When a man is finally released from prison and ready to make a new start of his life, finds out he has six months to live, rescues his nephew from a psychotic nanny, is hit by a car at the same moment he receives notice that he is first on a heart transplant list, and wakes up to the psycho-nanny pretending to be his nurse, in a make-believe hospital, one begins to wonder…how much drama is too much drama?
The above synopsis outlines the transition from the fifth season of the hit TV show “One Tree Hill” to this fall’s sixth season. The show began as the typical high-school drama, with issues of love, friendship, and popularity. Now, the show depicts murder, kidnapping, and affairs, in only the first four episodes!
This is not the only television show to face such a change. TV shows on all networks are notoriously becoming more creative, not to mention more disturbing. David Hutto, assistant professor of English at Juniata, helps explain why this phenomena is occurring and what this means for the future of communication.
How do you feel TV has changed in recent years and is only TV changing in this way?
I cannot claim to answer your question based only on recent years, since in recent years I have almost entirely stopped watching TV. Compared with when I did watch, with when I was a child, television has changed dramatically. It may not be any dumber than it ever was (the term “boob tube” was invented long ago, and in those days “boob” meant moron), but television does seem to be aimed at an audience with a very short attention span. The implication is that plots become almost impossible to believe, there is a lot of emotion, far beyond what we normally live with. Many simple emotions and constantly changing plots—like the bright colors that we use for children—are qualities that seem to be suited to people who are not able to think in complex ways or distinguish subtleties, whether subtleties of color or the psychology of a character. And this vapid happy-face approach to culture does not appear to be only on TV. Listen to a Britney Spears record. Watch the movie “Jackass.”
What has caused this change?
Among the possibilities we might consider are the tremendous competition TV now faces from other forms of entertainment to catch our leisure time; a possible change in philosophy in the management of TV networks, with more concern for money and less concern for intellectual quality; or more subtle changes in our culture. In general, we want more stimulation more quickly. Maybe these things are involved, and maybe not.
Is this good for audiences and what are its impacts for the future?
The less people think in serious ways, the worse off we are. The less people think about subtleties and nuances, which actually make up the world, the worse off we are. But does bad TV mean this is true of our society as a whole? I don’t know. I am a long-term optimist. We recovered from the collapse of the Roman Empire and the widespread ignorance that followed. I think we will recover from television.
- Elise A. Ebert,’10, Juniata Online Journalist