In a recent interview Oprah Winfrey spoke of when she realized that she could “use television as a service” to make the world a better place. Although the concept almost seems laughable since television can often be stigmatized, that does not mean the idea is untrue. The Oprah Winfrey Show show was famous for launching careers and inspiring people to be better. Is it really possible to change the world through television?
We first have to determine what it means to change the world. Is changing the world a contribution to the zeitgeist like Oprah’s Favorite Things? Is it if you learned something? (I learned how to check a pulse from a TV show.) The news informs masses everyday. Still, I feel that real change makes you really think.
We could find examples of these types of changes on television right now. Peter Norwalk, creator of the show How To Get Away With Murder, said that he wanted to normalize physical intimacy between men. His audience of millions is being exposed to gay characters which could force them to focus on this polarizing topic. It will not necessarily cause a universal change, however, because some will turn off the TV. Still, this awareness could spread and change the world however slightly.
If it is possible to change the world through television, we have to be careful. Last year, 111.5 million people watched the Super Bowl. The images they see can be extremely influential. Though the Super Bowl is an extreme example, there are still millions of people watching television all year. This means that millions of people are reached all at once. American shows air in other countries and shows from other countries like England and France are airing in the United States, giving us an entirely different viewpoint than what we are used to. We, the viewers, need to realize that we are getting messages from television, whether we want to or not. It’s up to us to figure out what we want to learn from them. Just because Aria is dating her teacher on Pretty Little Liars, doesn’t mean it is exemplary behavior. It is a plot point. We have to learn what values work for us.
So, I do believe that television can change the world. It just won’t necessarily change everyone all at once or in the same way. That means that the next time we are watching our favorite show, be it Scandal or those Law & Order reruns that are always on somewhere, we need to think about what we are getting from it. There is a chance we are just getting some quality entertainment. Yet, every experience has the potential to shape how we see the world. Television might just change the world after all.