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PARK: TV should be political

Column: The Queue

Political messaging is becoming more apparent in TV shows — which can be a good thing.  – Photo by Unsplash.com

We all watch TV. Some of the most popular shows include those of military dramas, political dramas and comedy. Regardless of whether we like it, the topics discussed in episodes of today’s TV have become both blatantly and indirectly political. The question that lies: Should entertainment be separated from politics?

The amount of people who get most of their news from digital sources has increased in the past few decades. More than 8 in 10 Americans get their news from digital sources, according to Pew Research Center.

Technology has changed us, and many young people turn to their phones or TV as prime sources. Younger generations are consuming news differently, and the tradition of Sunday morning newspapers is dwindling.

If anything, entertainment, especially TV, should talk about politics. It is a perfect medium to expose people who may not be up to date with the current political climate and help them understand in a way they are interested in. If they do not, who else is going to?

Think about how many people younger than 25 watch the nightly news. I will admit, a lot of my current event knowledge comes from "Saturday Night Live" and Twitter. This ranges from who is playing who in the newest Wes Anderson film to which NFL team lost their starting quarterback.

But a lot of my world and political news comes from these sources, too. I woke up the day after the 2016 election to a Twitter notification alerting me that Donald J. Trump was the 45th president of the U.S.

Late-night shows are popular among American teens, and they have more recently invited politicians and figures who stray away from the norm of movie stars and singers to interview.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) made an appearance on "Late Night with Seth Meyers" in 2019, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg did a segment on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon." This introduction of different lenses helps to bridge the gap between politics and entertainment. 

Take "Saturday Night Live" for example. Since 1975, comedians have been taking stabs at politics for entertainment. Within the past five years, the show's sketches have become more political, but they are simply taking the most relevant news and turning it into comedy. Yes, it is extremely biased “news,” but it is a sure way to inform its audience about the political happenings of each week.

They have no hesitation mocking Trump, Justice Brett Kavanaugh or Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) just to name a few. But its liberal bias does not mean the show has too many political skits. This just proves they have found a successful way to discuss relevant headlines that match their target audience.

And what is the most relevant news today? American politics. "Saturday Night Live" has an average of 2.67 million viewers younger than 50, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Its younger audience makes it even more important that the comedy show draws sketches from politics. Even better, the skits that do well make their way to bigger news platforms, like The New York Times and CNN, broadening their audience.

"Big Mouth," a coming-of-age sitcom, is popular among college students. It is a rather provocative show about middle school and high school students going through the nightmares of puberty.

If that is not progressive enough, the show has dedicated episodes to the discussion about Planned Parenthood and toxic masculinity. This makes "Big Mouth" much more than a feel-good sit-com, but rather a show that brings together dirty humor and real-life issues. 

And it is not just comedy. Cop shows like "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" are tackling police brutality and racial injustice. The storylines in these shows shifted after the Black Lives Matter protests and forced Hollywood to think harder about how they are portraying diversity and social issues in such kinds of genres.

Streaming services like Disney+ and Netflix even have subsections that highlight and celebrate Black stories. 

The Netflix show "13 Reasons Why," based on the book of the same name, touches on suicide prevention, gun control and sexual violence. Many parents are concerned about their kids watching shows like this, and while I think the show has its flaws, I commend it for attempting to talk about the hard stuff and educate their mainly teen audience.

So why should we watch these shows? The things people — more specifically, American teens and young adults — are watching on TV greatly affect how they view society. People have the choice to ingest whatever forms of TV they want, and most people choose to watch entertainment on streaming platforms.

There is a line between political and social issues and entertainment TV, and it is okay to cross it. In fact, we should cross it. If those platforms could just give a glimpse into a broader issue of political and social discussion, more people would be exposed.

There is a difference between a 60-minute news segment and watching our favorite characters on TV discuss the effects of gun control or the accessibility of abortions. Making and keeping TV political is a greater step toward an accepting and understanding modern society.

Annabel Park is a Rutgers Business School first-year majoring in marketing and minoring in journalism. Her column, "The Queue," runs on alternate Fridays.


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

YOUR VOICE | The Daily Targum welcomes submissions from all readers. Due to space limitations in our print newspaper, letters to the editor must not exceed 900 words. Guest columns and commentaries must be between 700 and 900 words. All authors must include their name, phone number, class year and college affiliation or department to be considered for publication. Please submit via email to oped@dailytargum.com by 4 p.m. to be considered for the following day’s publication. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.


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