Television plays a major role in people’s lives. Programs and ads determine how we spend our time, what we buy and what we value.
It’s not just what people watch that matters. This week’s World Series between the Royals and Giants, reality shows or compelling dramas determine what people will talk about with their families and friends.
Yet television struggles to keep people tuned in. Other things compete for people’s time such as expanding demands of work, family, friends, the Internet and social media.
Network TV unfortunately has a history of abandoning what had been acceptable standards to grab and keep people’s attention with whatever shocks. Cable, satellite and Internet TV are worse. But people pay for those services. Network TV is out there for everyone — even children — to consume, and sometimes it sends the wrong message. Programs over the years have become more gory, bloody and violent.
Romance scenes on television leave little to the imagination. We are long past the days of Ricky and Lucy Ricardo and their twin beds.
But we’re now into an era of TV show titles that are anything but virtuous. Viewers know what they are likely to see when they turn to such shows as “Revenge,” “Stalker,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder.”
Each features pretty people and storylines that are anything but good. But they are popular. And that means that like the westerns of the 1960s and detective series and reality shows that followed, people can expect to see more shows like them.
But that’s not good. I turn to my 97-year-old dad’s wisdom about television. He labeled so-called good TV shows of the 1960s “nonsense” because they failed to further people’s understanding of life or how better to navigate it.
One comedy we watched in the 1990s with my sister’s family at her Blue Springs home really set Dad off. I’ll never forget that he said, “That show had no socially redeeming value whatsoever.”
Of course he was right. Television long ago began slipping in providing viewers with absolute messages of right over wrong, good triumphing over evil or morals, ethics, character and virtues winning over our baser human emotions.
It’s why I will never understand the appeal of newer shows like “Scandal,” which features a young, attractive, intelligent and cunning African-American female, Olivia Pope, played by Kerry Washington. She won the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Image Award.
But it’s hard for me to understand why. In a cover article in the Winter 2014 NAACP Crisis magazine headlined, “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves,” Pope is compared in part to Michelle Obama.
The article describes Obama as “confident, poised and secure.” The article says, “this elegant first First Lady, liberates us all.”
“Scandal” with Pope, on the other hand, appeals to “audiences with characters who are aspirational in their social status yet wildly inferior in the management of their personal lives. Loaded with more personal problems than their average viewer, these characters practically beg audiences to tune in and offer them emotional support.”
The show is wildly popular. Season three started in the fall of 2013 “with its highest Nielsen television ratings ever,” Crisis notes, also breaking records online with 712,877 tweets.
The downside of that kind of attention is the networks will only feed us more programming like it. Such shows then will become the standard for us and our kids.
The question that people should ask is whether that is the mental and emotional tattoo that we want on today’s generation. Or should we collectively change the channel and demand better?