"Nothing else in our world speaks to us quite like television. Television has spoken to us and given us words to live by, some of them a little more colorful than others."
While part of me bristles at that statement (really? nothing else like television? how about literature?), I have to confess that in my own lifetime television has certainly been a formative part of my world. When I think about the TV shows that are part of my most favorite memories or helped teach me as a child and in my early teens, the list goes something like this:
Sesame Street, Captain Kangaroo, Electric Company, Mister Rogers Neighborhood, The Muppet Show, The Carol Burnett Show, Family Ties, The Cosby Show...
These were fabulous shows. Well written, meaningful, family friendly. These are classic shows that I will do my darndest to get on DVD for my own kids someday. They are shows that I would be happy to sit down and watch over and over and over again. More than that, I would be comfortable sitting in a room with anyone and watching these shows. No embarassment whatsoever.
Are kids today going to be able to say the same thing when they are thirty years old? If the current lineup of shows being programmed for kids and early teens are any indication, the answer is a resounding no. I mean, sure some of them of could be called "clean." Disney Channel keeps it pretty safe while ABC Family is questionable at best. I have been shocked at what is on their lineup in the hours after school hours. But do they have substance? Not much. The humor is inane and cheap, nothing smart or sophisticated about it. They may contain a moral, but it is so dumbed down that very few would take it seriously.
Don't even get me started on what is out there for teenagers. I was just as excited as many of my peers when an updated version of Beverly Hills 90210 was announced. Even more excited when it became apparent that some of the original cast members would be returning. I'm all about some Brenda, Kelly, Dylan love triangle. But in my day, (during 90210's golden years, before it jumped the shark) the most shocking plotline was whether or not Donna would give up her virginity to David, and this storyline didn't appear until several seasons in! The new version, in its premiere episode, in the first three minutes, showed a high school boy receiving a sexual favor from a high school girl. In the high school parking lot, in his car.
Is this real life? Is this a commentary on the current culture of teenagers? I'm going to say, unfortunately, yes. But which came first? The shows or the behavior? I'm not sure, but I think it's safe to say that at this point in our culture the shows programmed for teenagers are certainly informing and influencing what teenagers think is normal behavior.
Take Gossip Girl for instance. This is a show marketed for teenagers in general and is about teenagers in the wealthy elite of New York City. I'll admit that out of curiousity I started watching the reruns this summer to see what all the fuss was about. What struck me (and what concerns me the most) is that this show is rampant with sexuality. And it's not a sexuality where safe sex is being talked about. It is an idealistic, fantasy world in which these teenagers use sex as a weapon and for their own selfish devices.
Everyone has their own set of beliefs and their own moral compass, so I won't comment on how sexuality is portrayed on Gossip Girl plays into that. That is an individual thing. But here's what concerns me and here is what I want to say to you teenagers that are watching this show:
The way Gossip Girl is portraying sex? IT IS NOT LIKE THAT IN REAL LIFE.
Yes, sex is a beautiful thing, it is a wonderfully intimate thing. But it is not as easy or effortless or consequence free as so many shows, Gossip Girl especially, are portraying it. If you buy into what the CW is selling you, you are fooling yourself and setting yourself up for some serious emotional and physical consequences. Talk to your parents (if that works for you), talk to other adults you trust, or email me if you want. But please don't let these shows be the only thing that shapes your understanding of this part of your life.
Now, do I as an adult watch a fair amount of TV that falls into what I just decribed above? Yes. And I am working on that. I could easily watch TV from the moment I get home until I go to bed. Sadly, some days I do. It would also be easy for me to pull the "adult card" and rationalize my TV viewing with the statement, "Well, I'm an adult. I know better. I can watch whatever I want and it won't affect me."
Wrong. It does affect me. What we put in our heads- child, teenager, or adult- shapes our thoughts, our behaviors and our decisions. So my goal for this season is to be careful with what I watch and perhaps invest in The Muppet Show DVDs. After all, a little Kermit never hurt anyone...