Blogathon for SSA Week: “Mad Men,” “Homicide,” and What We Want From TV


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This post continues my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week! From now until 9pm PDT, I will write one new blog post every hour. Plus, for every $100 raised during that time, I will post one new picture of our cats! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

As of 5:07 pm PDT: 438 Donors, $71,693.02
As of 6:08 pm PDT: 438 Donors, $71,693.02

mad menI got immediately sucked into “Mad Men,” as soon as it came on the air. I think it’s brilliant. I think it’s one of the best things on television. So of course, I tried to get Ingrid sucked into it. She watched a few episodes… and said, “Yes, I agree that it’s brilliant, it’s one of the best things on television — and I just don’t want to watch any more. It’s too depressing.”

I had a sad. I don’t have that many friends who are into the show, so I don’t have that many people to yak about it with and dissect it endlessly. But the thing is… I knew exactly what she meant.

Because I feel the same way about “Homicide.” Ingrid loves that show, she’s running through the DVDs and is totally into it. She thinks it’s brilliant, one of the best things on television. I watched a few episodes, I totally agreed… and I just didn’t want to watch any more. It was too depressing.

So I’m pondering two different questions here. One: What makes a TV show (or movie, or book, or whatever) intolerably depressing for some people and not others? And what are we looking for from television?

For me and Ingrid, what we’re often looking for is reasonably intelligent distraction. We don’t want to be talked down to or patronized… but most of the time, we also just want to relax. We watch TV after long days of work, and we often watch it just to unwind. That’s sometimes true of other forms of entertainment… but for some reason, it’s more true of television. Maybe because we bring it into our home instead of going out to get it… but then, I don’t feel that way about books.

Homicide DVDSo I’m not sure why I feel differently about TV than I do other forms of entertainment. And I’m not sure why I find “Mad Men” to be a near-perfect balance between challenging and entertaining… and why I find “Homicide” unbearably sad and awful. Or why, for Ingrid, it’s the other way around.

Thoughts? What do you turn to TV for? And where do you find the line between “interestingly challenging” and “shoot me now, life sucks enough without voluntarily putting myself through an emotional wringer”?

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Comments

  1. juliegomoll says

    I’m 50 years old, and my sister is 61. We have a ton of overlap in our taste in books, movies, and TV. Like you, I adore Mad Men. But my sister can’t even bring herself to watch it. “I lived it,” she says, and I get that. It’s just too real for her – whether or not it’s brilliant is irrelevant.

    I’m an entrepreneur in design/tech, and I’ve had similar responses to really good media showing the frustrations of women on similar paths. It may be exceptional, but I’m just not interested, because it’s *too* good, and *too* real. It will never be entertainment for me.

  2. smhll says

    Sometimes my husband and son will watch Project Runway with me. I don’t know if that’s love, or just because we only have one TV (and our computer chairs aren’t very comfy).

    Now that we only have streaming, it takes self-control (more than we have) to stay synced together on episodes of shows that 2 or 3 of us like. TV viewing is tending to become more personalized and private at my house. (My spouse doesn’t like Fringe! And I don’t particularly like that Canadian show with fae and bartenders and werewolves.)

  3. callieq says

    I think I’m closer to Ingrid on this. I am fascinated by the stories in Homicide (at least the first few really good seasons), but Madmen is seriously difficult for me to watch. Perhaps it’s that I’m lucky in that I’ve never been a victim of serious violence, and so what I see in Homicide isn’t that close to me. However, watching people being suffocated by their expected social roles ala Madmen is something I identify *way* too much with.

    I had similar trouble with Sopranos when it was on. The casual violence, while difficult, was something I could deal with. However, over a few seasons the constant intimidation and bullying the main characters routinely inflicted upon others made it impossible for me to keep watching. Like with Madmen, it put me in the position of reliving past periods of hopelessness and helplessness in my life.

  4. fwtbc says

    Depressing I can handle. Might even go as far as saying that I like depressing stuff, it pulls at my emotions in a way that feels less contrived than a lot of “happy” stuff.

    I do remember angrily hitting the stop button and going outside for some fresh air part way through the film adaption of Frank McCourt’s book “Angela’s Ashes” after his 95th sibling died. If it wasn’t a memoir, I may’ve dismissed that movie for laying on the misfortune too thick.

    I did, however, read the book many years later, as well as the sequels. Was very sad when Frank died.

  5. muggleinconverse says

    I love ‘Mad Men’. I’m so sad that there will only be one more season after this one. Did you hear Matthew Weiner on NPR?

    Anyhow, I usually prefer fantasy when it comes to books. When I read material that is more realistic, their trials are more devastating. I get incredibly attached to fantasy characters too, I just don’t feel so personally distressed. Television is different for some reason. I can watch shows that are incredibly true to life and be involved but removed enough to analyze the story itself.

    Maybe it’s because books offer more intimacy. I guess our relationship with entertainment could be similar to our relationships with people. Our comfort level when we are getting intimate with certain characters compared to others is bound to vary. Some people click, some don’t.

    muggleinconverse.wordpress.com

  6. nonnie says

    I have this experience too. My girlfriend and I always feel more like watching something funny or light-hearted (e.g. parks & rec, psych), but it took us ages to get through battlestar, even though we both loved it.

    I also find depressing, too-real shows easier to watch if they have a higher production value. I guess that makes it less life-like. For example, I can’t watch The Office for even a few minutes.

    My mom can’t bear how tv shows use awkwardness for humor. She couldn’t even watch Friends sometimes!

    TV violence and bad stuff happening to kids is much harder for me to take as I get older. I guess when I was younger it just felt like a plot device or something.

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