After all, when was the last time a network television series packed the kind of emotional power we saw Monday on “Dancing” when Iraq War veteran and double amputee Noah Galloway – one of this season’s more popular competitors – was surprisingly reunited with his girlfriend Jamie Boyd, whom he hadn’t seen in six months. Extra emo bonus: The reason Galloway hadn’t seen her in so long is because she has been in Army Reserve training, preparing to serve her country!
When Boyd was brought into the ballroom after Galloway danced with partner Sharna Burgess and a stunned Galloway grabbed her and held her close there wasn’t a dry eye in the ballroom. I’ll wager there weren’t many dry eyes among the millions watching at home, either.
What a moment of spontaneous and unexpected emotion – one that likely took viewers at home as much by surprise as it did Galloway. Television moves people in many ways much of the time – as do so many of those videos on YouTube and elsewhere that capture moments of heart-rending happiness and compassion – but those moments rarely feel as true as this one. I think it was something about the way Noah held onto Jamie that made it so special. (His dance with Burgess was pretty impressive, too. The two are pictured below being interviewed by "Dancing" co-host Erin Andrews just before Boyd appeared.)
The Galloway-Boyd reunion got me to thinking about this particular kind of unplanned, unrehearsed and unexpected display of pure joy and its relative rarity in a medium that prides itself on establishing and sustaining every kind of emotional connection imaginable. The only other recent example that came to mind was the moment during Eddie Redmayne’s lovely acceptance speech at the Academy Awards when he was suddenly overcome by everything that was happening to him. He stopped talking, stared at the Oscar clutched in his hand and let out a little scream or cry or whatever that sound was. There were many beautiful, heartfelt speeches during that overlong show, but there was something about Redmayne’s spontaneous reaction that burst through it all and resonated long after the Awards ended.
With so much content coming at us from so many different directions — much of it in the form of millions of videos shot by everyday people who happen to capture unplanned moments and post them on YouTube for all to forever see – it has become increasingly rare for viewers to experience such displays of genuine emotional truth in the media, especially on television, where plotted responses and reactions are the norm. Think of the intense planning and direction that goes into so many of those unscripted, so-called “observational reality” programs.
It’s the pre-programmed anticipation and expectation that often form a bit of a barrier between a sudden expression of emotion and the experience of witnessing it as it happens. For example, one doesn’t watch an important football game without expecting to respond to the action, or to watch as the players on screen do the same. Depending on the outcome of the play, the athletes involved cheer, high five each other, jump around or swear under their breaths and growl a bit. The same is true in all professional sports games on the field, in the seats and in living rooms across the land.
Similarly, one doesn't watch an overtly manipulative show like ABC's "The Bachelor" without expecting to be overtly manipulated. It's the raison d'etre of the franchise.
With all that emotion making itself felt on both sides of every screen with ever growing frequency, I find that truly unexpected moments of a certain power are increasingly few and far between. This isn’t easy to explain, but to begin I think that real reactions can only come during a live shared experience. Everything else on television (and on the Internet) has been produced or edited or somehow packaged and displayed to generate a certain response.
There is no shortage of emotional connectivity in television and video content, to be sure. But those moments that can’t be planned, or likely even imagined, are becoming harder to find, or perhaps to identify. The amazing and inspiring Noah Galloway and his girlfriend Jamie Boyd reminded us on Monday night that nothing is impossible, that we aren’t necessarily as jaded as we might believe and that there are wonderful surprises still to be enjoyed simply by watching television. It certainly made my week and I don’t think I’m alone in my reaction.
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