|By Euan Wilson | Excerpted from the October 2009 Socionomist
Originally published under the title “Television and the Dark Side: How Social Mood Affects Programming”
[Ed: Robert Prechter asserted in “Popular Culture and Stock Market” (1985) and The Wave Principle of Human Social Behavior (1999) that television is a sensitive enough medium to reflect major trends in social mood.
[Television audiences prefer fun and simple adventures in bull markets, Prechter claimed, and darker, more complex shows in bear markets.
In this October 2009 article, socionomist Euan Wilson confirms that the controversial shows on that season’s schedules reflect a powerful social mood decline.]
Happy, fun, and simple programs defined the prosperous mood of the 1950s and early 1960s. Shows such as “I Love Lucy,” “Leave it to Beaver” and “Lassie” captured that era of irony-free humor, clear-cut morals and old-fashioned adventure.
Later, in the falling mood of the early 1970s, shows became darker and more reflective. Top-rated programs such as “All in the Family,” “M.A.S.H.” and even “Sanford and Son” explored cynical themes.
In the mood-jubilant 1980s and 1990s, the most successful television shows were safe and conventional. Comedies were light, fun, positive and family oriented: “Family Matters,” “Friends,” “Full House,” “The Cosby Show,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Ally McBeal” all had warm appeal that reflected the mood of the day. Dramas were adventurous and had clearly defined bad guys. Shows such as “Law and Order” took sides against criminals; “Baywatch” celebrated fun, adventure and beach life; “Dr. Quinn” and “ER” battled disease and the hardships of life. All these hit shows both reflected and benefited from the positive social mood. Even the more fanciful “The X-Files” had a “good guys at work” theme.
In bear markets, the most popular shows tend to be controversial and break new ground, as “All in the Family” did in the 1970s. In the near decade since the 2000 top, programming has been sliding into the same kind of gray territory. Comedies are ironic; families are dysfunctional. “Breaking Bad” and “Weeds” both feature desperate parents who deal drugs to make ends meet. The critically acclaimed “Arrested Development” featured a broken yet hilarious family. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is described as “four friends who own Paddy’s Pub in Philadelphia [who are] flat-out horrible people, but their reprehensible, selfish actions form the foundations for some twisted, hilarious comedy.” “Flat-out horrible people” as a focus for comedy could work only in a bear market. …
In this three-page article, learn why Showtime made impressive annual gains in subscribership from 2007 through 2009 while its competitor, HBO, flatlined. Discover the impetus behind the popularity of “Dexter,” “Weeds,” and “True Blood,” and what themes Wilson predicts will dominate the roster at successful TV networks for several years to come.
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Most economists, historians and sociologists
presume that events determine society’s mood. But socionomics hypothesizes
the opposite: that social mood regulates the character of social events. The
events of history—such as investment booms and busts, political events,
macroeconomic trends and even peace and war—are the products of a naturally
occurring pattern of social-mood fluctuation. Such events, therefore, are not
randomly distributed, as is commonly believed, but are in fact probabilistically
predictable. Socionomics also posits that the stock market is the best available
meter of a society’s aggregate mood, that news is irrelevant to social
mood, and that financial and economic decision-making are fundamentally different
in that financial decisions are motivated by the herding impulse while economic
choices are guided by supply and demand. For more information about socionomic
theory, see (1) the text, The
Wave Principle of Human Social Behavior © 1999, by Robert Prechter;
(2) the introductory documentary History's
Hidden Engine; (3) the video Toward
a New Science of Social Prediction, Prechter’s 2004 speech before
the London School of Economics in which he presents evidence to support his
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