I don't watch too many sitcoms on television these days. Generally, my sitcom watching days ended a few years ago when Evan came along and our evening TV watching changed to things like Nickelodeon and Disney. It may be a little unusual but, even going on nine years old, he still doesn't watch the primary network sitcoms.
I remember back in the 80s and 90s though when sitcoms took what I still see as a major turn for the worse. Gone were the days of physical and situation comedy and instead everything turned toward the characters verbally assaulting one another. TV ushered in the "age of the put-down". Insults abounded in creative ways. A lot of this took place in the "family" sitcoms of that era which seemed innocent enough on the surface but yet the words that the children spoke one to another, as well as to their parents, were often vile and ugly.
Again, I do not watch those sorts of shows much these days but I suspect that things have not changed much.
I have been reflecting a lot recently on the words we say one to another and, specifically, the words I have said to others over the course of my life.
We were on a plane yesterday and, seated a couple of rows ahead of me, were a brother and sister, both in their teens. The entire flight seemed to consist of them putting each other down and slap fighting with one another. As we were getting up to exit the plane, an older woman next to them asked them if that was how they always behave. They answered that it was indeed how they always behave and the older sibling -- the girl -- asked "Isn't this how brothers and sisters always behave?"
Perhaps it is in the post 80s and 90s sitcom world. Perhaps it is.
I have written before about how I feel that folks with low self esteem often attempt to garner self esteem by putting down others. Perhaps this has gone to a somewhat different level as we try to emulate what we see on television and in movies but generally speaking, I still feel that low self esteem drives us to attack others. It is an "I may be bad, but I am not as bad as you" ideology that seems to drive people with low self esteem. I hope, though, that television and movies have not created a situation where this sort of thing has even become more of a mainstream way of life than anything else.
Probably all of us, at some point, have felt that we were the butt of others' jokes. It hurts and, if habitual, can cause great scars on the person upon whom such cruelty is inflicted. Perhaps we have seen our own kids be the target of such things and we know how that can tear away at us. It is deeply painful stuff.
I had a friend in high school who I often said mean-spirited things to. At the time, it seemed like a "guy thing". It just seemed like it was my way of showing that he was my buddy -- that I liked hanging out with him. Today, though, I look back and think about some of the things I said to him ... some of the names I called him ... and I am deeply disturbed. What, in my mind, was intended to show that I appreciated his friendship, could have been hugely demoralizing to him. It could have really damaged his self esteem and may still be affecting him today. I hope not but I really just don't know.
I am not sure where this particular friend is today but I am going to try to find him and apologize.
As the Ephesians scripture says, words must be carefully chosen. They impact others ... for good or for bad. I am not using sitcoms as the red herring here ... the things I have said to others in my life are entirely my responsibility ... but it does bother me if television and movies are making a mockery of the words we say to one another. That sort of thing can slip into a society and be hugely damaging and virtually impossible to turn around I am afraid.