New TV Trend or Old

The emerging trend on cable series is the killing off of the lead characters, a development that crosses a boundary of trust of previous generations of television shows. Harken back to the days of “Gunsmoke” and no matter what happened, the lead characters would return week after week. Even JR returned to “Dallas” because his death was only a dream in the next season. Some critics call it a betrayal of an unwritten agreement between the television industry and the viewer. A trust has been broken. Others call this dramatic turn a conscientious reflection back to the viewer of a more reality-based probability of circumstances. Writers and producers are killing off beloved fictional figures, ones with whom the viewers identified.

The story of the Maccabees is also a case of lead characters dying and the plot carrying on to a morally pleasing ending – when we tell the story to the children. The actual source material, Maccabees I and II, is far messier. The father, Mattathias, starts the rebellion by slaying the Jewish idolater. The plot shifts from there to his eldest son Judah taking command of the rebel force and only then are we told that Mattathias has died. Following the story we have already shifted our focus to Judah and we are not unduly upset at the death of his father.

Judah Maccabee prevails and liberates the Temple in Jerusalem. Hurray! They celebrate and rededicate the temple after which the children’s version of the story ends. However, the real story does not end. Judah dies a few months later by the betrayal of an allied army in battle. One by one, the other brothers are killed as well, one in battle and the rest by regicide. Sounds terrible, does it not?

Their sacrifice, their mistakes, failures and successes led to the founding of a more secure dynasty – the Hasmoneans. The unfolding consequences of the Maccabean saga were that the Temple ritual was solidified, a new class of teachers/officials called the Pharisees arose, and the process of selecting the books for the second part of the Bible began. History does not always fit into a plot for a children’s story but the reality is infinitely more interesting.

Maybe this year’s producers are not wrong after all.

Lazy Binary

In an interview on NPR, Charles Blow was discussing his recently published memoir that contains traumatic subject material. He dismissed a great deal of the commentary that has surrounded the subject matter, labeling it “lazy binary.” The binary refers to the digital world of “0’s” and “1’s” that excludes the use of any other terms. The literary practitioner of the lazy binary is guilty of ignoring shades and subtlety, but also of a logic fallacy of insisting that there are two equidistant views of a controversy that resides in the middle between them.

Subtlety is not convenient. In the tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) world of digital media, readers skim rather than read through the text. Subtlety requires paying attention and following an argument step by step as it moves from broad statement to specific points of explanation. Subtlety takes time and focus. Subtlety is the victim of sound bites and twitter. Most would agree that the world does not need more sound bites.

Subtlety has a long history of being ignored or denigrated but the logic fallacy is actually more pernicious. This insistence that there are two equally worthy opposing views on any given assumption is a favorite tool of partisans, ideologues, fanatics, and hell bent capitalists. In a given circumstance, there may only be one legitimate point of view but an opposing view is given equal billing because it seems fairer or reads better. Given a forum, a self-serving ideologue can do a lot of damage.

I feel like we are discussing elementary school. Subtlety does not exist because the young minds have not developed enough. The idea that a controversy may have more than one side is also an early academic grades lesson too. So is the corollary that not all sides are equal.

Why then do we have to constantly remind ourselves now of these early lessons? Lazy binary, indeed.