My mother’s alea definitely iacta est

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2011 at 11:25 am

So I have a list of ideas for WordPress posts written down in a text file, because I’m old school like that, and whenever I’m hard up for one of these posts — because you don’t realise how much you don’t talk about your job until you’re compelled to talk about it 2-3 times a week — I consult the list. Top of the list right now is “My mother and television”.

(A note on the title of this post: alea iacta est is a quote attributed to Julius Caesar, “the die is cast”, indicating that in a game of chance, you’ve reached the point where it’s too late to change your mind.)

Different generations, of course, have different views of media, particularly such a pervasive, invasive media as television. My mother grew up in the generation that suddenly found itself, around the age of twelve, spending the afternoon inside watching TV instead of outside running around. When I was a little kid she read books like Kill Your Television and articles like When Television Ate My Best Friend, and as a result I watched very little TV as a child. I don’t recommend reading When Television Ate My Best Friend, but the sentiments aren’t uncommon: like many of my parents’ generation, it laments a childhood lost to television. I don’t think a lot of people who feel that way realise that our childhoods would not have been like theirs even if the television hadn’t been invented, but that’s an argument for another time.

The point is that my mother and I come at TV very differently. She doesn’t seem to have any filters in place, perhaps a result of when the TV came into her life. For example, we had a months-long fight about the television show Rome, because she was incapable of filtering.

Here’s why we fought: I was watching Rome because I’m a classical history geek, and early Imperial Rome is my specialty. I didn’t really care for the sex and violence in the show, but I accepted them as part of Roman life of the time and HBO’s marketing, and ignored them in favour of the politics. I was living at home when it began airing, so I was watching Rome on the TV in the living room, which has traditionally been the only television in our house.

My mum could not get past the sex, in particular. It’s not as though the sex was even close to the kinkiest the Romans got, but she saw a sex scene in the show and couldn’t get over it. “Why do you want to watch that? It’s just pornography.” (We were not a pornography-friendly household.) “Why would you expose yourself to that? And all the violence? It’s not educational, it’s just trash.”

Well, yes, actually, I would argue, it is educational, it brings an ancient culture to life with more accuracy than fiction generally manages to do, and I’m not watching for the sex, that’s not the point of the show. HBO includes what I consider to be a gratuitous amount of sex in most of its shows, but they know it sells, so I can’t really blame ’em and frankly the sex doesn’t bother me. I’ve read Catullus, if sex bothered me I wouldn’t have made it to my second year of Latin class. More importantly, sex didn’t kill the story — it didn’t interfere with the essential tale the show was trying to tell.

She couldn’t let it go. She has a unique inability to link “things she doesn’t like to see” (sex and violence) to “subconscious expressions of human feelings and emotions” (jealousy, greed, hunger, grief). She has no problem understanding the association in real life; she’s actually quite good at it. She gets it in novels, even. It’s just for some reason, when it’s on television, she can’t do it. And so we fought for months about Rome until finally I gave up and stopped watching it, because a television drama wasn’t worth taking a moral stand against the woman who was putting a roof over my head. Plus I was tired of the implication I was a pervert for watching a TV show that had sex in it.

This seems like a story more fitted to my blog than my professional writing website, but it points up, I think, that people package stories differently for different media, and they percieve them differently as well. Some stories are more “fitted” to one medium or another; it’s possible to take a story that should be a movie and write a novel around it, but it takes a lot of skill and usually never makes for as good a novel as it would have a film. And we all know what struggles writers seem to have appropriately adapting books to a visual medium. It’s one more skill in the set: knowing how your story should be told.

And also it’s important not to fight with your mum over HBO television. It’s just not worth it.


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