I went to prison the other day.
Not as a ‘guest’ or anything, although that would probably sound a lot cooler than the real reason (research for a book). Walking through the corridors, my first thought wasn’t Dostoevsky’s quote about judging a society by its prisons, but ‘Hey! This place looks like the jail in Prison Break’. I then glazed over and spent a good five minutes trying to work out how Michael, Lincoln and T-Bag could possibly have made it out in one piece.
Welcome to the 21st century, everybody.
Like it or not, television is a part of our lives now more than ever before. According to the news – the TV news, obviously – less people are going out and spending money on things like the cinema, and more of us are sitting at home watching box sets of TV shows instead. And that’s the main difference – instead of watching one episode of a specific TV show every week, we’re watching blocks of 3-4 episodes every night. In doing so, we’re inhabiting the characters’ world, and allowing aspects of it to become part of our own.
Think that last bit sounds dramatic? OK, you know how groups of friends pick up each others’ voice inflections or particular phrases? Well, now consider how long you spend with your friends, and how many hours you spent watching ‘Lost’. There were 121 episodes, each lasting on average 45 minutes. That’s around 91 hours. By the end of the last episode, even I’d started growing a beard, calling myself Jack, and setting elaborate traps for the ‘Others’.
(I suppose if I really wanted to emulate Lost, I’d also end each sentence cryptically, and in a way that makes some people applaud, and some people wonder why they bothered. But you can’t have everything…)
It doesn’t just stop there either, a doctor friend of mine told me he thinks House is affecting his patients. They no longer go to the doctor and merely explain their symptoms. Now, they barely mention their symptoms before launching into a description of their daily routines – including what soap they use, if their flat is messy, and, in one memorable case, the fact that a latex product once gave them a rash around their ear (probably best not to ask too much about that one). They do this just in case the missing ‘key’ to their illness is buried somewhere in all this information. Why you’d need a ‘key’ to make a diagnosis of flu is beyond me, but then I did spend a month calling myself Jack, so what do I know?
And this can have serious effects too. Yes, it was irritating when people started talking like Chandler (could that BE any more annoying?), but at least nobody’s life was at risk. There’s a phenomenon known as the CSI effect, which describes the tendency of some jurors to either over- or under-estimate forensic evidence based upon things they’ve seen on TV. People were literally being let off because there was no dirt under their fingernails, when, according to TV, there should have been. Forget the fact that the guy had a severed head in his fridge and a lampshade made of skin, his fingernails were clean so he couldn’t have done it. Everything else was just a big coincidence that we’ll all laugh about one day. Well, except for the victim, cos he’s, y’know, dead.
I’m not saying that TV is doing anything wrong either – it’s the fact that it’s getting things so right which seems to be the problem. TV shows are so expertly staged, scripted and acted, that you can quite easily forget you’re not watching reality. Add to this the recent explosion of actual reality TV – complete with shaky camerawork and awkward pauses – and the fact that this style being perfectly emulated by some fictional TV shows, and it becomes easy to confuse the two. Reality TV being filmed to look like scripted TV, which itself is filmed to look like reality TV. Pretty soon we’ll end up with everything looking slightly real, but also slightly fake, like Sylar’s eyebrows.
(The fact that you got that joke proves my original point by the way)
And going back to my original point, simply put, the more you’re exposed to one specific thing – including your favourite TV show – the more it affects you. It just seems as though as a society we’re all exposing ourselves a lot more than we used to.
And yes, I do know how that sounds.
But if it’s good enough for T-Bag…