Quality nightmares

Around Christmas last year there was a week during which I had incredibly vivid dreams. They were strange, complicated dreams that hung in my head for hours and hours after I awoke. A lot of them were nightmarish, but on one night I had a dream that still haunts me.
It was basically a zombie nightmare but it was vivid and linear and a little too real. I still can’t really bring myself to say aloud some of the things that happened. It was really awful.
The thing about dreams is that they tend to come from somewhere. Things go into our brain, as we go about our day-to-day life (people, events, places, themes, objects) and those things get all jumbled around and spat out again while we’re sleeping. Sometimes it’s tricky to exactly discern the origin but in this case I can say, with some confidence, what went into my brain to make this nightmare come out. Those things were: The Walking Dead (season one), Pillars of the Earth (miniseries) and several episodes of Boardwalk Empire.
That’s three pieces of pretty great TV. They are well-written, well-acted, well-crafted pieces of narrative. And yet I can’t say with any conviction that the television justified the nightmares.
I don’t deal with gore very well. And by “gore” I don’t just mean when the zombie graphically rips out someone’s guts in a horrific thirty second sequence, I mean basic things like people getting shot or having their throats slit. My tolerance for this kind of thing is pretty low; even the implication of violence gets to me sometimes. Themes and ideas and threats wheedle their way into my brain and they fester there. The images hang in my mind for a long time and will occasionally pounce at me from behind other thoughts, especially in the middle of the night or when I’m alone. They feed into the anxiety that lurks sometimes at the back of my mind and help stoke it, at times, into a roaring fire.
Adding to this is another (potentially more problematic) opinion: I don’t really believe in “quality” TV. I know it exists and I’m fairly well acquainted with the academic theory surrounding it, I just tend to think that whole thing is a teeny bit bullshit. For those who haven’t done TV studies, “quality TV” is the idea that there is a brand of television which is “better” than your average programme. This idea plays into notions of high and low culture. It rallies against television’s traditional association with the later by championing certain programs as pillars of excellence and class. HBO has made its name by doing this: it’s not television, it’s HBO.
This idea that some television is intrinsically more worthy just don’t ring true for me.
Plus there’s an idea, somehow, that this notion of “quality” trumps all sorts of other things. There’s an idea that we should watch these things. You haveto watch this. You just HAVE to.
Look, I’m sorry but quite frankly I don’t “have” to do anything.
I am probably not going to watch Games of Thrones. There. I’ve said it. I don’t really want to watch Games of Thrones (or Breaking Bad or any number of other things). And I hope we can still be friends. I know that these shows are well made and well written and I know that a lot of people love them for good reason. I know I’m going to get at least one comment from someone saying “But Alex! You really should watch X show! It isn’t even that violent!”
But the simple fact is that these shows (and some others of their ilk) contain a bunch of things I would rather not put in my brain.
It isn’t as though by making this choice I am passing up an oasis in the desert; there’s an awful lot of excellent TV out there and a lot of it doesn’t contain these things. I’m not saying that TV is better when made without that gore and sex and violence, I think it has a place; I just don’t necessarily enjoy that brand of television.
And I think that should be my choice. I should be able to choose what I consume without pressure from the people around me and from society. We’re all adults here; surely we’re above that.
So I am going to continue to watch Dance Academy and Doctor Whoand call it quality programming. And I’ll sleep peacefully at night having frivolous dreams about ballerinas and Time Lords.
That concludes Potentially Problematic Opinions Month for another year.
A huge thanks to all the people who participated in PPOM this year: Lizzy, Britt, Jessica, Noni and Tim. It’s been fun.
Next week we return to our regular programming. Or something akin to it anyway. Stay tuned. 

Further reading

December – home

I spent the first minutes of 2018 on the beach. I’ve never actually spent New Year