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The TV screen is not a mirror, yet we always use it as one.

By: Brian Burke

The world is an ugly place. Anybody can turn on any news channel, and within five minutes they would have a detailed description as to how and why that’s true. And it doesn’t take long to become exhausted by it, and we soon turn on “Parks and Recreation,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Atlanta,”or whatever the new Netflix original is. We escape from this world of problems and stress into a polished-over one of security, familiarity, and adventure. Seasons deep into our latest obsession, we find ourselves almost emotionally connected to these characters, relating to their situations, and empathizing with their feelings. We admire their witty remarks, unusual quirks, and unwavering confidence so much so it would be a lie for any one of us to say there aren’t at least a few  characters we wish we were more akin to. TV affects our views drastically in a wide field of subjects, including, most importantly, how we see ourselves. What was supposed to be an escape from stress and pain, becomes the source of it. The only lens people used to catch a glimpse of themselves was through the mirror. Now, more so than ever, we view ourselves through the filter of the TV screen. And we do not like what we see.

Illustration by Benjamin Schroeder

Illustration by Benjamin Schroeder

“Insatiable,” Netflix’s latest and greatest jab at teen drama, tells the story of a dorky girl, Patty Bladell, who’s bullied for her weight. She suffers a freak accident and is put on a three month long, liquid-only diet that leaves her thin and “beautiful.”  She draws the attention of a beauty pageant coach, the boys at school, and the girls who used to make fun of her. Loyal to her friends and family though, she vows to exact revenge on everyone who mistreated her. Finally “pretty” and stereotypically attractive, each episode lays out a series of Patty’s misadventures and dealings in pursuit of that very vengeance. Unfortunately, this sends a mixed message to its viewership. The world is your playground, play however you want -- but only if you fit in one of society’s cookie cutter stereotypes. 

In the past, movies and TV shows related to business and crime almost exclusively featured men duking out their personal version of rough-justice or living vast, luxurious lives funded by their dicey presence in the stock exchange. However, recent shows and movies feature women chasing criminals (or being criminals) and exploiting the business world with the same tenacity that used to be reserved only for men. Yet, there is still something different about it. It’s not quite equal. For women in roles of intelligence and power, they are almost always still accompanied with the presence of other equally equipped men, whether ally or adversary, such as in “Empire,Queen of the South,” or “Seven Seconds.” Women have made incredible progress by taking on more powerful and central roles in the field of entertainment media. But until female characters no longer have to have their power and authority in a show firmly tied to the power and authority of a male character, while male characters mostly demonstrate those qualities independently, there is still much ground to cover.

Men are also not impervious to the effects of the entertainment industry’s outrageous standards. Whether it is a comedy, action, drama, or some overly specific Netflix genre, it’s a safe bet that at some point, some shredded, brooding man will take off his shirt. Furthermore, it’s hardly unusual to suspect that the actor playing the shredded guy wasn’t always that shredded. Actors and actresses undergo grueling periods of intense physical training to prepare for movies. More often than not, days before the shoot, actors will dehydrate themselves and alternate between periods of intense dietary consumption and strict fasting to ensure low levels of fat, bursting veins, and next-to-useless muscle. For example, The New York Post talked with Hugh Jackman about how he trained for the Wolverine role in the X-Men franchise. Taking advice from the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Hugh would consume over 6,000 calories a day while training, and then deprive himself of any water before filming. The healthier some of these people look in movies, the unhealthier they may be in real life. And it’s all for the sake of indulging some toxic, misconception of masculinity conceived by Hollywood as though someone who lacks a six pack or a thousand-yard stare is unworthy of being a male hero.

The world of television and cinema is a pretty place. Turn on any show, and within five minutes of scrolling through pretty faces and sitcoms, it’s easy to know why that’s true. We turn on *insert favorite show here*, *here*, and *here*. We leave behind a world of friends, family, and reality and trap ourselves in a world of self-inflicted insecurities. Hours deep into our latest obsession, we find ourselves emotionally disconnected from ourselves as we look to the pixelated people on the screen to tell us what to do and what to feel. We envy their witty remarks, unusual quirks, unwavering confidence, not to mention their idealistic faces and bodies, so much so that it would be a lie for any one of us to say we don’t hate ourselves just a little bit.

Wake Mag