Some people think we need inspiring characters on the telly. Those people are wrong.
I've seen some great role models on TV. Daria Morgendorffer, from the MTV cartoon Daria, might be my favourite: highly intelligent, deeply cynical and resolutely determined to walk her own path in life. Daria is exactly the kind of teenager I'd love my kids to be; although I paradoxically hope they find their teenager years more enjoyable than she did. Daria is that rarest of television characters: a good role model who is also good to watch.
Because let's face it: the best TV characters don't tend to be people whose examples anyone would really want to follow. George Costanza? Basil Fawlty? Walter White?
The pantheon of great characters runs the gamut from insufferable neurotics to terrifying sociopaths, because when you're at a safe distance, those people are the most fun to watch.
Even the "nice" characters, the most loveable of screen heroes, tend to make appalling hashes of their lives that serve more as cautionary tales than positive inspirations. On the other hand, characters possessed of competence, integrity and mental stability are far less exciting. Character flaws are the essence of both drama and comedy – without them you end up with a perfect angel constantly beset by external troubles, and you just get sick of their whining.
What does it say about us, that we love to watch the dysfunctional, the destructive, and the downright malevolent, ahead of the virtuous and the sweet? Fortunately, it says very little.
There is a school of thought that we need good role models on TV, that by setting a good example our small-screen heroes can help us be better people.
Given the demonstrated predilection of the public for mayhem, we can count ourselves fortunate that this school of thought is rubbish. People aren't shaped by television: television is shaped by people. We don't need TV that teaches us to be better people, we need TV that teaches us what good TV is, so we can keep making it. That's why, although I'd love my kids to grow up like Daria, I'm not seeking to improve them by their watching habits – I'd rather show them Seinfeld, Black Books and Hannibal and show them how brilliant television can be.
If they end up violent criminals, that'll be on me, not Netflix.
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