I never want to hear the phrases ‘It was just like a TV show,’ or ‘It was just like a movie,’ or any variation on those in word choice or arrangement, ever again.
A few nights ago on the 10 o’clock news—which I never watch and shouldn’t have—the lede for a story about a local bail bondsman who (1) was kidnapped, (2) was tortured, and (3) escaped, was the following: “If you were a TV writer for a show like LAW & ORDER, you’d probably come up with a story like this.” That was the anchorman’s introduction, after which the show went to an eyewitness who said essentially the same thing: “It was just like a TV show.” Must we revel in our detachment?
The bondsman was tortured for days and that’s how his story’s introduced. No focus on the pain/suffering. Focus rather on his story’s similarity to an episode of your favorite cop/lawyer show, which by the way has stories “ripped from the headlines.” TV reflects reality, reality is compared to the TV show and then turned into a TV show—and so on and so on until we can’t live through any sort of life-drama without seeing ourselves as fictional figures at the center of a television show that must, therefore, have some epiphanic moment, or closure, and end with a song by Los Lobos.
I wouldn’t level the same complaint at those who—of 9/11—said, “It was just like a movie.” That was an incapacity to describe a tragedy whose magnitude we’d never witnessed except in films and so is forgivable. What happened to this bail bondsman goes on every day, though. We are capable of a fitting description. By reducing his story to the level of an L&O plotline, we’re reducing what he suffered through and the achievement of his escape. We aren’t doing his story justice.
Neither would I complain the same of someone who says, “I feel like a character in a novel,” because the long forms of fiction and non-fiction writing allow for a fuller approximation of reality. Television shows and movies are, by necessity, boom-boom-boom, from set piece to set piece, from one emotional drama to the next. Every scene/shot is essential. Meanwhile, novels can afford to include sections that reveal only character, that focus on the events of everyday life. So, novel readers are allowed this, thanks.
I hate this even more: “Everyone tells me I should have my own reality show, because blah blah blah…” Such statements are always followed by the most boring stories you’ve ever heard.
© 2007, Patrick Stephenson. All rights reserved.