The Four Hundred: How Television Relationships Are Affecting Our Own

Jay Ellis and Issa Rae in HBO's "Insecure”. Anne Marie Fox | HBO

Jay Ellis and Issa Rae in HBO's "Insecure”. Anne Marie Fox | HBO

Stories share two commonalities which are rooted in the basis of their creation. They are meant to be written, and they are meant to be told. It is the audience, however, who decides whether they are worth being heard.

Some authors care less about the feelings of those in the audience, and more about the authenticity of the origins of the story. Others use their platform to captivate and gain recognition by embellishing details and developing a marketable product.

In the television industry, the product is aimed at entertaining and attracting a base of viewers which leads to financial success for networks, shows and the authors themselves.

The strategies behind making this happen can vary, but in the case of creating shows which depict the human condition, it is usually done by finding ways to relate to the audience.

One way shows relate is by displaying common interaction and elaborating on relationships through realistic situations and plotlines.

As realistic as they may seem, one must resist the urge to use them as lessons for their own relationships or influential factors in decisions they make regarding friends or loved ones.

When we start to put credence into events which did not happen, it desensitizes us to the consequences of our actions which, typically, are not shown to nearly the extent as they are felt in real life.

In a show like ‘How I Met Your Mother,’ the audience is pulled in with humor and settings which seem familiar, and then becomes empathetic to the hardships the characters face as the storyline builds. The comparisons one makes between minor situations in the show and their own life can then evolve into a habit of tailoring reactions seen from characters to what they expect from those prevalent in their own life.

This is not necessarily wrong, and one can learn from certain details of a show, but when used as a baseline for how they assume someone will react in given instances, it can quickly become detrimental to their relationships.

To counteract this, television producers build in struggles between characters which draw similarities to what viewers may be facing in their own life.

This debunks the idea that TV shows do not recognize the inherent struggles of those in a relationship, specifically one of a romantic nature.

Writers will, at times, purposefully spend full episodes focusing in on problems between characters to pique the interest of the audience and dig into issues close to heart.

‘Insecure,’ an HBO original TV show, has a plot which revolves around relationship issues, both internal and external. This goes beyond how problems in a romantic relationship affect the interaction of the two participants, and to the point of impacting one’s social and work life.

The theory is we all face our own set of struggles, and if they are effectively depicted to the target audience, the show will develop a loyal base of viewers.

Models of these depictions have been tweaked and improved to retain viewership for years, but sometimes the fact that the audience knows it is not real can turn them away from the jump.

This is where reality television finds its niche.

These shows use real people and put them in an unrealistic environment to construe the point that fantasies and hardships which seem unrealistic affect real relationships.

‘The Bachelor’ and ‘The Bachelorette’ are the most popularized series’ showing people trying to find love. This fuses real emotion with entertainment and shock value.

Even factoring in that the show has led to successful relationships, it is grossly inaccurate in depicting how the vast majority of those hopeful for love go about finding it. It fails to mirror the simplest element of culturally accepted romantic connections -- monogamy.

Examples of discrepancies found in television relationships can be found in shows running the gamut from fictional sitcoms to reality television.

This does not make it unacceptable to apply general ideology to one’s personal life, but irresponsible to use it as the basis of those decisions.

The writers and producers who market and develop these stories have done an extraordinary job of creating an entertainment tool. However, we must be the ones to understand the extent of these dramatizations and write our own stories to use as a personal tool.