Beyond a televisual reality

I have this problem where I quote television without citing my sources. I stole a line from Friends to ask out my first boyfriend, lifted a sardonic Nip/Tuck jab during a rather melodramatic high school squabble and Six Feet Under has been huge for my personal phraseology.
There’s more. In adolescence, I treated friendships in a particularly televisual manner. Aside from modeling my relationships (even the boring ones) after the rising action-climax-denouement structure, I generally compartmentalized emotional and moral eras in my life,
as if writing my own show’s narrative.
I’d act especially misunderstood and weak for a few months, then have a catharsis, resulting in a new empowered me. It was like the change television characters make between seasons.
As I get older and begin to value authenticity, this happens
less frequently.
However, thanks to the folks at Netflix, I recently watched The Office (U.S. version) in its entirety and became addicted. I started relying on the show to get me out of emotional funks, give me something to do while I ate lunch and make me feel better about my own workplace antics. Surely, I thought, if Michael Scott can play a wildly
distasteful game for Diversity Day, I can make a few inappropriate
jokes at work.
That thought brought me back to my old penchant for copycatting television. It occurred to me that I was doing more than just borrowing ideas. By copycatting television, I felt close to the people and places in the television shows I love. By acting like a character, I was virtually sitting in Central Perk, or the Scranton branch or the RV where Walt and Jesse cook.
That’s what episodic television does. It makes the audience privy to the “everyday” occurrences in the characters’ lives, whereby some creepy viewers feel like a part of the televisual universe they’re watching. I see it everyday in people who heatedly discuss plot twists or debate a character’s moral fiber like it’s so much water cooler gossip.
In everyone’s defense, TV is a comfy place, free from realistic consequences. Nonetheless, it’s not real. The characters are in the hands of writers who decide their fate, and, Red Weddings aside, we can count on these writers to follow a certain set of guidelines based on audience satisfaction.
Some people forget that. So we have guys like William Duncan, a chemistry teacher who got busted for selling handmade meth in Texas—a man who, I think, leveraged how commonplace cooking meth looks after watching Breaking Bad into a nice little business venture of his own.
Do not mistake me. Just because I can see how TV nurtured Willy D into slinging glass does not mean I want television to censor its subject matter. On the contrary, I want viewers to recognize that after they’ve engaged in television (certainly, that’s what it’s there for) the rules of that mythology no longer apply.
Though Ross and Rachel made it, your ex probably won’t get back together with you after eight seasons. Dunder Mifflin didn’t fire Andy for putting his fist through a wall, but your boss will definitely sack you for the same. The inmates of Orange is the New Black are not your friends, no matter how close you feel to them. Although, people like them might be your friends if you pull a Heisenberg.
I’d also like to touch on flagrant catch-phrase quoting. I’m talking about those pervasive, self-referential TV quotes that people randomly throw into conversation to test your knowledge, or look cool or whatever. To those people whose quoting invades my real life conversations, I have to say that letting television stand in for real communication in this way alienates everyone who has no idea what you’re talking about. It forces them to find out what you’re talking about, which is then reinforced as something they definitely don’t care about.
I dealt with you people when you were watching Family Guy in high school, then in my undergraduate years with Lost, and I’ve had it. Stop using obscure quotes to protect yourself from real conversation. It defeats the purpose.
Listen, television’s power to reach us so profoundly that we want to be a part of it and copycat it is actually a beautiful thing. It means we connect with it, and it can help put the banal daily struggles we face on hold. Television is also a place where lessons can be learned. The problem is when we consider television our reality to the point where we lose ourselves in it. Don’t confuse the entertainment you consume for reality just because the latter is more painful, confusing and loose-ended.
Television will fabricate a weird imitation of you. Real life is the disaster where you may actually be found.