While driving to daycare drop off the a few weeks ago, I heard an opinion piece on Morning Edition with media critic Eric Deggans complaining about the way interracial relationships are being handled in prime time shows today. It’s his opinion that by not expressly dealing with the issues of racism and the struggles of interracial couples in their entirety on a show, they're being avoided.
I started thinking about the shows that we watch regularly and for the most part, the window into the characters' world for the viewer is pretty damn open. We definitely see the beginning of the conversation but the resolution is often completely laid out as well. And while I do somewhat disagree with the critic -- most specifically about the treatment of interracial relationships in the show Parenthood, as I actually enjoy the way the show treats both of the interracial relationships depicted (Jasmine and Crosby as well as Alex and Haddie) -- what it really got me thinking about is what’s expected of the family sitcom/dramedy/whatever you want to call these few shows that remain on network TV that don’t involve voting for or against strangers or “stars.”
Are we asking too much? Or just more than we used to?
While watching Family Ties on DVD a few days after hearing that piece I found myself struck over and over again by the subject matter covered. Teen sex, pregnancy, drug use, alcoholism, divorce, child custody/kidnapping, academic cheating, racism, sexism, pedophilia, adoption, infidelity, corporate espionage... in the first two seasons of a 22 minute show that aired in primetime.
What struck me next was how the issues were handled. Rarely were situations carried through multiple episodes. Instead, in about 22 minutes the situation was described, impact on the family member illustrated and the conversation with the parental units begun.
But that was all we got to see, the BEGINNING of the conversation. In fact, in the fourth episode of the entire series, a 17 year old Alex P. Keaton loses his virginity to a college chick, stays out at her apartment all night long, and is in no way disciplined within the script of the show.
I can't imagine a show on the air today that wouldn't spell out for the viewer to the day, the length of the grounding imposed and if the character were female they'd probably spend half of a whole other episode on the trip to the GYN to get her put on the pill.
And I have to say, I miss the good old days.
As a parent (whose daughter is currently only interested in Lady and the Tramp... with an occasional side of Monsters, Inc. Thank goodness.), I'm far more comfortable letting my child watch a show that starts a conversation on an important or controversial issue but refrains from spoon feeding her the "right" answers. I'm not going to shy away from the difficult conversations, but I'm also not enthusiastic about joining them when what is essentially a screenwriter’s opinion has tried to do my job for me already.
I guess I’m probably going to be one of those annoying moms who watches the first few episodes of a show before deciding it’s appropriate fare for my daughter. And even then I’ll probably watch it with her, or at least make sure I watch what she’s watching later in the week to make sure there’s not something I feel we should be discussing. I want the end of the show to be the beginning of the discussion in our house, and not the other way around.That's just how I think it should be, I guess.
Photo Credit: phrenzee.
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