From Happy Days to Hoarders: What Do You Think of What Your Teens Watch?

BlogHer Original Post

BlogHer's Shannon wrote an insightful post looking into preschool television shows back in January. But what about television that tweens and teens watch? Television that you and I watch (or will watch someday) with our kids? I'm not talking about individual shows, I'm talking about television in general. With a gazillion channels to choose from and DVRs abounding, one can certain insulate against undesirable shows easily. But what about our kids?

Kids watch what their friends watch, what everyone is talking about. So even if you personally don't watch certain shows, you can bet your kids are soaking in the messages they see on the small screen.You could judge television a million ways to Sunday, so I picked a few measures using my own completely unscientific method.

First up: race. Do you think TV is more racially diverse now than it was when you were a kid? Is it better or worse? A year ago, The Angry Black Black Woman wrote about people of color on television.

Anyway, this touched off a conversation between my cousin and myself about the state of television for PoC now versus 30 years ago. It seemed to both of us that there were more PoC on TV back when we were kids (in the 1970s, right after the Civil Rights movement) than there are now. They were not good depictions back then — one-dimensional, prone to early death, bizarrely good at martial arts — but they were depictions. These days it seems hard even to get that much.

The two new shows I started watching this season are Glee and Modern Family. Modern Family has a very stereotypical Columbian woman and her son, Manny. Also, sort of, Manny's deadbeat dad. Glee has an Asian girl who plays a major role, but the cast is pretty solidly white. In comparison, some of the older shows I watch -- Grey's Anatomy, Lost, Private Practice -- have a more diverse cast in which race doesn't seem token or even a storyline. You may disagree, but I found it very refreshing that the black couple is the power couple on Private Practice and the chief of surgery and his right-hand woman are both black on Grey's. Lost does a good job of featuring interracial relationships in which race isn't discussed as a factor.

Next: Gay and lesbian characters. I see more of them (and more of them portrayed as people instead of as gay people) than I did when I was a kid. In fact, I don't remember there being any gay people on television when I was a kid. The first gay character I remember was the guy on Melrose Place. According to Des Pardes, things are looking up for the LGBT community:

Some 44 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) characters make regular appearances in scripted shows on network and mainstream cable TV in the new 2009-10 television season, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), said in its annual “Where We Are on TV” report.

Finally, there's violence / overexposure / destruction of privacy / drug problems reality television. We had variety shows and game shows when I was a kid, but The Real World was my first taste of reality television, and I think I was in high school or college when it came out. I remember being quite shocked those people would say and do those things on NATIONAL TELEVISION. Seems kind of quaint, my thinking that, doesn't it?

Reality television is getting better as it gets worse, according to Kellie Herson at the St. Norbert Times online blog:

At least you can feel like a kind-hearted creeper when you watch Intervention-after all, you're watching someone get better and work through their addiction. You just don't get the same benevolent feeling from watching an awkward divorce, or seeing a guy roll up a frozen pizza and eat it like a taco, or trying to determine which Duggar belongs to which "J" name and how their patriarch ever held political office.

I still say we're two seasons away from Running Man.

What do you see? What do your teens and tweens watch? What do they say about the families and characters they watch? Do you think we've moved forward or backwards?

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