Numbed down

TV family

I am just sitting here, amid the ashes and debris that is American politics, and I’ve decided to do a little math. Not because I am good at math or because I enjoy it, but because the numbers never lie. Just ask Donald Trump. He owns a few casinos. And he seems to like numbers. Tremendous numbers.

Stay with me for just a minute here, and let me sort through this timeline that is looping through my brain.

Thinking back nearly nine years ago, in late 2007, members of the Writers Guild of America went on strike for a number of reasons that we don’t really need to get into right now. And it is around that time that major networks scrambled to produce more “unscripted drama” so that they could do without writers for some time and hang onto a few viewers. (I am simplifying.)

And we bought into it. Because, after all, TV is still TV.

It was like saying, “Who needs someone who can cook a balanced meal around here when we have all these gummy bears and Doritos?”

I’m working largely off a rose-colored memory here, but I think I grew up on a steady diet of quality, politically relevant, scripted sitcoms. And if they weren’t demonstrably politically relevant, they exhibited comedic brilliance…and good writing. (Fill in your own ideas of what I am talking about here. Everyone has their preferences.)

Sure, there was some total crap, but by and large, my generation doesn’t have an entire genre to be ashamed of in terms of TV viewing.

Only six years ago, in 2010, the most popular shows on American TV were Big Brother, America’s Got Talent, The Bachelorette, and So You Think You Can Dance. Oh, and Jersey Shore. And because these were deemed “reality” or “unscripted,” we came to ignore the line that once divided “fiction” and “reality.” Or “not important” and “important.” And we accepted such programming for The Way Things Are.

Yes, I find reality TV sort of a turn-off—cheap and not very creative. I appreciate a good dialogue that is reflective of the social condition and demonstrates some ingenuity and a respect for the written word, and such dialogue and scripting requires writers. If there are no writers at the helm, we instead end up with a bunch of nearly divorced women throwing wine bottles at each other in the back room of an Italian restaurant, or big men driving under cloak of darkness to repo someone’s boat,or a dance instructor turning blood red over a kick-ball-change gone wrong, or a 20-year-old donated tissue specialist crying in the courtyard of a clubhouse mansion because The Bachelor is making out with a 22-year-old Jumbotron operator in the hot tub, or an overweight mother of a 2-year-old beauty contestant crying in the hallway outside the ballroom of a Holiday Inn Express because she left the top half of the mermaid costume back in Arkansas.

So what’s your point, Amy? My point is, holy moly, what have we done?

Glad you asked. I’ll tell you what we’ve done. In the years surrounding the 2007-08 writers strike, reality TV really took off. And we shrugged our shoulders and said, “Eh, whatever. I’ll watch another dance show. Another Real Housewives. Another home renovation show. Another group of strangers living together in a house/in the woods/in a convent/I don’t really care where they live.” As a result, we became conditioned to watching people yell and blame and lie and cry and lose their principles and their minds until they either stormed out of the woods, out of the gym, off the beach, out of the mansion, or away from the conference table.

As we became conditioned to “unscripted drama,” we somehow came to expect the same pace and content from our talk shows, our news programs, and whoa, Nellie! Even our presidential debates and town halls.

Consider what might have happened if the writers had not gone on a 14-week strike in 2007-08. Maybe the networks would not have resorted to throwing together a bunch of crap disguised as “programming,” and we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to feed the Reality TV Monster so much of our time and attention.

Yet here we are, facing down a monster that we ourselves have created. No, I’m not talking about Donald Trump, but that’s a fair assumption. (How astute of you, alert reader!) The monster that we ourselves have created is a bewildering set of circumstances that has the potential to change the course of this country’s … OK, this is getting a little didactic for a space that I prefer to keep light and lively.

All I really wanted to accomplish here is to find someone to blame for what is going on around here.

And I choose to blame the Writers Guild. Because mercy, this is definitely not my fault. [Exit, stage left, bottle in hand, unfiltered Camel between my teeth, baby crying in the background.]