Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday Night Lights vs The Wire

Recently, I finished binge-watching Friday Night Lights on Netflix. While I made it through the entire series, there were several times when I came really close to abandoning it. While I felt like it captured some interesting elements of the small town America story, what I had the most trouble with was the overall narrative structure. For me, Friday Night Lights stands in sharp contrast to The Wire, which we just finished watching for the first time last year. In contrast to Friday Night Lights, we didn't really binge-watch The Wire. Instead, we watched that show together, savoring each episode like the rich deep flavors of a complex dish.

My biggest problem with FNL was that it quickly became very predictable -- and not in a good way. Essentially, the story runs on a sort of sign wave, with the set-up for a character with a personal issue or a struggle, rising tension, then a resolution that returns the character to the root "good person" that we know they are. Put into a different framework, you might say good person, troubled by sin, then they face their moment of crisis, resolve and absolved. The underpinned framework is that all of these characters are good at the core, it's just these sin events that take them to bad places.

Contrast that with The Wire. In The Wire, we see characters that all have very dark sides. We have a plot line that gets set with problems and challenges. In the flow of a season, we often see a large story arc with characters thematically trying to do what they think is best for the larger good, only to see these efforts actually undermine a larger good -- one that we, as viewers, know was just around the corner. And the characters, we learn to like aspects of them, but also understand that they are not good. There is no black and white morality in The Wire; instead, it's rich with ambiguities that underscore the complexities of humanity. It's original sin. We are all tainted. It is inherent in our humanity.

For me, the contrast between these two series was so palpable, I began framing my thoughts on the two works a couple of weeks ago. But what struck me more was when I was reading the article I referenced in this previous post. In reflecting on the differences between conservative and liberal experiences with comedy and nuance, I could see more clearly why one series might be better for conservatives and one for liberals. FNL has a clearly defined moral structure. There is story and resolution. There is no nuance. In contrast, The Wire is all about nuance. There is no grand moral hand at play in The Wire.

It's not unusual for people to dislike things that we love. Opinions and tastes are diverse. At the same time, it can be challenging to internalize the idea the these same people may be experiencing those things in a completely different way. As marketers, we often draw upon empathy to imagine that we understand the thoughts and the brains around us, to experience the story through another's eyes. This is a reminder that, even as we step into another's shoes, we may be stepping into a wholly different universe where the logic and physics that we understand do not exist.

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