I wrote a blog here I think about the essay I had to write for english class. It was crap and for some reason I got a good grade. A couple of people have wanted to read it but I don’t want to email it to people so I’m posting it here and directing all inquiries to this site. Welcome to those of you who may not have been here before, read our archive and you’ll be sorry that you did, just kidding. This is bad so consider yourselves warned.
Television Reflects Morality
Television has from its inception been a major aspect of our society. It has served to keep the populace informed of the events of the world in an easier and more accessible way than newspapers or the radio. It has brought the nation together over events like presidential elections, the moon landing, the assassination of JFK, and served as a catalyst to ending the Vietnam war by bringing home the horrors of war to a generation for whom it had been romanticized by WWII. It has also been a reflection of our needs, desires, and served to spread the “American Dream” across the world. More importantly though, and perhaps more pervasively, television has served as a reflection of our collective morality. It has often reflected and taught our societies deeply held, and sometimes unspoken, Judeo-Christian values of acceptance, forgiveness, and most of all repentance being the path to salvation.
For my essay I’ve chosen a newer television show called My Name Is Earl. This show is a comedy about a Middle American miscreant who after winning $100,000 dollars from a lottery scratcher is then hit by a car. While recuperating in the hospital from his injuries he watches an episode of the Carson Daly show wherein he learns of the concept of karma: the belief that everything you do is repaid in the next life. Earl reflects on his life and finds that he has done so many bad things in his life that karma has been returning his bad actions back to him. He attributes his being hit by the car to karma paying him back for receiving a good turn he hadn’t earned. He then sets about making a list of all the bad things he has done in his life and endeavors each episode to make up for those mistakes. He decides that in order to have a better life he had to become a better person. In essence he sets about each episode to atone for a “sin” and enacts self-imposed penance. Though this is all portrayed through the guise of following Earl’s newfound belief in karma this is one of the simplest elements of the Judeo-Christian belief structure.
The way this show portrays the main characters is such that they allow us, as the audience to identify, while not ourselves, our beliefs in their day-to-day activity. They strive to be better, to change, they falter in their goals, they show prejudice and they show the consequences of those prejudices and falterings. In at least one episode Earl chooses, based on his prejudice against homosexuals, to not follow through with fulfilling his set goal of atoning for a series of things he had done to Kenny, the person in question. When he returns from his failed attempt at “crossing him off the list” Earl finds his ex wife had ransacked his room. He attributes this misfortune to Karma repaying him for not going through with making amends with Kenny. By not doing his penance in regards to this one sin he has been “punished.” This shows us that in some ways there is belief that to turn our backs on a goal, and in some way on God, there are consequences that must be paid. To achieve his goal Earl must overcome his previous opinion of homosexuality and help Kenny come “out of the closet”. In return for Earl accepting him and his way of life Kenny grants him forgiveness. In a very direct way this episode tries to show us that, while not a purely Christian ideal, acceptance of people in all their forms is an integral part of becoming a better person.
In every episode our desire to see someone overcome adversity is shown. While in most of the shows the adversity Earl is forced to overcome is absurd and ridiculous we still root for him to find a way out. Earl is the perpetual underdog trying to find his way out of the life he has fallen into. He sees his list as his “road map to a better life” and we watch as he tries against all odds to follow it to the end. We want him to earn the forgiveness he’s searching for regardless of whatever it is he must do to earn it. We sit and watch every week someone that could be a version of ourselves struggling against his past and striving to overcome his station in life. We are showed through him our own “road map” in the search for forgiveness for things in our own past. The character being slightly below average, yet still excelling at his task shows us we too can make our lives better by making up for our past. Seeking forgiveness is shown to be Earl’s means for reaching his goal of a better life. That shows the part of our collective morality that says to live a happy life we can’t have regrets and if there are any to be had they need to be reconciled.
Finally we are shown in a very simple way that to find the better life he’s looking for Earl must repent for all the things in his life that he has done wrong. That in essence is what the show is about and what it says about our societies morality: repentance and the atonement for transgressions being the way to happiness. That’s what Earl goes through every episode, he feels regret for a specific thing in his past and sets about to atone for it in someway. When he shirks his responsibility bad things happen to him. When he succeeds in receiving the forgiveness he is seeking we are shown some subsequent good turn come his way. Though the concept of karma is what drives this series it is our collective belief in the “Golden Rule” that is really behind Earl’s actions. Simply put Earl has treated life badly so in turn life has treated him badly and so to turn his life around we are shown that he must start to follow that rule most of us all live by.
Television like every other form of entertainment tends to serve a need in us or show an aspect of our lives we want reflected back to us. Our desires and dreams are lived vicariously through characters created to serve that purpose. Our dreams are often created by those depictions we choose to see. Television is our tool to communicate with each other, to nurture beliefs, and often bond over our shared experiences through it. In Marnie Carroll’s “American Television in Europe” she says that like anything else we come across in life television is what we make of it (294). What we have chosen to make of television depends upon the show you watch and the people it is marketed to but in all shows there is an aspect of our morality underneath it all.
I tried to warn you. And to think I would have gotten an A on this if I had been to one of the workshop sessions.