(That was a mouth full, wasn't it. )
So, when I was growing up, the standard for televisions shows followed a particular formula. There was a single parent, a male, raising children with no female companion. This is exemplified, but not limited to, ‘the Courtship of Edie’s father,’ ‘the Andy Griffith Show,’ ‘My Three Sons,’ and ‘Bonanza.’ There was a peculiar absence of lead females, and if a love interest pursued, she typically died by the end of the episode in order to continue the social angst of male loneliness. I think it safe to say, there were also a number of prominent TV relationships where the couple finally hooked up and it resulted either in the death of the female, the female being removed from the show, and or the show went off the air. Some examples of this includes ‘Cheers,’ “Remington Steele,’ and ‘Moonlighting.’ And as much as I love Star Trek, it is quite clear Kirk caries a ‘Bond’ legacy of new love interest every episode, but the ‘one true love,’ played by Joan Collins, had to die in the episode “City on the Edge of Forever,” which so closely parallels Virgils ‘The Aneid’ that it is tantamount plagiarism. Conversely, two shows that demonstrated functional relationship were “the Adams Family’ and ‘the Munsters.’ Go figure.
As a side note, in terms of marking peculiarities, I'd like to throw out for consideration an advertisement campaign that I was drawn to in my youth. I admit being drawn to it because of its sexiness, but even at my age I was aware that something wasn’t right, which only later on in life led me to contemplate the complexities of being human, of being male. The ‘male prefer Hanes’ advertisement series always contained a prominent young lady showing off her legs, and there was always at least one male, prominently displayed, with a woman already on his arms, but he is breaking his neck to ‘ogle’ the woman wearing Hanes. Was this a warning to women that if you’re not wearing Hanes, you man’s eye will wander? Was this ad campaign deliberately teaching young males like myself that it’s okay to let your eyes wander? Or was it simply the unconscious reflection of what has always occurred in society? Is this a revelation that men are just never happy? A reflection of biological imperatives? Or is this just a human condition that applies equally to everyone?
Which brings me back to television. Over the last twenty years, or perhaps starting in the late 80’s the story formula being used flipped from male driven loneliness to female driven loneliness. We started seeing television shows where the protagonist was a successful female, sometimes a mother, but mostly not, and the societal lament seemed to express the lack of ‘real men’ and it also coincides during a time that male incomes on the whole were on the decline, while female incomes were on the rise, which may have been conflicting with the social ideal that men were still expected to earn more. Now, bear in mind this is not me lamenting a world gone by, and I truly loved some of these televisions show that twisted the paradigm of old. Take “Ally McBeal.” I love that show. Well, until it went into the fourth season and it just bombed in direction and writing. In some ways, the turning in paradigm seem more bent towards male bashing, “Sex in the City,’ but the message of males are pretty much useless is best exemplified in commercials where men simply can’t get a grocery list right, or can’t wash dishes, or vacuum, or they would rather be watching a game and drinking and clueless while the woman has to do everything, as if her husband was just another one of the kids living in her house.
Basically, what I have learned from Hollywood relationships is that the show or the movie is all about the ‘hook up’ not the reality or endurance of relationship over time. There are few models of what ‘happily ever after’ should look like. The Cosby show seems to me to have been the best example of what an ideal family might look like, but in the wake of Cosby scandals we may never be able to visit the goodness the show itself offered. Family Ties strikes me as another good example. “The Brady Bunch’ does show an inherent goodness, but there is also an inherent disconnect: what the heck happened to the other parents? The kids never talk about the parents or missing them. That seems bizarre. I also love the Partridge family, but where is there Dad? And really, given the drastic hair color difference from child to child, you would be hard pressed for me to believe there was only one father. And Mr. Kincaid was not him.
Hollywood has also given us a pretty good model of how relationships should end. “War of the Roses’ and ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ seem good candidates for this. At the conclusion of one of my own relationship, I was suddenly, and awesomely, struck by the discovery that I was vilifying the ex. This discovery led me to a re-examining what was going on in myself, but also, it revealed a societal component. There were friend and family in my ear telling me how to ‘protect’ myself, and all the advice just lead to greater levels of anger and frustration and bad sportsmanship, which just wasn’t necessary. The end was going to happen and it didn’t have to be venomous. More to that, when I made a deliberate decision to change my thoughts and spoken words, my dating life took a turn. It’s reasonable for people to ask why a previous relationship failed, because it can inform you about the person and whether or not you’re compatible, but when I refused to provide anything negative about the past relationship, the date would become seriously perturbed, even acrimonious like, “If you love her that much, why aren’t you with her?!’ as if my ability to hold affection for someone else automatically disqualified me for having affection for others, or the date. It also made me wonder, if in looking for a mate, does a person want someone who is loving and kind, or someone who is spiteful and hateful? Isn’t how a person treats and relates to an ex inform you of how that person will treat you? And don’t we all want to encourage a little more kindness? Is it possible that the reason we, as a society, need to vilify the Ex is because in not doing so we have to take ownership of our own failures, and how many of us start dating by declaring our faults? Dating profiles are at best resumes of half-truths, and at worse, flat out fictions.
And that’s what life has actually become. The definition of monogamy is not one partner for life, but one partner at a time, and people make decisions based on proximity of options. We can go further to say that people have become are so disenfranchised with the reality of relationships in favor of the fantasy of relationships, that people are more likely to bail in favor of perceived greener pastures. We engage our cellphones more than we engage each other. It seems we would rather text our friend than actually sit and look them in the eye; and in a world where ‘connectivity’ is easier than ever, there is increase in the reports of loneliness. One doesn’t discover a potential date or friend through interaction in public, but instead is compelled to go through a dating site or phone app, because we are so compartmentalized that approaching a stranger in public has become almost taboo. People want to meet others, but then they use their phone as a shield to avoid others. Someone walking through the store talking on the phone certainly doesn’t want someone approaching or complimenting them, which used to be an acceptable way of breaking the ice, but now it’s just weird. And in truth, there is the legitimate side that people don’t want be approach at the store or in public, as they just want to do their thing and go home.
In a world of cellphones and stereotype generated by movie and television archetypes, how does one even begin to date and meet others? Even holding a cellphone relationship, in which all conversation is shared through texting is problematic, because any delay in response causes anxiety on both sides. You know the old cliche where people were told not to stay at home waiting for others to call? Now we are waiting on texts, and we don’t even wait at home! We take the source of our anxiety with us, unable or unwilling to engage others because we’re still waiting on that next text, and a part of us genuinely wants to be loyal and available to that text, because that interaction feels more real and substantial than any other thing in our lives, outside of our favorite television series, which is the absolute opposite of tangible reality, but the only consistency we have access to. We get a boost from seeing our favorite character and lament when they’re gone, like, "really, Glen is dead?" I liked Glen more than any of the other characters, and maybe we could start a new show where Glen is alive, and Rick is dead and continue from a parallel universe spin off series: ‘the Glen is alive show.’ I bet you'd watch! I was sad when ‘House’ went off the air. It needed to go off the air. They were running out of ideas and it had certainly lost its appeal by the end, because the first three seasons were the strongest. Umm, it almost seems to parallel relationships. If a relationship goes seven seasons, you’re doing good, but you’re likely running out of material and so, you’re wondering what has to happen next to liven it up, because we’ve all been condition when it‘s over its over and time for the new show or to upgrade to the latest incarnation of your cellphone.
Somewhere in here this is a lament. I am want something. An overhaul of society? Don’t we all want something? I had imagined we all wanted to connect with others, but more than ever, we have lost the ability to converse and cherish differences because the people we are 'friending' on social media and who we text are people we have decided are ‘like us.’ This is change. Never in the history of humanity has so many like-minded people gathered together into their sub units to try to emphasize their uniqueness as if it were better than the other group. This is so strong an influence on society that we riot if our sport’s team loses, or our candidate fails to get office. We no longer listen to others, and when they fail to hear us we disparage them and shun them. Cellphone technology has made it possible that any one person could theoretically have access to any other person on the planet, and yet we are more divisive than ever. And the movies and themes we watch tend to only promote the themes we agree with, as opposed to shaking us up and showing us there is an alternative. In some way, they ‘entertainment’ seems less entertaining. Consider, for a moment, the movie “The Poseidon Adventure.” Great movie. Gene Hackman’s character was crucial for advancing the plot line. In the remake, Gene Hackman’s character has been completely excised. The remake is stunning, visually, but it has no soul driving the characters to where they need to be. It is more haphazard in its progression, than rational or emotional, and we need both. The removal of Gene’s character is very telling. We, society, have lost something. And we don’t even have a name for that something, nor do we yet have a replacement for that something, but something crucial is missing. The thing that occurs to me, though, is that in our search for answers, we continue to watch the same kind of shows, and we continue to reach for the cellphone with the same, small core group of friends that are so similar to us that, by definition, they can never challenge us to grow. You know who helped me to grow? My ex-wife. You know who is helping me grow presently? My soon to be ex wife. When we continue to repeat history, and we continue to reach for the same core, is it any wonder we are not coming up with better answers? And, Lord forbid, if someone suggests an alternative pathway that is emotionally alien from us, we simply delete them, as if erasing them relieves you of the responsibility of having to consider that they might actually have a valid point, too. Just like deleting Gene Hackman. And I really liked Gene.