(In my opinion, the biggest argument against TV's influence is The Mullet. That's right, The Mullet. Everyone in the deepest of Boondocks has a satellite dish these days, a link to the outside world, and yet people in even well-populated towns across America still think that The Mullet looks good. I just don't get it.)
Artistic expression originates somewhere, out of some experience, real or imagined. And as I've seen it, the standards are set far higher for those imagined experiences. How many times have you walked out of a movie that was neatly packaged, all loose ends tied, the heroine and the hero riding off into the sunset, and thought, Yeah, right. Ron Howard explained that several critics gave him grief over including a scene in Apollo 13 in which Marilyn Lovell loses her wedding ring down a motel drain the very morning that her husband, Jim, was strapped to a rocket for his ill-fated space flight. But...that actually happened.
Narrow misses, ridiculously tragic losses, unlikely romances. These are things we relegate to books and Hollywood films--and usually to the second-rate ones, the ones that aren't edgy or avant-garde or "realistic." I just read an essay (in the anthology pictured in the right sidebar, for those of you who aren't viewing this through a feed reader) by Phillip Lopate called "Against Joie de Vivre." He cites a study of depressed and optimistic people, and the depressed people were obviously more unhappy, but apparently had a more "realistic" worldview.
Why can't we expect art to refract the many colors of happiness? Why can't art mimic the serendipitious as well as the calamitous, without being discredited? Why are those experiences, when "fictionalized" through art, somehow less believable? Fiction can often be equated with untruth, which would explain at least in part the relatively recent fanaticism for memoir (and the subsequent scandals over memoirs whose fictive qualities have been uncovered).
Forgive me if what I am about to say sounds hopelessly postmodern, but in many ways, truth is fickle, it is what we make it out to be. Memory is often an unreliable witness. So why not read or see or listen to what people have to say, knowing all along that this is their truth, as they see it, and appreciating it as such? This is why I can watch movies based on books and not really compare the two; I loved Twilight the movie, for instance, as much as I loved the books, even though the two didn't line up perfectly.
Although I might enjoy teen vampire flicks, rest assured I won't be donning knock-off Uggs with miniskirts anytime soon.(And now you know my secret shame: I, a candidate for a Master's in English, love a teenage vampire series. I consider it the dessert of my reading list.)
But seriously, I can enjoy them both because I don't expect them to be anything, to do artistically exactly what I want them to do. Heck, I don't even like watching movie previews or "scenes from the next..." whatevers on TV. I like to be surprised, because then if I'm disappointed, I'm at least disappointed on a film or book or show's merits (or lack thereof) rather than how well it lived up to my expectations. This approach I took from Calvinism (the cartoon, not the religious philosophy), when Calvin confessed to Hobbes, "The lower I keep everyone's expectations, the happier they are when I fulfill the least of them."
I prefer to believe that sometimes uncanny coincidences can lead to life-changing events. I prefer to believe when people say they've seen a ghost or an angel. I prefer to affirm other peoples' truths, even if the story ends with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan falling in love as the curtain falls on one of their romantic comedies.