I suppose it started with Michael Jackson's "Beat It" video almost four decades ago. This was back in a time when you could still find music videos on actual television, and not have to search for them on YouTube.
In the video, as the iconic song's closing chorus nears, Michael breaks up a fight between a couple of knife-wielding, rival street gang leaders before it becomes a full-fledged rumble; then, brawl averted, Michael throws his arms up in the air, and it's on. For a couple seconds, it's just him, then the two gang leaders join in, and then it grows outward from them like a rolling wave, to dozens of other gang members. In a few seconds, the whole mass of humanity is dancing in perfect synchronicity. The camera overhead zooms out, and in that moment, just about any musical artist who wanted to sell records knew their videos had to feature large group synchronized dancing.
Group dancing was featured in countless music videos that followed. But, for me, the "Beat It" video was the standard; it set the bar and no music video featuring group dancing that followed cleared that bar.
Also on TV in those days was an abundance of 30-minute sitcoms or hour-long family dramas that followed a similar formula: An episode opens in peachy fashion, then the plot presents a certain conflict or challenge or dramatic twist, and the characters struggle with that until everyone is able to overcome or otherwise solve the problem. The shows invariably concluded with a lesson learned and sentimental music, smiles, hugs and other inspirational interactions as the credits rolled.
Oh, and tears. There were often tears. Tears of relief. Tears of joy. There was no shortage of chin-quivers and misty eyes, even among the male lead characters. (Think of the dads on “Little House on the Prairie” and “The Waltons,” or even “Eight is Enough.”)
I was in my element. As someone who liked to dance and also as someone who could easily be moved to blinking away tears during even the cheesiest ending to the most over-the-top, melodramatic "Little House” episode, those were my glory days.
But then it all went away. Those trusty, formulaic sitcoms and family dramas gave way to crime dramas, buddy-cop series and pseudo-"reality" TV shows. And channels like MTV and VH1, which, when they first launched aired nothing but music videos, abandoned their original formula in favor of all kinds of low-grade, low-bar programming.
But it's all back now, with a vengeance. Everything has come full circle. Thanks to the internet and social media platforms and apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and the latest digital phenomenon, TikTok, everyone's dancing and everyone's getting choked up.
Not exclusively at the end of TV shows, though, and not just in music videos, either. This goes beyond that.
Somewhere in some conference room where a marketing consulting firm might find itself making a sales pitch for its services to some big company, someone said, "Look. All anyone cares about now are viral moments. And things go viral when dancing is involved, or overwrought emotions, like crying. You feature lots of dancing and full-on sobs in your commercials and you're going to run out of places to stack all of your cash.”
Not that I’m advocating for alcohol abuse, but you could make a drinking game out of it. Next time you’re watching a football game or binging episodes of the latest must-watch show, take a swig every time you see a commercial that features someone dancing or crying. Two hours in, you won’t remember your name.
A new vehicle possesses amazing collision-sensing technology and applies its own brakes if the driver’s reaction lags too much. So a guy who might have gotten run over and killed crossing a street doesn’t get run over and killed, as the vehicle slams on its own brakes at the last second. The pedestrian’s chin quivers. His friends, co-workers and family...all crying. Make a video on your iPad for grandpa at Christmastime featuring his late wife, and the living room practically floods from all the salty water flowing.
And the dancing...
Looking for holiday gift deals at Walmart? Well, look no further than the commercial featuring all of the shoppers dancing in unison with their shopping carts. Need a new cell phone? Well, check out this nifty dance number while you ponder your options.
There’s even a young teen in a viral video dancing in her hallway to the latest chart-topper, while also crying. It’s my utopia, my Vikings winning the Super Bowl. I think I’ll track her down and offer to pay her college tuition.