Maybe what’s really getting to me is how different life actually is from television. Of course, we all know that television is just fiction, even when its plotlines are ripped from the proverbial headlines. Still, i know that i’m guilty of always expecting life to be a little more like teevee: constructing killer teasers and opening scenes in my head to neatly wrap up all of the threads my friends and i are tangled up in. Not surprisingly, there’s a theory of communication to match this sensation, and it was coined by a Dean from just down the street.
No, not from Drexel (ha!), from Penn. The man’s name is George Gerbner, and my academic obsession du jour is his Cultivation Theory. Gerbner’s entire study is based around acts of violence that consume a frightening amount of the television we watch every day. His hypothesis, which has been proven again and again through extensive field study, is that the amount of violence we watch regularly on television is an accurate predictor of the amount of violence we expect in our day to day lives. Gerbner even accounts for such an occasional addict as myself, accurately assigning me a low level of anxiety about real-life violence (and, i’m mostly just afraid of being ambushed from around dark corners by vampires).
My current kvetch isn’t about violence, though, it’s about sex. My textbook’s condensed version of Cultivation doesn’t address violence’s sordid little sister at all, and i somehow doubt that good’ol’ George would invite a visit from a random Drexel student just to talk about making whoopee, so i guess i have to field this one on my own.
Does the sexual content of television affect my expectations about life? I’d say that it does, without a doubt. I’ve watched a lot of boob-tube in my life, and i have to say that i expect out of romance what i have been taught to look for. I expect torrid affairs and even more torrid breakups … i expect magical first kisses and even more magical first times … i expect random hook ups and even more random pairings with friends i’ve had forever. Sometimes life comes through for me, and sometimes it doesn’t. All through high school i was waiting for that magic catalyst that all of my favorite characters seemed to have received to get my love-live jump-started. It never came. College came on hotter and heavier, but with a bit of deceit: those big-kid parties weren’t what i had been lead to expect. Despite that, some things actually did come out perfect. And, some breakups are just as torrid as the affairs that precede them.
If life complies just once out of an entire year with what we’re hoping for, suddenly we are infused with a sense of resonance … the feeling of our existence actually breaking down and mirroring the media just like we were secretly long for it to do. Every time we get what we want, we immediately want more; why shouldn’t we get more of what the onscreen couples have? I’ve been sitting on my couch like a proverbial potato this week watching a slew of beautiful people bed down with other people… i’ve watching scenes jump from a few tentative kisses to the morning after. I watched Buffy decide to have sex and follow through on it without coming up for air from her violent kiss. In a way i really do want it… all of it, and i feel like i’m missing something just because i don’t have it. Not because i am missing the companionship they have, or the happiness, but the raw energy that lies between the first kiss and the next morning.
The only problem is that characters don’t seem to worry about consequences, mostly because consequence is what keeps them on the air. In reality, people pay for consequences with more kinds of currency than i like to keep count of.
And, here i am, all alone in my room putting off another phone call to the one person i have the tiniest inkling of any relative interest from at all. What am i more afraid of, that it’s bound to fizzle out unlike my onscreen brethren — or that it might snowball into something i’m not ready to deal with faster than i can deal with it? I suppose it’s just like asking if i’m richer or poorer for hanging on to so much of my so-called currency.
One thing’s for sure… George Gerbner is right about television: it isn’t necessarily about real life, but it colors our perceptions of it a lot more than we initially let on.