Countless television shows delve into the dark spaces of life, ranging from topics of drug and alcohol abuse or to sexual assault and discrimination. These shows engage millions of people who may not be able to relate to such dire situations.
However, we can’t stop watching. The stories of characters who are good at heart, but who make devastating choices, become personal favorites. Rooting for the “bad guy” in hopes that he will turn his life around seems so cliché, but it still entices us.
I recently sat down to watch the Showtime hit, “Shameless.” Many of my friends and even strangers rave about this show, but I always avoided watching. It seemed like a has-been tale of a drunken father who makes bad choices, leaving the eldest child to raise their family. Turns out I was right on the money.
“Shameless” chronicles a family’s life that includes alcohol addiction, poverty, adultery, insane drug use, bullying, and much more. Although it is one of the darkest shows of recent television, it is still considered a comedy. The family is able to remain humorous in all situations, even when their father goes missing and their gas gets turned off for nonpayment.
This show has the ability to “hit close to home” for so many people because the issues resonate deeply. Whether or not the dark topics from the show relate to their own lives, audiences are still empathetic to these stories.
Thus, empathy is the answer. According to Merriam-Webster, empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”
Regardless of the main characters’ corrupt activities, we are still rooting for them because we are empathetic to their troubles. Witnessing people prosper who have been dealt a bad hand of cards in life is the motivation to watch these pessimistic shows.
Happy-go-lucky tales are fine, but they rarely have the opportunity to leave the same impact as narratives of the opposite side of life. These types of television shows truly broaden our horizons and make us aware of the perils that many deal with on a daily basis.