Before we begin, let’s look at some definitions.
Iconoclasm (noun icon·o·clasm \ī-ˈkä-nə-ˌkla-zəm\): the doctrine, practice, or attitude of an iconoclast
(Don’t you just hate it when a definition contains the root or original word?)
Iconoclast (noun icon·o·clast \-ˌklast\): a person who criticizes or opposes beliefs and practices that are widely accepted
1: a person who destroys religious images or opposes their veneration
2: a person who attacks settled beliefs or institutions
As you can see from one of the above definitions, the term iconoclast was created to describe a person who would literally destroy religious images (icons). Nowadays, we defer to the simple definition of the word iconoclast.
Wherever you look, iconoclasm is everywhere. And on TV, it comes up in many instances. You will definitely see people stick closely to the original definition of iconoclasm as they deride religion. You will see people going out of their way to make fun of celebrities. That, too, can become annoying. Another form of iconoclasm is straight-up character assassination.
Dealing with Religion (Classical Iconoclasm)
Questioning religion in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s understandable and natural. We should ask ourselves questions about old institutions and beliefs and judge them on their merits. We should do our own research concerning the history of religions and religious texts. We can therefore make educated decisions in these areas.
It’s perfectly fine when episodes are dedicated to questioning how some people in the story’s universe live their lives with respect to religion. For example, there can be someone who’s forcing their beliefs on others and failing to adhere to the things they say they believe. This is a problem in the real world.
There are sometimes issues that arise because religions might bar some medical practices or procedures. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses are against blood transfusions. This can be a point in some dramas.
That said it’s the way some people go about criticizing religion that I take issue with.
For instance, take Bill Maher. All things considered, I think we hold very similar views on most things. He considers himself a liberal and is willing to call out extremists on both sides of the political spectrum. He is also a proud atheist.
I’m not necessarily an atheist, but I don’t really follow a religion. The issue I take with Maher is how aggressive he is against religion. It’s to the point of deriding the people who follow it. I will need to go into more detail about him in another post.
Another atheist who is like this is Seth MacFarlane. You can see how he feels about religion through his characters, especially Brian Griffin. As I mentioned in the previous episode, Brian essentially became a mouthpiece for MacFarlane and this included making the dog an atheist.
Brian can be especially obnoxious with his non-belief. He looks down on people who believe in religion and will take opportunities to say they’re all crap. One episode in particular, “Not All Dogs Go To Heaven,” was extremely hamfisted in its approach. Brian was even persecuted on television and compared to Hitler for not believing in God. And at the end, he protested a book burning in the name of Jesus. He even talked down to a newly-converted Meg by asking her what kind of God would make her so ugly despite having a hot mom like Lois. That really happened.
Making Fun of Celebrities
TMZ is especially guilty of this. The show is a guilty pleasure for anyone who watches it. Admittedly, I have watched some weekend showings and many installments of the live weekday broadcast.
What do I like:
- He is normally the voice of reason.
- The show touches on more topics than other entertainment shows.
- Some of the staff members are relatable or otherwise down-to-earth.
- People can call in. That’s a blessing and a curse.
- Harvey Levin can make fun of himself. There’s time for hate mail at the end of the show.
Even if I can watch this show, I don’t care for unwarranted celebrity-bashing. Sure, they’re rich but it doesn’t justify badmouthing people for no good reason. If someone says something stupid or hypocritical, fine. Call them out for it. But don’t make fun of a celebrity’s looks, slow year, or spouses. I don’t like it when non-famous people are treated like that, either, for what it’s worth.
Sometimes, characters will shift. It might be a natural occurrence as the situations they find themselves in will affect their demeanor and outlook over time. We may or may not like it, but those instances are not egregious.
Generally, many bad character shifts occur as writers try to make other characters look good by comparison. Such a tactic is often used to boost one person into a leading role.
In real life, tactics are used to push voters toward certain candidates.
Why not find other ways to make someone look good? It’s usually easier to just tear down one person.
In Terms of Romance
Character assassination is a tactic to help the audience get behind one pairing in particular. This is one thing soap operas have in common with fanfics. Imagine there’s yet another one of those dreaded love triangles. A man has to choose between two women or a woman has to choose between two men. There’s chemistry all around, but whom should the man/woman choose? Well, the writers could make this easier on themselves by changing one character, especially if the writers have a preferred pairing.
Every now and then, there will be a situation like this on soaps. A man may even be married but have chemistry with, another woman, especially if she is the mother of his child. But how do we break up the marriage? That’s easy. Turn the wife into a paranoid, scheming shrew. Oh my God! She’s such a terrible woman for trying to keep her man from his own son and trying to hurt the boy’s saintly mother. That wife deserves to lose her husband.
Vince McMahon’s Middle Finger to His Viewers
As you can see, the WWE has a version of this. They’re called jobbers. Oftentimes, even someone who has long been popular could be placed in this role. An older veteran is needed to promote a young, up-and-coming star. The veteran has to lose matches in order to make the young guy look menacing. Sometimes a bunch of stars has to lose to someone in order to promote a storyline.
There’s something else. If you’re a fan of professional wrestling, you know how often the superstars make face-heel turns and heel-face turns. When the writing is there, these can be very compelling. And it helps to give some newer stars a much-needed push.
However, what’s going on right now in the WWE is very close to the simple definition of the word iconoclast, in that Vince McMahon is going against what most of his audience wants. McMahon loves “mastodons,” or big men. He prefers them and thinks they make better heroes. He also likes to promote one guy at a time. Everyone else is out in the cold.
For the longest time, John Cena has been the face of the company. He worked for so long because he had the skills and charisma, but even that began to wear on many viewers and fans. Some other budding stars, like Zack Ryder — who was creating his own push, mind you — were left by the wayside. Other times, Cena was outright stealing heat from interesting storylines.
There have been stars who genuinely garnered fan interest, but they were never really respected by Vince. CM Punk ultimately left because of this. The recently retired Daniel Bryan went up against the authority because he wasn’t the “prototypical” hero.
This is where character assassination comes in. At one point, the writers put Daniel Bryan with the Wyatt Family, a connection of Southern kooks led by the surprisingly flexible Bray Wyatt. This was an attempt to thoroughly destroy DB’s character, but it was quickly abandoned as he turned on the Wyatts.
One possible attempt at character assassination involves Dean Ambrose. He, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins were once part of The Shield, a heel team that interfered in various matches. They broke up, Seth became aligned with the authority, and now both Dean and Roman have a chance at fighting for the World Heavyweight Championship. It is clear that the company is really pushing Roman Reigns, but the crowd isn’t feeling him [as a face]. However, that might not stop Vince and the writers anyway. In order to try to get the crowd behind Roman, they might try to make Dean a heel, but if that happens, it won’t work. People would have seen that coming from a mile away.
You will see this constantly in political programming. Yes, politicians are mostly liars. They should be called out on that. But what you see more often than not is an attack on the person’s character.
Should a person’s character not be a factor in a vote? Yes and no. If someone’s personality and beliefs do govern their decisions, we need to know about that. Other than that, there is a decidedly vicious push to discredit someone.
For example, this happened in 2008. While running for president, John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. There was a push by pundits on the left to paint her as an idiot and make fun of her speech and family life. To be fair, Palin has done enough to make herself look bad, but it doesn’t excuse some of the behavior of her opponents.
There is a similar push now against Donald Trump and by Mr. Trump. He resorts to ad hominem attacks on TV and after using some of the same rhetoric to stir voters, the Republican Party is reckoning with Trump emerging as the eminent nominee. FOX News was a part of this and now you can see the panic in the anchors’ eyes.
At one point, King of the Hill was guilty of this. Near the end of the show’s run, Hank always had to be right. Peggy Hill was flanderized, often to make Hank look more reasonable. And on one episode, there were over-the-top Canadians acting like fools.
Family Guy is of course guilty of character assassination. Lois is a prime example. I suspect that her character has turned to make Bryan look good by comparison.
Speaking of Family Guy, I will go into depth when I talk about Seth MacFarlane Comedies.