Friday, September 12, 2014

Terrible People Not Learning Lessons: Television and the Age of the Idiot

Since the beginning second century of the second century we've started to see a change in the portrayal of our characters on television. For a long time characters, or the ones you were supposed to root for were often always portrayed as good natured people who most of the time did what was right. They may have made a few mistakes and mess ups but by and large their moral compass was good natured and straight. In more recent years we've started to see a change in that. We've gone from characters who are good natured and moral to the exact opposite. For this post I'll focus on two of the most popular examples of these. The Gang from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and The Bluths from Arrested Development.
There's always money in the Banana Stand.
Arrested Development, as the opening theme states, is about a family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together. The Bluth family, at first appearance, seem like they're a good family who is just down on their luck. However as the show quickly reveals, they are much more malicious than they originally appear. Michael Bluth, the shows main protagonist is continually taken advantage of my the other members of the family. His attempts to keep his destroyed family after his father embezzled money from the family company. Despite each of the members of the Bluths being deceitful and pathological liars, they all think very highly of themselves. For some reason, we still seem to root for these characters even though they are terrible and ruin several peoples lives. 
     The Idiot,  however is different from the anti hero as seen in shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. The idiot is much less aware of the lives they destroy, while the anti-hero does these evil deeds with  knowing intent. With that let's move on to It's Always Sunny.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia follows a group of friends known at The Gang who work at a run down bar in Philadelphia. What makes Sunny stand out is that unlike almost every other sitcom, there are no strong likeable characters. Every single character on the show is a terrible person and borderline psychopath. They are all extremely egotistical and will stoop to the lowest of low to get what they want. For example in one episode two characters on the show Dee and Dennis, in need of money, decide to get hooked on crack so they can apply for welfare and won't have to work anymore. one of the best examples of the show is a character called Cricket. Cricket is a perfect example of the disastrous result of the gangs actions. The Gang themselves are solely responsible for Crickets downfall. Every bad thing that happened to him can be traced back to the Gang. Cricket went from a well respected priest to a cocaine addicted homeless man who is blind and one eye and had his legs broken by the gang. All of this downfall caused by The Gang. This show is one of the first where we see its characters not learning any lessons ever. While there are lessons learned the characters on It's Always Sunny willingly choose to ignore these lessons.  They live out the same repetitive cycles of destruction. Sunny, itself is in fact a commentary on sitcom characters flaw. The show displays the ridiculous flaws that sitcom character flaws have and turns them up to 11, blowing it wildly out of proportion.  

We find ourselves drawn to these shows and characters, rooting for them despite the terrible things they do. Perhaps we are entering a new age of storytelling. The modern audience no longer wants their characters to make ethical decisions and be good. We want people who will do wicked deeds or make stupid decisions and not get punished for their actions. 

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