I have always loved talk radio.
Not the exploitative, always-in-pursuit-of-publicity sensational stuff, but the programs that make you think, that inform you about the world and that offer a variety of viewpoints. While listening to a recent broadcast on Wisconsin Public Radio the question arose: “Why do you watch television?”
The program I was listening to wasn’t about TV. It was an episode hosted by a woman and the content of the hourlong program was really about women’s relationships with other women — a topic of interest to be sure — but not what caught my attention.
It was said, rather matter of factly, that the guest (who happened to be a black female) had been distressed because she wanted to see/hear more pepole “like her” on the television. There clearly were a lot of people who shared her point of view, blacks, whites, all sorts of ethnicities — but still mostly women who called in.
I thought about that for a moment.
And I realized that I cant think of a single time in my entire life when I looked at TV for validation. In fact, if I look back at my personal, lifelong viewing habits I have always watched as much about people different from myself, in place, in character, in personality as I possibly could.
Public TV and Radio have always been big draws, but I can remember listening to Milt Rosenberg on a humongous stand up three band radio in the 3rd and 4th grades and a good number of years after that. His show was about “the art of conversation” and for a few years there as weird as it may sound for a kid my age to be listening to a bunch of old geezers talking I lived for that show every evening (long after I was supposed to be asleep). I would turn it on real low and listen as long as I could stay awake.
But back to today’s topic about watching TV for affirmation of who you are or what you are…
This idea that anyone would watch TV to find people like themselves dawned like a lightbulb. I guess I’m not surprised, exactly; but it’s something I never in my imagination would have considered: looking for people like myself. I’ve never been around people who were much like me. Oh, they might have had the same skin color, but I’ve never found many people with whom I shared much else, and certainly not what passes as humor — why people laugh at what’s found on TV nowadays completely eludes me!
I wonder how many people do that? I can clearly see why a variety of different folks might look around the world for identity. For all the years when to be gay was to live in the closet surely it had to have been affirming to find others like one’s self. So, I suppose being black would be reinforced when you see other blacks on TV. It’s just not something I’ve ever thought about: finding one’s own identity in the media. Maybe that’s partly because I’ve never looked at the media as anything other than entertainment. Living in a capitalist society the media have a primary objective of making money; they no longer have any legal obligation to provide balanced and accurate news coverage, and the absence of non-news bias was never something they were asked to do.
It really makes me wonder about the kind of relationships people actually have? A part of that program I listened to were complaints about the kind of unsatisfactory relationships the participants had and I wondered why keep people in your life if you can’t find something mutual upon which to base your frienship? If you can’t find family I know enough folks who have gone out and found their own family in friends and associates with whom they did have commonality. They didn’t choose to be isolated just because they didn’t find what they were looking for among a specific set of people — they went in pursuit of others who could satisfy the longing in their soul.
But the bigger concern I came away from that conversation with was about the content of what you see/hear on TV. Anyone who thinks that reality TV, or sitcoms, or TV dramas portray your average American life is in for a huge disappointment. And modeling one’s self after what you see on TV is a surefire way of sabotaging your own relationships. Show me relationships that last 20, 40, or 60 years on TV! Show me relationships where people maintain trust and integrity. Or even where they try to maintain it. Popular TV porgramming is primarily about the lowest common denominator; what will the most number of people find in common, not what can we portray that will encourage people to imitate a more successful relationship!
I’d be interested in hearing why YOU watch TV. Do you expect to find people like yourself? Do you watch for other reasons? And what might those reasons be?