I love TV. I grew up in a household where the TV was always on and I am so thankful for that! My TV is literally on 24 hours a day. I leave it on “Soundscapes” at night and leave it on the same music channel for my dog Jamaica when I am gone so she has a peaceful environment. The only time I turn it off is when neither one of us is home. When I learn that other people don’t like TV or don’t own one, my jaw hits the floor. I could not imagine a world without television. I am hooked and am glad TV exists in the world because it tends to make me a lot less lonely. It is a kind of connection (literally and figuratively) and helps a lot of people. I like reality shows, talk shows, cable news, true crimes and documentaries and TV movies [Lifetime-YES!] best and generally only like a scripted series once in a blue moon [like This is Us].
With that said, it should come as no surprise that television often reflects the interests of the dominant class and of the status quo. It can be frustrating to see the way television, like film, social media or any other form of media can preserve hegemonic norms. However, they also contest these norms. The fact that there are now hundreds and hundreds of channels means that there is a lot of diversity to programming content. It is a question of finding the stuff that subverts the status quo. Further, what is very true is that most media both subverts and reinscribes the status quo. Thus you can find progressive elements within a particular television show and then be very disappointed when it has elements that are based in very conservatizing ideology.
Growing up, I remember being so into daytime television talk shows. This include vintage Donahue, Oprah, Springer, Sally, Geraldo, Ricki Lake and many more. At one point it seemed like everyone and their monkey’s uncle had a talk show. One of the reasons I was so drawn to these shows was because transgender issues was a frequent topic of choice. Given that this was pre-internet, there was so little out these for me to learn about being trans. The talk shows were both amazing and horrible simultaneously. They were amazing because I got to see transgender people on screen and realize that I was not alone. I got to see people engaged in the struggle to be themselves. Often they would have unsupportive family members on and they would fight with them to demand acceptance of who they were. These same shows were horrible because the trans people were presented in such a sensationalistic manner. There was almost always highly negative conflict and often a very tragic narrative. Audiences could be brutal and ask invasive and downright offensive questions. I would walk away from these shows feeling simultaneously affirmed because at least there was some visibility, and also awful because it made it seemed like my life was destined for misery and living on the margins. In the final analysis, it was a mixed bag, but I still am glad that these shows were around.
It has been great to see how television has transformed in more recent years due to things like Netflix and Hulu. With the advent of ever more sophisticated technology, it is no doubt going to continue to evolve. Viewers have more power to watch what they want than ever before. TV has been a close companion and friend. I absolutely see the problems with it but don’t think it is any more culpable than any other form of media and know that it is, after all, a commercial genre who exists to make money and thus is always already suspect. Despite this, TV can be at the center stage of cultural change and can truly push the envelope in exciting ways. I look forward to see how this medium develops and how new programming challenges the status quo in innovative ways. TV is here to stay, so as viewers all we can do is demand better and more progressive programming!