Appetite for Manipulation (or Why I Cry During Cheesy TV Shows)

August 11, 2012

I like television. I’ve never understood the viewpoint of certain quasi-intellectuals who brag that they don’t watch TV. “I don’t even own a television set,” they often say, as if not watching “Project Runway” somehow gives them a moral perspective the rest of us lack.

I would argue that our culture is currently experiencing a Golden Age of Television. While many people decry the rise of reality television and sensationalist shows as the downfall of Western culture, they fail to recognize that some of the most interesting narratives in our society are currently being produced by TV. The metaphysical questions explored by shows like “Lost,” The Booth at the End,” or “Battlestar Galactica” are almost too complex to follow, and I can’t think of many modern artistic documents consumed by millions of people that more thoroughly examine issues like race, class, crime, justice, and media than “The Wire.”

That being said, there is something disturbingly manipulative about television and movies that I don’t find in other art forms. They have the ability to make you feel emotions against your will. You see this all the time in cheesy sitcoms or dramas. The main character is presented with some sort of personal crisis, the issue is resolved within the family/friendship unit the show is constructed around, and then some crappy emotional pop song is played while the characters snuggle on the couch. It’s such an obvious cliche. My logical mind absolutely hates these shows, but the scene triggers something in the emotional sensors of my brain that I can’t switch off. My throat tightens, tears often well up, and I find myself blinking rapidly so that my girlfriend doesn’t think I’ve been weeping over an episode of “Dating Rules from My Future Self.”

I never experience this reaction with books. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read some cheesy Nicholas Sparks novels in my time, but my reaction to his sappy prose is simply anger and dismissal. Without the music and images to flood my brain, Sparks is unable to force me into an unwanted emotional state. I am able to recognize the overly romanticized schlock for what it is and then hurl it across the room. But that’s not the case with television (in part because my TV is too big to throw).

I have no idea what any of this means or how it should be processed by the larger culture; I just think we should all be careful or one day we might wake up to discover we’re living in a sitcom starring Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber. We will laugh when we’re told to laugh, cry when we’re told to cry, but the only true emotion we will experience is helplessness.

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2 Responses to “Appetite for Manipulation (or Why I Cry During Cheesy TV Shows)”


  1. I’m so glad to hear it’s not just me that wells up when my emotions are so blatantly manipulated. Mind you it’s been going on for years and not just on TV. Give me the final scenes in the original Goodbye Mr.Chips and I have to put the kettle on so I can leave the room and claim I have an allergy. And Yes Dear it’s the same allergy I suffered during The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.
    I have a poor tolerance of the ‘Big Brother’ style programmes, the so called 15 mins of fame reality shows and mockumentaries but otherwise TV is an often enlightening and educational medium.


  2. […] Appetite for Manipulation (or Why I Cry During Cheesy TV Shows) (dalebridges.org) 0.000000 0.000000 Share this:TwitterFacebookStumbleUponDiggLinkedInRedditEmailTumblrPinterestLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in About Me, feeling good, General Blogging, Humor, Music and tagged emotions, feeling good, music, sad songs by rfljenksy. Bookmark the permalink. […]


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