“Take a break, and watch some TV,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said. I am not sure who ‘they’ are, but I would like to watch whatever is on their Netflix queues. TV shows, as entertaining and mindless they may seem, are loaded with misogynistic, LGBTQA-phobic, racist, etc. content and language that most people let slide because it is “not real life” or it is progressive in some other way. It amazes me that people who think this way still exist, because television has become so commonplace and recognized as such a powerful medium.
My go-to streaming services are cluttered with true masterpieces (sarcasm) like “90210”, “Gossip Girl”, “Pretty Little Liars”, “Friday Night Lights” and anything else that falls under the genre that I have named, “crappy teen dramas that are also probably the best things in the world”. Being someone who considers herself at least decently socially aware, I can acknowledge that these shows are often extremely problematic, but I am so intrigued and entertained by them. This dilemma is definitely worsened by the fact that I am extremely drawn to the grossest shows.
Up until recently, I tried to justify my ignorance while watching television by saying that I knew the content was not politically correct or trying to find the faintest of progressiveness in the plots. This way of thinking, however, does nothing to change the problem. In middle school, I attended an assembly about bullying and bystander intervention that focused on the idea of “being a zebra”. The presenter compared bullying to a predatory attack at a watering hole. While the zebras were not doing anything to hurt the prey, their lack of action made them just as bad as the predator. In a way, I think my watching of these shows makes me a zebra.
One show I have probably watched more than three times completely through is “One Tree Hill.” I have always appreciated the show’s inclusion of an extremely top-tier clothing label created and run by a young, powerful woman character named Brooke Davis. In fact, many fans consider her to be the strongest character on the show. There is so much wrong, however, with Brooke’s character development.
In the first season, Brooke wears “revealing clothing,” does not care about school and sleeps with many of her male classmates. While there is nothing wrong with these actions, she is presented as the character that always causes trouble because she is “too slutty” or “too b*tchy”. Later, she is supposed to be more relatable and likable because she cares about being student body president, and she has a steady boyfriend. There is ALSO nothing wrong with these actions, but the idea that one type of girl is better than the other is pretty gross.
Many seasons later, Brooke becomes the president of the company Clothes Over Bros, which she creates in her high school years. As president, she is both strict and kindhearted, thus rejecting society’s idea that women must be one or the other. While a strong woman character is important, the show accredits her success to the fact that she no longer wears “revealing clothing” nor sleeps with many guys. In other words, a successful woman must comply with patriarchal expectations of women to gain success.
I have come to find that the more I learn about oppressive structures, the less I can watch the shows I thought I loved. Even the most politically correct television can be laced with problematic ideology. I can’t ignore the lack of people of color in the main casts of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Friends, and so many more shows. I will not be able to unsee the slut-shaming and awful representation of women in Gossip Girl, 90210 and practically every show about girls in high school. The gross over-exaggeration of stereotypes in Glee will never be okay with me. This is not to say that these shows do not have progressive aspects, I just find it hard to forget about the problematic aspects.
I wonder what TV show writers and producers think about. How do they prioritize certain social issues while leaving others untalked about? I also wonder what others think about when they watch these shows. Do they see these faults? Do they wonder how shows can be made better? How much ignorance is allowed when watching? Am I the only one who feels guilty?