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TV Is Not Dead: 3 Ways Television Makes the World a Better Place

More people than ever before are tuning in, all around the world. And we are all the better for it.

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2. Thought-provoking and discussion-creating

While I am still anything but pro-polygamy, watching Big Love made me rethink my own carte blanche judgment of those who practice it, and I’ve had many a conversation with friends about it. To start with, the characters have little in common with the only polygamists I’d read much about: the allegedly child-marrying/statutory- raping, misogynistic, thought-controlling ones in B.C.’s Bountiful community. In fact, in Big Love , the characters and their struggles are highly compelling. They’re characters trying to find happiness in a paradigm they were raised in. “The only people turned off by Big Love ’s portrait of a polygamist marriage are those who haven’t tuned in,” writes Jace Lacob. The “series’ taboo-shattering exploration of a family struggling to live by their morals in an imperfect world that both fears and hates them…the show offers one of the most intimate portrayals of marriage on television, and a gripping metaphor for the persecution of minority groups.”

To name a few more, there’s Weeds, which questions mainstream assumptions about suburbia and about the marijuana trade, and also asks questions about what it is to be a good parent. When Nancy Botwin’s (Mary-Louise Parker) husband dies, and she has to financially support her sons despite having no work experience, she starts selling marijuana (she’s against the harder stuff) to people she knows. There’s The Wire , which raises questions about the drug war, the school system, the credibility of the media, violence, the legalization of drugs and about a zillion other things (and is now being taught in universities), and The Simpsons which asks questions about and pokes fun at just about everything.

3. Behavior changing

It’s not just here at home. Millons of peopleon incomes of about $2 a day and who don’t even own refrigerators have TVs. And they’re not watching news, they’re watching soaps: The Bold and the Beautiful ,The Young and the Restless ,Desperate Housewives , and locally produced ones.

In a recent piece in Foreign Policy magazine, writer Charles Kennyresearches many of the effects of TV on people in developing countries, particularly women. For example, when women in Brazil get access to TV (where they almost invariably watch soaps), that access has the same effect on birth rates as two more years of education. It’s not because of the direct messages during the commercial breaks (which don’t exist because contraceptive advertising is banned and there’s no government population-control policies), but because of the glamorized portrayal of female characters with few children. In rural India, TV has the same effect on birth rates as five more years of female education.

And TV it has a steroid-like effect on women’s rights. When one woman reached the final five this year in Afghan Star , like American Idol , the director suggested it would "do more for women's rights than all the millions of dollars we have spent on public service announcements for women's rights on TV." Kenny also looks at TV’s significant positive impact on drug use, teen pregnancy and government corruption.

I’m not saying TV’s effects are all good, either here or abroad: quite the opposite. If North Americans would substitute even one hour of their daily TV viewing to do something exercise-related, that would really improve things. Or spent that hour cooking healthy, local food rather than eating junk, or reading their kids a bedtime story rather than watching TV with them, or even just reading the news – that would be something to celebrate. But given that TV is so compelling, it’s probably what people will keep doing. And given that, and the good that actually does come from it, I’m just saying it might be time to give the box a little credit where credit is due.  

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