But the article has sparked a few other thoughts.
First of all, is two shows enough to show a cultural trend? More to the point, how can we determine which shows are most influencing our politics - or most influenced by our politics, and how can we ever show more than just a correlation? It's an interesting thesis to posit that TV mirrors politics, but it's a difficult thing to discern. Are the psychopath shows the most watched, or is our current culture more clearly defined by reality TV? It's a laborious feat if we want to do justice to the concept; it's tricky business that requires a willingness for tedious analysis that's beyond my motivation level. but it's fun just to consider correlations based on the shows that stand out to us.
Dobbin suggests the 50s had movies depicting cold war paranoia during the cold war and current TV shows mirror 21st century psychopathic capitalism. The shows he focuses on are Breaking Bad and House of Cards, and I don't know how Dexter didn't warrant a mention - nor The Sopranos.
When I think back to the shows I watched growing up, I can't think of a single one that had a psychopath as the hero. They were gentler shows. Happy Days, Star Trek, MTM, Bob Newhart, Barney Miller, Family Ties, M*A*S*H, WKRP in Cincinnati, Cheers, St. Elsewhere, Hill Street Blues, Moonlighting.... There were some dark themes here and there, but for the most part, everyone worked together reasonably happily to a satisfying conclusion. I'm not sure if they were really gentler times, or if it just feels that way through the soft focus of memory juxtaposed against the stark photos of children in Gaza, missing or murdered Aboriginal women, and so many neighbourhoods closer to home either flooded or on fire.
Finally, does TV viewing create or just reflect cultural behaviour? I wrote about this before but with a focus on children's programming and the types of comedies I like to watch, questioning the effects on my own behaviour: Does the crass, rude, verbal abuse that entertains me on TV make me less polite and patient with people in real life? And if it is the case the TV affect our behaviour, do we need to balance the psychopaths with more pro-social TV shows? When religion was strong, we had lots of pro-social TV shows. Now that it's waning, when we need moral guidance the most, we're stuck with the Kardashians as the pivotal role models of our times. If there is a chance that TV creates our attitudes and behaviours, shows us when to feel guilty and shame and pride, shows us whom to respect and admire, then, rather than censoring the violence, I'd opt for adding shows that model virtue, that show us how to be kind. Dobbin offers that we should just begin to act with kindness. I think too many of us might not know how without seeing it modelled day after day on Youtube. But do we want popular media to be our moral guidance? Do we have a choice?
In my classroom, if I admonish a student by suggesting a behaviour wasn't kind, some just don't care. They don't feel ashamed that they're being unkind. It's normal; it's the way people are supposed to be. And I'm odd for thinking otherwise. That's a hard, uphill battle that needs to be won. A shift in popular media could do wonders.
Some of the shows today are vile. We get drawn into the intensity of the drama and the shock of evil on display. I relished every episode of the shows Dobbin despises. But like Dobbin, I also re-watched The West Wing recently for a bit of hope. And lately, I'm loving Rectify for its slow pace that forces the viewer to be patient. It allows tension to build by heartbeats. But I'm also struck by the novelty, in today's world, of the depth of the moral struggling the characters go through and some of the strikingly virtuous choices some of the characters make within grave circumstances. The good guys take responsibility for their actions and don't even begin to try blaming others or explaining away their actions. Weird. And refreshing. Maybe we'll just tire of the psychopaths soon and the pendulum will shift back to equally complex characters who do the right thing.
And maybe we'll recognize the limits to growth and competition while we're at it.