Some people will tell you that television doesn’t matter. That it’s all self-serving crap, the lowest common denominator of mindless entertainment, and we should just say good riddance to those whiny TV writers and move on to more important matters.
I am here to tell you that these people are wrong.
Television does matter. Maybe it’s not brokering peace in the Middle East or feeding the hungry or solving the appalling shortage of Hannah Montana tickets in the world (come to think of it, television’s kind of responsible for the Hannah Montana Crisis), but it is, in its own way, making the world a better place (Hannah Montana aside). It’s made my insignificant little world better, anyway.
Three years ago today, my mother passed away after a long battle with breast cancer. The time leading up to her death was a terrible one for me, filled with worry, fear, grief, and not a little guilt. And during those difficult days, the one thing that gave me comfort and strength—more than my friends or my family or a religion I’d never been able to subscribe to—was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sounds a little silly, perhaps, but there it is.
You see, my mother’s illness happened to coincide with my discovery of Buffy in reruns on FX. And during the long, lonely days spent at my mother’s bedside, the one scrap of joy I could cling to was the promise of that next episode of Buffy waiting for me on the VCR. (This was during what I think of as the Dark Ages of Television, before I’d been indoctrinated into the ranks of TiVo disciples). On these days I’d come home from the hospital emotionally drained and mentally exhausted, no fit company for myself or my family. So I’d crawl into bed, turn on the TV, and lose myself in the story of the slayer who fell in love with a vampire. It may sound like a small thing, the comfort I derived from that hour in front of the TV, but believe me it was not.
It was just a TV show, but it made me laugh at a time when I thought I’d never find anything to laugh about again. It brought tears to my eyes—tears of both sadness and joy—at a time when I thought I had already cried myself numb. It showed me that people have an amazing capacity for strength, at a time when I felt weak and helpless. It reminded me that love is all around us, at a time when I felt bereft and alone. And it proved to me that there is magic in this world, at a time when everything before me seemed bleak and barren.
The universe is a big scary place for us mortals and sometimes life can be painful, or difficult, or mundane, or lonely. And in these times some of us turn to the stories on television for a little bit of much-needed solace, or hope, or excitement, or company. Television is important because it allows us to enter the lives of these fictional friends—familiar characters who enter our homes every week to make us laugh, cry, or fall in love—and, even if it’s just for a little while, our own problems don’t seem so insurmountable.
Such is the incredible power of story-telling.
Stories are integral to our very existence as humans. They illustrate our commonalities, point out our flaws, celebrate our triumphs, and bring us together. It is our need to tell stories that defines us and sets us apart from the other species on this planet, the very same need that drives us to create art, music, literature, film and, yes, television.
Every one of the stories we watch on television comes from the mind of a writer: an ordinary person with extraordinary imagination. Those writers deserve to be paid every cent they’re asking AMPTP for, but, more importantly, they deserve our respect.