TV programming offers both entertainment, education

The excitement surrounding this past weekend’s major TV premieres and finales was palpable. The Internet was abuzz with speculation. Almost every social media outlet was clogged with cries of “Game of Thrones!” and you could barely get through a conversation without being asked if you were going to watch the season three finale of "The Walking Dead."

What would each of these premieres promise to their longtime fans, and how will they impress and subsequently secure a new, dedicated audience?

This fascination with television isn’t new, either. Televisions have been a cornerstone of American households since their invention.

Access to programming and news is vital to our society, and to be a functional member of the culture we have created, you must often rely on what is delivered to you on a cable box.

We must examine the truth about television. It rarely encourages one to be subversive, or to at least question what we are taught and why. If you were raised as a child with a television in your home, you were taught values and behaviors by a plush purple dinosaur or a giant bird puppet.

This isn’t necessarily negative, but these characters have immense power and influence over their audience.

Yesterday, I found myself singing a children’s song about cleaning while wiping off the kitchen counter, and I was dumbfounded. I remembered a song from 20 years ago and was able to repeat it verbatim. I thought to myself: What if the message contained in the song had been wrong?

Television is still often used as a teaching tool. Unfortunately, many channels marketed as “educational” are far from it, instead broadcasting reality television shows about hoarding or housewives who clip coupons.

Sure, these shows may tell a story, but besides their entertainment value, what are we really gaining from spending our time this way?

In my role as a student teacher, I often ask my students about news stories they may find interesting. Unfortunately, they rarely seek out news. I once asked a class, “Who still gets a newspaper delivered to their home?” and no students raised their hands.

However, my students can recount to me what happened on last night’s episode of any prime-time show on MTV. Is our fixation on television a symptom of society’s ignorance, or a reflection of a cultural shift?

Now with increasingly complex stories to tell, writers are using every trick in the book to engage viewers.

What I really would like to see, however, is a renewed focus on creativity and storytelling. Both NBC’s "Community" and "Parks and Recreation" tell stories in unexpected settings, have engaging characters and entertain their audience with multi-level jokes and storylines.

The manifestation of the television as a source of entertainment is here to stay, but thankfully, there is hope for programming that might actually make you think.

 

Reach the columnist at aamentze@asu.edu or follow her at @soupsnake


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