March 11, 2015
As humans, we look to various sorts of media in order to entertain ourselves. Some play video games to escape from everyday life. Some listen to music to feel all sorts of different emotions. Still others read books to take off to fantasy worlds where the trials and tribulations of their own lives can melt away. However, the most popular forms of media, especially for Americans, are television and movies. This essay will discuss both of these media because they are very similar, as they are both audiovisual sources of media. Although many television shows and movies try to rely on realism or plausibility to draw in audiences, many exaggerate what the scenario would actually be like in real life. This essay will focus on the media of television and movies, the exaggeration that both of these use, and how the use of exaggeration can have a negative impact on the mass audience, while focusing on a specific genre and how this genre relates to the use of exaggeration as a whole.
Movies and television are audiovisual forms of media that are loved by audiences of all ages. By today’s standards, they are the ultimate form of entertainment, bringing in billions of dollars every year. Actors and actresses are some of the most famous people on the planet and are adored by countless people. Movies as a medium transform human life in multiple ways. They allow people to take on the thoughts of the lead character, forgetting about their own lives for a short while. In the case of movies set in the past, Moller (2011) says, “It is not enough to simply call a medium of cultural memory, such as a movie, a representation of the past…” (p. 67). They do more than represent the past—they bring it to life. Movies also are a way to bring about social change. Films such as American Sniper and Precious both are examples of how a film can change the way society views the world, with the former bringing more attention to the military and those soldiers affected by PTSD and the latter bringing more attention to the millions living in poverty throughout the United States. Movies can often bring about political change. Room (1988) writes, “In the years before Prohibition, the movies had been seen as major supports for the temperance cause” (p. 12). Television as a medium can transform human life too. When it is actually used on a television, advertising during commercial breaks can cause many viewers to buy a specific product. Commercials can often take on a political agenda as well, showcasing campaign ads for city council members to prospective Presidents of the United States. Langdon Winner (1980) says in his article Do Artifacts Have Politics? that either technology can be created for political outcomes, or political agenda can use established technology to bring about favor for a certain candidate (p. 122). Product placement and brand name mentions also contribute to the political agenda of a movie or television program. Secondly, when television programs are viewed on streaming services, such as Netflix, it allows the viewer to “binge-watch”, or watch multiple episodes in a row. This can lead to sleep deprivation, lower grades, or even dehydration at times.
One ploy that many movies and television programs use is to base them off of “real life events.” Viewers will watch these specific programs or movies because they feel as if the events can happen to them in real life. They feel some sort of rush from this, whether it is the sheer terror of a “real life events” horror movie or the adrenaline-rushing gun fight in the story of a real policeman. These exaggerations can do injustice to the people who actually had to live through these circumstances, especially if one’s rise to fame went through hardships not explicitly expressed in the movie or television program. Exaggeration can also spill into movies or television programs that, though, are not based on real life events, could possibly happen under the right circumstances. This term is referred to as “realistic fiction.” One television genres that uses exaggeration, under the context of realistic fiction, is medical television shows. This genre will be explored in the coming paragraphs.
As explained before, one genre of television that utilizes exaggeration, under the context of realistic fiction, is medical television shows. Medical television shows put the viewer into the heart of a hospital, following the lives of doctors, nurses, surgeons, and other personnel both in and outside of work. Since the shows are not set in some fantasy world or dystopian future, the viewer is led to believe that what happens in these shows could very well, and might, happen in real life. Once the groundwork for a “believable” setting has been established, producers, directors, and writers can toy with the facts of specific diseases, procedures, and everyday life of a hospital, having blatant incorrect details of information. One example of this type of program that greatly exaggerates everyday life in a hospital is ER. ER is set in the emergency room of the fictional County General Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. While this show does focus on the emergency room of the hospital, where more life-threatening injuries are treated, the degree and amount of injuries is highly disproportional. “ER, for instance, was about the heroic things doctors do to save lives, and every episode was rife with calamity,” writes Joanna Weiss (2009, para. 4). This is simply not the case with most emergency rooms. Many patients that come through the ER are not in any sort of life-threatening state. They are simply there because they feel some sort of discomfort, big or small, that needs attention faster than that would be provided by scheduling an appointment, or a cut or bruise that needs quick attention. ER makes it seem as if every patient who comes through the doors of an emergency room has a gunshot wound to the chest or a metal spike protruding from a leg. Granted, this show is based in Chicago, where the crime rate and urban atmosphere are likely to result in more serious injuries; however, the amount of serious injuries is still absurd.
Another medical television program that relies on these same principles of exaggeration and incorrectness, set within a believable setting, is House. House, often referred to as House M.D., follows Dr. Gregory House, a medical genius who leads a team of doctors at the fictional Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital in New Jersey. One way House is guilty of having incorrect facts is through the use of made-up diseases. “Even though all medical dramas have at least one doctor advising the script-writers,” writes Farrimond (2011), “they are still be pretty liberal with the truth” (para. 26). Since the viewer is most likely not a medical expert, he/she will not be able to tell if the disease is made-up or true. Many times, producers and writers will prey upon this unknowing of the audience, making up certain diseases that have sensational, often ghastly, side effects. This is where the exaggeration portion of the program comes in. Dr. House is forced to exert all of his medical genius to solve the case of the rare and deadly disease, usually minutes or even seconds before the patient dies. This is simply not the case in hospitals. Doctors upon first examination, or after a few basic tests, can determine what illness the patient is suffering from. Another way House has incorrect facts is by the myth that doctors do everything. Using sarcasm, Farrimond (2011) writes, “Not only do Doctors have IQs off the scale and can diagnose and treat any condition; but they are also experts in operating MRI scanners, analyzing blood samples in the lab and performing complex surgery!” Doctors heavily rely on the work of lab technicians, nurses, and surgeons. It is completely ludicrous to believe that doctors could fit in the time to do all of these jobs, as well as the time it takes to work with the patient.
A third example of a medical television program that similarly uses exaggeration and incorrectness is Grey’s Anatomy. Grey’s Anatomy is set in the Seattle Grace Hospital in Settle, Washington. One way in which Grey’s Anatomy uses exaggeration is through the use of many calamitous injuries. Similarly to ER, Grey’s Anatomy has a high disproportional rate for the amount of urgent injuries or diseases. A large amount of patients that come in have been in serious accidents that need immediate surgery. While this show may not utilize exaggeration as much as shows like ER, it utilizes many different examples of incorrectness. One example of incorrectness Grey’s Anatomy has is the treatment their doctors suggest for multiple diseases. Grey’s Anatomy has the doctors suggest uncommon, untested, or at times made up treatments for multiple diseases. This is done to sensationalize the show, making it seem like the patient has a 50/50 chance of pulling through. A second example of incorrectness this show has it the professionals’ disregard for protocol. The doctors in this show often times go behind their bosses backs if they think they are correct in treating a patient. They may also do this without the family’s consent, or even without the patient’s approval. A third example of incorrectness prevalent in this show is the amount of relationships between doctors. Farrimond (2011) writes, “…the hospital has been transformed from a bad-smelling institution for the sick to a hip and modern Club 18-30!” In between shifts, there are always doctors, surgeons, and nurses in the show “hooking up” in break rooms, which rarely to never happens in real life. Weiss (2009) writes that Grey’s Anatomy is “…a torrid romance novel disguised as a medical show.” Additionally, many interns have relationships with higher-ups in the hospital, which is taboo in real life and very rarely happens.
One medical television show, however, that is actually fairly accurate is Scrubs. Scrubs follows a doctor by the name of J.D. at Sacred Heart Hospital. One way in which Scrubs accurately portrays hospital are the specialty stereotypes. In the show, the surgeons are jocks, the doctors are nerds, and the psychologists are very sensitive. This is actually very representative of how people in different professions in hospitals are actually like. Secondly, Scrubs accurately portrays how it is for a doctor or surgeon to perform a procedure for the first time. In the series premiere, J.D. hides in a broom closet with his friend Elliott as they hide from a code, or an emergency with a patient. When J.D. finally does have to respond to an emergency with a patient, he messes up and has to ask for assistance from one of the veteran nurses. Thirdly, the relationships in Scrubs are a lot more realistic than those of the likes of Grey’s Anatomy. In Scrubs, you often see residents and residents in a relationship or interns and interns. Rarely do you see the “lower” workers in relationships with the chiefs of staff or head surgeon. The fourth and final way in which Scrubs is a more accurate depiction of a hospital is the competition between doctors or surgeons for a promotion. Many episodes will feature a an intern brown-nosing a physician, often to get better patients, better hours, or a recommendation to be promoted. All in all, Scrubs is a much better depiction of a hospital because it does not try to sensationalize it. Sure, every once and a while there will be a patient with a life-threatening disease or injury; however, Scrubs focuses on the lives of doctors when they are not caring for a patient. It focuses on them as they themselves go through the daily grind of being a doctor, from catching up on sleep in the break room after a grueling 18-hour shift or eating lunch in the cafeteria. Scrubs is different because it does not try too hard, unlike other medical shows.
There are many ways in which the exaggeration and incorrectness of medical television shows has a harmful effect on viewers. Similarly to how McLuhan (1967) believes that a form of media can shape the mass media, which can then lead to group thinking (p.9), the media of medical television shows can have the same effect. They can cause viewers to believe that what is shown on the program is actually what happens in a hospital in real life. They can expect to be rushed to the emergency room when they have a problem, when it actually takes almost an hour for a person to be seen by a doctor. People who go into the medical field may think there will be action around every turn, when much of a doctor’s work is patient care and analyzing charts. Viewers may believe that the treatments they see on these programs actually work, trying these on themselves and harming themselves in the process. Finally, they may believe that doctors do everything in a hospital, leading to MRI technicians and nurses to be undervalued.
In conclusion, medical television programs, such as ER and House, are just one example of a genre of television or movies that uses exaggeration and incorrectness for a more sensationalized viewing experience. The producers and writers of these shows are only looking at ratings or ticket sales, never thinking of the negative impact these programs or movies can have on the minds of viewers and the mass audience as a whole. As society begins to rapidly move to a completely digital way of life, making the transmission of ideas much faster and easier, hopefully those in charge of these media of entertainment being to realize how great of an impact they have on society as a whole, and will work towards making this a positive impact instead of a negative one.
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