General Question

marinelife's avatar

Does the venality of current TV series and commercial characters have a negative influence on people?

Asked by marinelife (62455points) August 3rd, 2008

In the early days of television, sitcom and other characters were idealized. June Cleaver: the perfect wise and caring mom, for example.

That has changed. With the advent of Seinfeld, venality in main characters: greed, rudeness, shallowness, sneakiness, cheating, lying were shown as the norm and even venerated in some cases.

Also, advertising has evolved with the advent of the remote control into mini-storylines. Many of those characters are shown “winning” with negative characteristics.

Taxed with this, marketers and script writers say that they reflect society, they do not lead it.

What I have wondered is did that more idealistic, positive message serve as a guide to desirable behavior? Thus, does today’s negative role modeling give an imprimateur to socially undesirable behavior and attitudes?

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15 Answers

AstroChuck's avatar

I don’t know. I think art imitates life. I’m not sure if the reverse is true. Perhaps to some extent.
Hell, I don’t know. Good question, though.
Helluva answer, huh?

augustlan's avatar

2 part answer: I think the old, idealized versions tended to make people feel bad for not living up to them…“I’ll never be June Cleaver.” That said, I think today’s portrayals (sp?) can have a negative influence. Being exposed to a constant barrage of low, crude behavior could make us less sensitive to that behavior in our everyday lives. I must believe this is so, because I am much more likely to forbid my children to watch shows that center on such behavior. For instance, I allow 8 Simple Rules, but forbid Grounded for Life…a show with similar subject matter, but much worse character models.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

I agree with Astro, and I do think the reverse is true.

On the one hand, I think it makes better TV if it’s realistic, “Leave it to Beaver” and “Father Knows Best” ars so sugary it’s revolting.

On the other hand, after I had surgery I sat on the couch watching hours and hours of the HBO series Entourage and I when I finally got up, I felt a little uncomfortable in my imperfect body, I felt a twinge of desire to run out to the mall and buy a new handbag, and my social life just didn’t seem exciting enough. I ignored all these weird (and highly unusual for me) feelings, and pretty soon I forgot about them and was back to normal. I feel like if I watched that all the time (it’s really entertaining), those feelings would be a lot harder to ignore.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

side issue:

I just read augustan’s answer, and the show he allows his children to watch, ‘8 simple rules’, i find boring, while the one he forbids, ‘grounded for life’, i think is hilarious (dumb, but hilarious).

is this indicative of why shows like this have replaced ‘leave it to beaver’ or am i just a “low crude” person?

AstroChuck's avatar

@La chica- augustlan= female

augustlan's avatar

@Lachica…I never said it wasn’t FUNNY, but I’m an adult. My children don’t need to see it.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

no no no no, I didn’t think you did! I was just making a social comment, about how the show that is child-friendly isn’t funny, but the one other one is.

I guess that’s not such a big deal, I dont think “blue’s clues’ is histerical either…

SuperMouse's avatar

I don’t tend to believe that mores have changed as dramatically since the 1950’s as television has. I think our society has approximately the same mix of venal characters and good old honest folk.

What I believe has changed is our denial. In the days of Leave it to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriett, people pretended that all was well. Gossip columnists printed what they were told to print, they photographed what they were told to photograph and anything that might be considered scandalous was swept under the rug. We liked our stars and our television pure and wholesome. That isn’t the case anymore, we like to see a bit more of real life reflected on our television.

augustlan's avatar

@Lachica…gotcha’ hard feelings :)

tinyfaery's avatar

Unfortunately, I think TV adequately reflects reality. The idealized archetypes of 1950s TV did a lot to keep people who did not fit those stereotypes in the margins of society. Reflecting all areas of society, be it good or bad, creates a more acurate picture of reality. Whether or not people ape what they see in the media is debatable. Do people turn gay by watching Will & Grace? I don’t think so. Do people have an easier time coming out because of Will & Grace? Maybe.

I’m on my iPhone, so if this comes out sounding strange , sorry.


kevbo's avatar

The first thing I’ll say is that I’ve not been a big fan of Seinfeld, and it more than anything else watching it doesn’t make me feel good.

The second is that if the content of a show doesn’t resonate with viewers, it doesn’t last very long. I would presume that the resonance is a reflection of reality, if not in a literal sense then definitely in an emotional sense.

Third, television doesn’t exist without advertisers. Advertisers prey on two motivations: fear and greed. I would say above all that both shows’ primary purpose was to motivate people to buy things (and to perpetuate fear and greed). Interestingly, the writers of “Leave it to Beaver” were former ad men.

Last, I think the values a society embraces also follow a yin/yang pattern, whether it’s on TV or in real life, and I’d argue, the shifts are the products of economics and politics (colonialism, industrial revolution, WWI, roaring 20s, depression, WWII, postwar boom, red scare, sexual revolution, Vietnam, war on drugs, fall of communism, etc.) One could argue that the sexual revolution was a backlash against the values of the 50s and that the revolution led to a backlash against feminism in the 80s.

“Leave it to Beaver” aired from 1957–63, which leads me to believe that there was a lag from the onset of the economic suburban trend until the show aired, but that once the sexual revolution took hold in the public discourse it was no longer feasible to keep it on the air. I have a harder time making the argument for Seinfeld, except to say that it is a consequence of postmodernism (a show about nothing) and like “Friends” reflects the family-less migration to urban centers among younger, career-minded adults (again if not in reality then emotionally). Maybe, too, the show reflects the emotions of the first real era of downsizing, layoffs, and globalization where hard work and loyalty led to a pinkslip. Other than absurdity, frustration, and a whack of impotence, what’s the lesson to learn in the reality of downsizing? Over what other than the petty could the collective consciousness of that era really exert some control?

I guess I think television primarily reflects reality, but also serves to articulate and codify it after it has happened. It (and its advertisers) are interested in highlighting and to an extent perpetuating the emotional aspects of trends to capitalize on the public consciousness. (So I guess the answer to your last question is yes, until enough people start focusing on something else.)

marinelife's avatar

@tf That is one of the reasons why I asked this question. I don’t really know the answer. My first response when I posed it to myself was that I did not act like or mimic people on TV. On the other hand, I think we are very susceptible to the images we take in, possibly on a subconscious level.

I found La_chica_gomela’s Entourage experience fascinating. I really wish there was some research on this. Usually, it tends to be very polarizing (does TV cause violence, etc.).

I do find myself wondering, though, if glamorizing prison or crime (say the Oceans movie series) doesn’t have a subtle impact on people’s thoughts and actions. Otherwise, why do celebrity clothing, hairstyles, etc. get copied.

Even if this did prove true, what could be done about it in a free society?

tinyfaery's avatar

It does impact us, but we really cannot predict how. Most people are ignorant to what is being presented in the media, especially the young. I always say that we need to teach our youth how to decipher the images the media portrays.

stratman37's avatar

I was thinking about this just today!

We watch TV to laugh at the losers who are worse than us,
and the commercials for some unattainable happiness (if I just had that product, I’d be as cool as they are)

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