only having watched a season and a half of House of Cards (I hear season 3 is boring anyway), and one episode each of The Wire, The Sopranos, Justified, Borgias, The Escape Artist, and Broad City. Regrettably (or perhaps fortuitously!) I have seen none of Game of Thrones, Deadwood, Treme, Boardwalk Empire, Orange is the New Black, The West Wing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, True Detective, Girls, 24, Daredevil, or Lost.


But once I finish Breaking Bad I am done. Apart from watching a show or a film with my wife a few times a week (she is currently going through Gilmore Girls and together we are re-watching Flight of the Conchords) that is it for me as far as TV goes. Honestly, I do not understand why I need to subject myself to this stuff anymore. Is there really a lesson to be gained from this process? Is it worth peering so deeply into the corrupt human psyche? At this point, I do not think so. How much ugliness and filth does one need to look at in order to know 1.) one is looking at ugliness and filth and 2.) I do not like ugliness and filth and I do not want it in my life? I have certainly had my fill of filth. Just as I do not need to have listened to all of Haydn's, Mozart's, and Beethoven's symphonies to know what they were after musically, I do not need to watch every anti hero and ambivalent drama in existence to get it.


And perhaps this is unfortunate, plowing through Breaking Bad with such frenzied resentment. Perhaps I am missing the show's beauty and layers of meaning. Quite frankly though, I am sick of Walter White and Jesse the Junkie and sincerely wish someone would just get to killing them off already (1 1/2 seasons to go!). I am tired and wearied of the human condition and no longer feel the need to get inside the head of psychopaths and narcissists in order to understand that people need saving. 

Personally, I am in need of focusing my attention to more redemptive works, from novels, to philosophy, to Biblical and theological studies (Kierkegaard, Hegel, N.T. Wright, books on baptism and being a pastor are all on the list). This is what I will spend my summer doing—though I admit some of the literature I plan to read will be equally as morally ambivalent as the television I have been watching (from Cormac McCarthy to Nathanial Hawthorne and Mary Doria Russell). I also hope to re-read Lord of the Rings, get deeper into the works of C.S. Lewis, and finally read some of G.K. Chesterton's fiction. In years past I have laid out my "Summer Reading" plans (here is 2013here is 2012, and here is 2011), and as a habit I rarely break the surface of those lists. This year, my hope is that by cutting out TV I will read more, get to bed earlier, wake up earlier and more refreshed, and then be able to read even more.

In the advent of Mad Men's looming series finale (May 17, 2015) (which I wrote at length on here) I am not the first to muse on how this signals the end of an era, television's Golden Age, as they call it. It is not a true end, of course, as many brilliant shows are still being made, but in losing Mad Men it does feel like the culmination of a new age of television. Stories began to be told differently when Tony Soprano came on the scene and the end of Don Draper's narrative arc is a harbinger of a time of transition. 

It brings me great joy, however, that from where I stand Mad Men never really fit into the "Anti Hero" genre, but instead the area of true moral ambivalence. Yes, I am sick of all the angst and confusion that comes with such shows (again, which is why I am taking a break), but Mad Men always kept me on my toes guessing what were the real motivations moving its characters forward. Don Draper, for all his despicableness, never veered into full-on Monster mode. He forever remains a person desperately and fallibly searching for meaning and purpose.

So with the end of Mad Men's era comes the end of my gluttonous binge-watching TV era. The purge is coming. I am turning off the set and opening up my (increasingly archaic) books.

Sorry if that all sounds a bit too dramatic, because honestly, I am done with drama and want none of it in my life for a while. I cannot help but think it would be better for us all if we chose to do the same.


And please, if you've read this far, I hope you enjoyed my Hero to Anti Hero Television Character Scale.
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"We Know How the Story Ends": An Exploration of Narrative in Film

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