So I watch a lot of television. It all started when I was three. My mom taught me how to use the TV and VCR and I became a story sponge, craving tall tales and discovering a need to write them myself. For a short time I was addicted to TV, but don’t worry, I’m now a functioning TVaholic. 😉
Several TV shows have been free this week through On Demand, so I seized the opportunity to dig into Orphan Black. It’s about street savvy Sarah who’s pulled into a consipiracy after witnessing a suicide of someone who looks just like her. In the middle of watching season 2 a few days ago, I read this compelling article and interview with the main star, The Many Faces of Tatiana Maslany, and it inspired me to share some ideas I’ve had while recently binging on television.
In case you’re unfamiliar with Orphan Black, the themes present are diverse female characters, sisterhood, controlling fanatical groups (patriarchies) exerting control over these females and reproduction. As well as cloning technology, spying, lying, parental issues, trust no one, etc. The television series Alias, which I’ve been rewatching, deals with similar themes. Alias centers around international spy, Sydney Bristow, who learns she’s been lied to by almost everyone around her.
In both series, most problems that arise are driven by lies: lies the characters tell each other or themselves, and lies governments and corporations tell the greater public. This driving force creates isolation, misunderstanding, and excitement. These problems aren’t usually solved until the characters work together by telling or learning the truth. I think this way of storytelling reinforces what we all learn at a young age through stories like The Boy Who Cried Wolf and Pinocchio. In these fables both main characters tell several lies, one dies in some versions while the other atones for his misdeeds and is rewarded. Thus we learn to tell the truth; however, the craft of creating characters that lie rules our entertainment. You might be thinking, “oh it’s not real, it’s just TV, it’s made-up,” but doesn’t art reflect life? Do stories that contain morals really succeed at teaching children to tell the truth or do we learn from lying how to manipulate the truth to meet our own ends? That’s a nugget to think on. Look at how popular the podcast Serial became. Likely for many reasons, but people love stories that feature liars. Deception creates intrigue and mystery.
Another series I’ve been rewatching is The X-Files. Also similar themes at play…I think I may have myself a genre. I guess in the business of investigation, the goal is to out criminals and liars. Even the lead characters, Scully and Mulder, lie to each other now and then, mostly by omission. The whole series’s premise was dedicated to seeking out truth, but getting to it is extremely difficult and that’s one of the reasons it was a hit. The show’s main arc involves aliens…aLIEnS. Ignore that, but there are an abundance of lies surrounding the existence of aliens in the series. Why do we want to know if there are extra terrestrials? So we, through the characters, can take comfort in the fact that we’re not alone in the universe?
The show Lost is another example of a show featuring characters who are compulsive liars-maybe it should have been called Lies! That’s not a criticism by any means, believe me I love the show. It features beautifully written messed up people who are loners and have no control over their lives with elements of scifi and supernatural phenomenon. The former is relatable while the latter bolsters cliffhangers that keep you curious and coming back for more. Without the lies, there may not be a story.
I think that’s why we all watch TV, go to plays, listen to stories on the radio and read them. We like watching things play out, experiencing drama to possibly elicit emotional responses which makes us feel more human. We also seek to relate to characters, and I think it’s because we all feel alone no matter the people we have around us. We all feel alone because we can never escape our own minds, so we feed off of farce. At the same time, escapism allows for our minds to be quiet in a different way than when we’re interacting with society or when we’re sleeping. While entertainment can result in a placating effect as we break from realities in our lives, it’s also art that teaches us something about ourselves. The lies may serve to create and maintain a story, but they also help us connect to these flawed characters. We ourselves are just that. I suppose it’s entirely possible that we as humans have a propensity for lying that’s encoded in our DNA.
Whenever I think about this kind of stuff, how say TV can be a time suck but also serve to inspire my writing and help me come off a tiring day, I can’t help but think that Edward Nygma’s vision came true and that somewhere he and Two-Face are stealing my brain power:
You can be part of the action! Nygmatech brings the joy of 3D entertainment into your living room! Ladies and Gentlemen, let me tell you…my vision: The Box, in every home in America, and one day the world!