Saturday, November 13, 2004

Education Is Imperative (Why Can't TV Help?)

As I mentioned earlier, in regard to the election, in the stages of grief, I'm still loitering somewhere between "acceptance" and "I need a drink." At this point it's still too easy for me to launch into rants and to descend to jokes about the far right's obsession with the Vice Presidential Unit.

Clearly, however, there's work to be done, and I agree with waterbones here, when she concludes that volunteering is a good idea. More important than ever.

Specifically, how about volunteering to educate the public about the needs of a group likely to become further oppressed as a direct result of the recent election? Human Rights Campaign is an excellent one. You can sign up to volunteer locally. If we're outraged at this country's ignorance around gay culture, then perhaps we need help educate the public a little on the subject.

Additionally, and please pardon this venture in fantasyland, but I really wish the TV networks would participate in educating the public about these issues, too. (I know: hah!) I mean, imagine the powerful effect TV could have if some of the people running things decided to air programming debunking the Neanderthal opinions so many of us have around the gay lifestyle, as well as gay marriage and adoption.

I know, I'm being painfully naive, ain't I? To assume that TV would play a role in educating the masses. I mean, it's kinda dumb to argue that they have a social responsibility, isn't it? I mean, who mandated that? Who's gonna enforce it?

There's a couple of obvious problems with the idea that TV should assist in educating the public on these issues. First, TV's clearly more market-driven than ever, so there's little incentive to produce shows which may not entertain. That's why even the news-oriented shows have swung so decidedly towards entertainment. Remember in the early 90s when CNN seemed like hardcore news? Now we get Crossfire there and soft news and Barbie doll (and Ken) anchors sprinkled liberally throughout the rest of their broadcast. And the other networks have long ago rolled out their own versions of Crossfire and Hardball to ensure the entertainment "value" is high. To ensure the dollars keep rolling in.

The second reason we won't see TV enlisting in the cause, of course, is tightly related to the first. TV doesn't want to offend. Now, in the age of Wife Swap and Extreme Makeover, that may seem like a laughable proposition, but the folks getting offended manage to be quite selective in their outrage. Detailed depictions of self mutilation and post-modern scarification in the name of restoring "beauty" on a weekly basis: Good. A nanosecond of Janet Jackson's nipple: very, very bad. So you can rest assured that if a one-hour special were aired with the intention of dissecting the various myths about homosexuality, a very loud minority would be outraged. And if people don't watch, the dollars don't roll in.

Why am I even going on about this then? Well, what bothers me is that the TV people have a tremendous amount of power at their disposal and a tremendous ongoing opportunity to do good. Yet they refuse to seize the opportunity if it's going to ruffle any feathers. The FCC has only created a climate which encourages this fear, but the networks did little along these lines before the Boob Flash that Changes the World.

You can bet that if you polled journalists, TV producers and network executives, they'd be a lot better educated about these issues than the public on average. Now is where I would be accused of elitism by those on the right who'd rather folks didn't change their mind on these issues. But the fact is, there's a lot the public doesn't know about the issues. I hear people arguing again and again on the subject of homosexuality and they are unaware of the science, they employ absurd stereotypes in their arguments, and they resort to quoting the Bible to support their points. (I'd like to remind those folks that only one document acts as the supreme law of the land, and that's the Constitution, not the Bible.)

Of course, if a network did air such a show, they feel obliged to make it "fair and balanced," which is the new code for "present both sides of the story equally, despite how indefensible one side is compared to the other." I don't want *that sort* of contrived balance. I want falsehood balanced with truth. I want superstition balanced with myth-busting.

And I reckon I'll be waiting a long, long time.

On PBS, some show like FrontLine might do it. And a few hundred thousand people across America will nod along approvingly to the program while everyone else is watching The OC.

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