After recently re-acquiring access to Netflix, I decided to sit down and watch the fourth season of Sons of Anarchy. I don't watch television, that is to say via a cable box. I some times find a series on Netflix and decide to watch it through. SOA is not the only show I've watched on Netflix. I've watched The Walking Dead, Breaking BadHell On Wheels, Dexter, and a when I had SHOTIME On-Demand I watched the first season of Californication.

I didn't think too seriously about the content I was viewing, but rather accepted it openly because it was hailed to have some of the greatest drama--And proved it on many fronts. Now, however, after an observation made by a friend in mind and watching S4 of SOA, it's become apparent that all these shows are incredibly dark--Too dark perhaps. It's not just that they have darkness about them, but that rather, darkness is all they seem to have to them. Each one of them remains relentlessly hopeless with hardly a chance to feel good. And a majority of them seem depressingly fatalistic toward their characters. No chance for escape, this is life for them, and will be for at least as far out as we can see on the horizon. It's ironic that the finale of the fourth season of SOA closes with a cover of the memorable "House of Rising Son" because as far as I can see, there is not even the remotest sign, not a single ray of sunshine. The question is why?

Why has television turned down this road? And why is this new breed of drama so popular? What does this say about our collective psyche, or about our philosophy in general? Does this express an underlying sense of resignation to tragic fate? Is this where we're really at? Historically, there have always been tragedies, but they always had a fair balance with more optimistic stories and plays they never seemed to be so brutal and detached.

Any way, regardless of what I've here written, share your thoughts and analyses on the current state of entertainment.

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Matthew, 

In many of the new dramas on television, writers that work for the movie industry have begun writing television series instead. As an example Rian Johnson, the director/writer of Looper, wrote and directed an episode of Breaking Bad that was very popular.

If you ask me I'd say it's because most good new shows are dramas and thats just how they write them these days. People are still watching them and enjoy to watch them so the writers continue to indite these kinds of shows.

I really enjoy Psych, it isn't depressing and its pretty funny.

It don't think its all that difficult to diagnose.  We live in trying times ... or, so the conventional wisdom says.  Daily TV news is increasingly shrill -- reporting no news with the same level of panic that they report catastrophe.  Entertainment reflects that mindset.

It isn't all that unique.  TV hasn't really done that ... but we've had dark gritty movies for a good long time.  I don't think it represents "an underlying sense of resignation to our fate", though.  Seems to me more of a desire to see man cope with extreme circumstances, and come through it. Personally, I like that kind of entertainment.  I like to see men tested.  Limits pushed.  Whether they break or thrive under extreme pressure, in extreme settings.  Could I take it?  It can be as inspirational as not.

I haven't seen quite a few of the shows you cite.  But, some of my favorites are of that dark gritty variety -- 24, TWD, Justified, Hell on Wheels.  The Walking Dead is a group of regular people coping with the most extreme circumstances imaginable ... with varying degrees of success.  It isn't so much about the zombies -- they're just the setting.  Its about the characters' being tested by the setting, and how they cope (or don't).

Justified is a modern western, and honestly almost a tribute to the South ... with a gunslinging cowboy Marshal heading back to his backwoods roots to deal with redneck criminals that're cleverer than they look.  24 was the definition of a man coping with the extreme -- the ticking bomb.

Hell on Wheels is gritty ... but I don't find it any grittier than a lot of westerns that preceded it.  Certainly more than the old 60s stuff, but not more recent.

There's a lot of lighter fare out there as well.  For every dark Law and Order SVU, there's a lighter Burn Notice or Suits or Big Bang Theory.

JB

Or it's just creeping nihilism taking over American moviemaking. American shows don't do well with moral ambiguity. But they do not find it difficult to undermine moral convictions. I've heard from too many people about seeing American movies & later TV shows from back two generations to dismiss their importance. Mankind sees America in stories; I don't think it's different for Americans either.

Darkness, existential crisis, and inescapable tragedy has been a feature of literature, drama, poetry, history, art, television, and film at least since the time humans began writing anything. This particular zeitgeist you're latching on to has many analogues in the past. I don't think it's problematic or damaging. It's actually pretty interesting.

+1

Just because it's interesting does not mean it's not problematic. I can think of several examples of danger. Plato & Aristotle were adamant about how tragedy was exacerbating problems in Athenian democracy; Aristophanes had the same opinion, if for somewhat different reasons. Another example: Modern literature since Rousseau has been making political problems worse steadily. Perhaps the art of the fin de siecle & the sequel to the Great War is even more directly, more obviously problematic.

Modern literature since Rousseau has been making political problems worse steadily.

Citation? Honestly curious here. 

If you like anecdotes, young men took to yellow & suicide because of 'Werther' & Goethe ended up really hating all the people visiting him in Weimar in his old age because of a youthful mistake.

What I had in mind: Romanticism was the first time literature, with increasing readership at that, became a fundamental & open criticism of the modern political order. Heroes & the newly-minted heroines drop off like flies in face of the modern way of life. It's been that way since. Compare Swift--& More--to modern writers, whose understanding of satire is worryingly weak. Compare Shakespeare to any modern writer worth mentioning.

Also, think how many great writers were revolutionaries, at least in speech--not just Hugo & any number of strange French poets, who might never have been suspected of political obsessions; & the occasional reactionary, some even throwing in their lot with Nazis or Fascists, later; & then try to find any great writers who tried to reconcile their audience to their political order. How hard is it to find several writers per decade who became celebrities by elaborately trying to shock the bourgeois going back two centuries now? It's still attempted in these latter days.

If by exacerbating you mean the author bringing what he sees as the problems of our society and politics to the forefront of the peoples' minds then I might agree.  I think many authors, ancient through current, characterized or exagerate(d) those things they see or saw as the problems with society to bring them out of obsurity and into the minds of the people who would then discuss and address them.

That's one thing, & you are dead right about it. Focus & repetition are essential. The other thing, a few writers point out that the way people think is influenced by some ideas--entire societies--& that those ideas have consequences. Americans like happy ends, for example. Athenians liked tragedies.

Because people watch it. 

Fallacy of accident?  You only watch dark television shows so you believe all television shows are dark.

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