The other evening I was watching Scandal. Admittedly I came late to the party, missing the first season, then watching it on demand and jumping into season two enthusiastically. But the other night I very nearly turned it off. Aside from the constant snarl on Olivia’s face—which irritates me to no end—the relentless arguing, fighting and violence displaying the characters as devious, abrasive, confrontational, cruel, disloyal, greedy, hypocritical, hostile, manipulative, melodramatic, self-destructive, self-indulgent, unethical, immoral and well, just plain evil, resulted in me asking the question: Can there be too much conflict in a story? (Okay, I turned to my copy of the NEGATIVE TRAIT THESAURUS to fully state my case.)
Every writer knows that tension and conflict are essential when writing fiction and even in much of nonfiction. It’s what keeps your reader turning the page and I can’t deny I love a story that gets your pulse racing. But the episode of Scandal the other night made me angry. There was so much yelling and aggressive body language that I discovered I had my jaw set and my teeth clenched. I wanted to scream! “Stop it! Stop it! Settle down. Can’t you sit and work out your differences like intelligent adults?” I mean, he is the President of the United States! The leader of the free world! (Something he tells us in nearly every episode.) He should negotiate with dignity, be calm under pressure, patient, and use logic to navigate treacherous waters.
This led me to wonder if perhaps we’ve been influenced too much by reality TV. Ugh, I truly dislike reality TV. When my college-age sons lived home, they coerced me into watching shows like: The Osbournes, The Biggest Loser, American Idol, and a few others. I relished this time with them and was truly interested in what captured their attention. Initially I found it mildly entertaining, although much of it was difficult to watch. I’m uncomfortable seeing people humiliate themselves in front of others or being humiliated by someone else. I couldn’t, and still don’t, understand why people find this funny. I wanted to look away, and I did, often. I’ll admit that watching someone slip on a banana peel does make me laugh, but I’m not proud of it and I only feel okay if someone doesn’t get hurt. I actually wrote to the Ellen DeGeneres show once. She has a habit of scaring people, which is often hilarious, but the time she did it to Taylor Swift, the poor child slipped off her ridiculously high-heeled boots and landed on her keister, hard. I was not only embarrassed for her but I bet she had a serious bruise on her ass to take home as a reminder of Ellen’s prank.
And then there’s this trend of killing off major characters. I didn’t see Will’s death coming the other night on The Good Wife, or the cruel, bloody, and violent death of James on Scandal a few weeks back. There are countless others and it’s been a trending topic on talk shows. Have we become so addicted to the rush? The shock value? The violence? Don’t get me started on that—a topic for another post.
I’m probably not typical of many people, I really hate confrontation and although I can stand up for myself and negotiate peace treaties (20 years as an assistant principal and handling discipline for 11th graders honed that skill) I don’t really want to spend my time watching TV or reading stories that elicit that amount of anxiety for me.
I don’t have an answer to my question. Maybe I’m just getting old. My mantra is pretty much: Why can’t we all just get along? Negotiate agreements when we can and just accept or at least tolerate the differences when we can’t.
What do you think? Is there such a thing as too much conflict? Or perhaps it’s just the way we express it in our writing. I don’t know…