Gongol.com Archives: October 2023

Brian Gongol

October 11, 2023

Broadcasting Dead plot devices

"Coming to work sick" was a well-worn plot device for basically the entirety of television history up until about three years ago, often manifested in a rapidly-depleted box of on-screen tissues. Chances are fairly good, though, that the experience of a highly contagious pandemic has rendered that trope off-limits for a generation to come: It's too likely to ring hollow with the mainstream audience, which has been conditioned to expect that people have an obligation to stay home when they're under the weather. ■ Some pervasive changes are more subtle than that: Ashtrays, once utterly ubiquitous on-screen, are no longer standard set pieces in workplace sitcoms, because almost nobody's allowed to smoke in the office anymore. (For good reason.) ■ Small artifacts can sometimes stand in for much larger habits and practices, though we're now living through an unusual period of de-materialization, when more and more things are done by fewer and fewer discrete objects. That could make it hard to recognize (at least on-screen) if some of our undesirable habits manifest themselves in obvious props. ■ It's prudent nonetheless to ponder which of our bad habits, just like smoking or coming to work while contagious, are going to look anachronistic in the not-so-distant future. We humans are social learners, and we take many of our cues from what we see represented in the world around us. Intentionally or not, we become the stories we tell ourselves. It shouldn't always take dramatic events to shake us out of showing ourselves the bad habits so we can acclimate to better habits ahead.

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