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"Chronicle Groupie"
Hyperion February 17, 2001

#24 Looking for Love in all the wrong places

It was a quiet Valentine’s Day at Hyperion House, having recently parted with my paramour. I tried to convince myself I was better off on this day—without the crass commercialism, demanding my purchase dollars to prove my love. I swear, the unholy trinity of Hallmark, Whitman, and FTD is behind the entire day. Still, much as I might rail against corporate holidays, which are “Brought to you by…”, I must admit I feel left out not getting to participate this year. So, I turn to an old standby—a nurturing loving presence that has never let me down. I am talking, of course, about T.V.

I have been reading about this show—“Temptation Island”. The premise is: they bring four “committed” couples to this island, separate them, and make each partner go on a bunch of dates with total babes in an effort to split the couples up. Why any couple would go through this is beyond me. Still, it’s on Fox, which means it’s bound to be sleazy, and could be just the Bacchanalian feast I need to take my mind off of things. In addition, I have been reading that Southern Baptists are outraged over this show—and anything that makes Baptists mad has to be good.

[WARNING: The following is extremely graphic, and the more squeamish readers would be advised to skip ahead a few paragraphs]

So, I turn on the T.V. to Fox at 8:00, waiting to be titillated. However, it seems “Temptation Island” is not on. What is this? Oh, dear God, NO! THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING!! Ladies and Gentlemen, I have been to Afghanistan, Beirut, and Iraq, and I can say without hyperbole that this is a million times worse than all of them put together. I am talking about—a Barbra Streisand Concert Special. Oh, T.V., why hast thou forsaken me?

So, six showers, four bottles of Visine, two brillo pad scrubbings and an exorcism later, I feel clean enough to return, and give television another chance. I watch “Facts of Life” for a while, and learn that five women in one house will lead to mass confusion. I used to live with three women, and this is not new information. I watch this PBS show for a while on Human Interaction. It all seems so simple when explained in that basic PBS way. How we respond to each other, how we attract each other, how we live our lives together. But there is no complex human emotion here, no deep meaning. There is a lack of vitality that makes it difficult to learn anything important.

Next, I turn to a “Tom and Jerry” cartoon. Here are the philosophical answers I have been looking for. In this episode, Tom and Jerry decide to take a hiatus from their fighting to catch a film at the local Cineplex. Low and behold, what is playing, but a “Tom and Jerry” cartoon. Right away, we can see the cartoon maker wants to make a point about media violence.

The media has been blamed for inciting all sorts of violence in our culture. There is a point to be made here, for it just seems like common sense that a child who watches thousands of hours of T.V. violence would become more desensitized to violence and more prone to commit it. On the other hand, as much as our society likes to wring its hands about how violent we are becoming, the truth is far different. By any objective standard, our society, every society, is less violent than it has been in centuries past. While there are pockets of regression, and while it is difficult to see history clearly in our own time, the fact is we as a society are less violent than we have been, and continue to get better. At the very least, violence existed long before television and movies. The simple truth is that violence in society, on whatever level, comes from many factors—and it is easy but wrongheaded to make scapegoats out of the villain of the moment. Ok, off my soapbox and back to cartoons.

Tom and Jerry go in to watch their film alter egos at work. Tom finds the antics done to the onscreen Jerry hilarious, while the “real” Jerry fumes, and vice-versa. Pretty soon, the Tom and Jerry in the theater (I know this is confusing, but stay with me) are fighting right along side their movie counterparts. This much of the cartoon would give credence to those want to blame the media for causing violence.

But then, a magical thing happens. The characters on screen stop their brawling and begin to watch with fascination the fisticuffs of their real-life brethren. This impossible scene of movie characters watching real characters, who are themselves celluloid images, brings the whole point crashing home. Maybe instead of causing violence, our art is really just a reflection of our society; a mirror if you will. Sometimes it is a twisted mirror, and sometimes art stretches things to make its point, but maybe this simple cartoon is showing us that we need to look at ourselves, and the way we act, if we are uncomfortable with the art we produce. Or maybe it is just a cartoon.

Well, I watched more this evening, but some of the old readers get crotchety if I write too long, so I will have to make this a two-parter. Stay tuned for next time, when we discuss the sexualization of young girls in the media—or in other words—the Shirley Temple years.

Forever and a day,

February 16, 2001


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