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Why Are We Here?

I don't mean that question existentially, exactly, though if anyone has that answer, please add it in the comment field.

I mean how did we get to the place where TV, and wildly popular, often smart and brilliant appointment TV at that, is so much about blood and violence.

Now, anyone who reads me knows I love Fox's House, but the combination of last night's rerun of the season finale, combined with last night's rerun of the series debut of Vanished–sort of Without a Trace stretched over a whole season–left me wondering at our collective stomaches for so much forensic horror as our principal entertainment.

Between the two shows, I got to see a graphic shooting, a guy's eyeball pop out of his head, his swollen tongue nearly choke him, his face get partially peeled back, his private parts explode, splattering blood on a doctor and, finally, his disembowelment. On Vanished there was a guy getting shot between the eyes, a dead body in a trunk, a frozen dead body buzzing with flies, and a frightened young boy boy blown to bits, his blood spattered on a failed rescuer.

And that's broadcast TV. Then there is/was Sopranos and Nip/Tuck and Shield.

I'm not judging it exactly. I watch. I'm just asking the question. What is it about our appetite, or our lives, that makes this programming so popular?

There is almost a gross-out one-upmanship going on, started I suppose by CSI and the power that was bound to spawn more imitators than there are epithelials on a palm print. It is "rubbernecking at crash site TV," a sort of scripted take on the reality stuff that a Fox executive once called heroin.

Is it time to call a truce in this severed arms race? Hasn't the real experience of life we see on the news become too much like the scripted gore to make the latter nearly so entertaining. Maybe not a truce, just an effort to leave a little more to the imagination?

The theory goes that our entertainment usually zigs when life zags. In the depression, movies weren't about depression, they were about recovery. That doesn't mean that TV shouldn't mirror life, or give us an excuse to pretend that there is not war and terrorism and crime around us. But are we wallowing in it a bit for shock and awe and ratings value?

Just a thought.

By John Eggerton