In his iconic Hollywood vs. America, author Michael Medved argued that the entertainment industry’s addiction to sex and violence would eventually destroy it because the values espoused in movies were increasingly not those of regular folks. Movies and TV shows weren’t just losing money because they were bad but because people secretly wanted nice entertainment like the shows of Mr. Medved’s youth.
A generation later, Hollywood is doing just fine thank you very much, and the most successful, most lauded entertainment involves complex dark characters who do things like sleep with their bosses and create illegal drugs. Not only that, the mid-1990s is largely remembered as a period of bland, inane programming punctuated only by the occasional “very special episode of Blossom.” One could argue that the TV industry was headed for certain self-destruction until HBO led the way with innovatively dark and saucy shows like The Sopranos and Sex and the City.
Yes, TV and movies are darker than ever while Mr. Medved seems relegated to a syndicated radio show, lumped in with charlatans and “shock jocks.” Does this mean that his message was an abject failure? Not necessarily. It’s thrilling and at the same time scary to expose oneself to the dark side of the human soul, but Mr. Medved is right that people also respond very well to uplifting programs that just feel good to watch.
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a movie or TV show lately that manages to meld an honest and moral character with a compelling plot and somehow avoid the lure of sex, treachery, violence, or all three simultaneously. So we ask, “Can you have clean TV that’s also good TV?”
Without question it is harder to create conflict and angst without giving characters something dark against which to push. Good seems awfully boring without evil, and it seems utterly uninteresting to watch a character who looks both ways before crossing the street. We much prefer to think for a moment of how cool it is to be the villain, at least until his flaws catch up with him.
Your humble author doesn’t pretend to know all the answers, but certainly it must be possible to have a good guy who doesn’t struggle with a dark past, an argument that doesn’t end in an explosion, an adult situation that doesn’t require an adult beverage (or illegal intoxicant.) It was once said that the most heroic thing that most people ever do is simply wake up in the morning and go on quietly and courageously living out their lives. Where are the TV shows about those people? Occasionally you’ll see movies about them at various film festivals but they rarely reach a wide audience. Is it impossible to create an enjoyable film without a CGI budget and have it appeal to more than a few film snobs?
As said before, your narrator doesn’t have all the answers, but isn’t enough sometimes just to ask the question?