Infotainment! And This Time It’s a Good Thing
It’s a really good thing there was no television and screen writer’s strike.
Sure, I love the shows I watch regularly and would miss my dose of escapist stories and late-night comedy if there was a writer’s walk-out. But there’s whole lot more important reason I’m glad they did not strike.
Those writers are a huge part of our national political resistance movement. These days my shows are less escapist and more in your face. A slew of progressive writers are having a grand time advocating for the resistance—or at least the hot-button issues progressives see as under attack.
These crafty and very talented writers are sneaking their personal values and pet issues into episodic television at a dizzying rate. I suppose our red and blue societal split has now completely infiltrated our TV habits as thoroughly as it has opened fault lines in our maps, communities and friendships—or former friendships.
So television writers have taken up their causes. We’re all used to cop shows coming up with scripts that are “ripped from the headlines!” but these latest examples are more “ripped from the editorial pages!”
Last week, Law & Order: SVU had an uncannily familiar story about fake news sending a lone gunman to free underage sex-slaves from the basement of a pizza place. Familiar, right? In this case, dear Mariska Hargitay was, for once, not being threatened by bad guys, almost raped by badder guys, cussed out by her superiors or being saved from death by Ice Tea (the person, not the drink). This time she was railing against fake news and how dangerous that is. I loved it.
Likewise, on Designated Survivor, while the Capitol building sat in rubble and assassins aligned to pick off favorite characters, the show took a detour for a sub-plot (spoiler alert!) about arts funding. Seriously, it’s odd and refreshing at the same time. When George Bush was president (which, by the way now seems like the good old days, right?) I wanted West Wing’s Jed Bartlett for my president. These days it’s Tom Kirkland.
Do you watch Madame Secretary? In between concocted tales of scary international incidents and hostage situations come pointed comments about the reality of climate change and need for freedom of the press.
Sure, large social issues have been in series’ plots since All in the Family, Maude, Golden Girls, Cagney and Lacey, and so many more. Of course, entire series like the marvelous Dear White People (Netflix), Modern Family, and the returning Will and Grace tackle race, religion, and LGBT issues all the time.
But this new rush to add my kind of family values to scripted TV seems more urgent, more immediate, more comforting than ever. It’s like those writers (and producers and casts) are putting on their pink pussy hats and standing on a soap box even as they entertain us.
I say good.
I’m sad, of course, that the producers and writer’s of such excellent series as Veep, and House of Cards are now finding their writing tasks almost impossible. That’s because it’s hard for them to come up with as many fictional examples of dirty politics, corruption and mis-use of power as are happening in the real world.
But those writers’ pain aside, I say we cannot have too much resistance. And television’s participation in this cultural moment when nobody can stop talking about the assault on our democracy fits right in. After all, none of us can shut up these days about the family of rich elephants in the room. Not for an entire hour at the dining table, not at intermission in the theatre, not at a restaurant, the gym, or the carpool. Not even during a killer card game. The conversation always comes back to those elephants.
In fact, I know of no other time, six-months after a presidential election, when so much of our social discourse has been spent in fearful, angry, incredulous conversation about disturbing current events. I’m pretty sure it’s not just me. I mean everybody I talk to is suffering from post-election depression, ranging from mild and manageable to massive and debilitating.
I’m heading for the dentist with two cracked teeth, because for the first time in my long life I am grinding my teeth in my sleep. I know who’s fault that is. I am in favor of hiring a special prosecutor to investigate the elephant family just so I can keep my teeth from falling out.
Even I was shocked the other day when I told someone that gay rights had slipped from first on my activist agenda down to seventh or eighth behind saving our democracy, fighting for mother earth, protecting public schools, and staving off the day when dystopian novels become current events.
All this having been said, you see why I’m happy there was no writer’s strike. I need those shout outs about climate change, journalistic honesty, and arts funding. I need to hear hope and cohesiveness from my smart TV. It will help keep up the momentum for taking back our democracy.
Next up, will we hear about the deportation of tax-paying immigrants on Madame Secretary, or over zealous actions by Homeland Security on NCIS: New Orleans?
Right now, you can’t escape politics in escapist television. And I don’t want to.
Fay Jacobs is the author of As I Lay Frying—a Rehoboth Beach Memoir; Fried & True—Tales from Rehoboth Beach; For Frying Out Loud—Rehoboth Beach Diaries; Time Fries—Aging Gracelessly in Rehoboth Beach, and her newest book Fried & Convicted: Rehoboth Beach Uncorked.