Perspectives in Scripted Entertainment. Or, Writers are writers.

So, I happened to watch the American Dad! episode Buck, Wild the other night. It reminded me of the Simpsons episodes Homer’s Phobia and Homer the Moe, and the South Park episode Volcano. In all of them, hunting is depicted as being a hobby for cruel, drunken, cowards. There is one participant who plans to achieve manhood by killing an animal, but rejects this concept and in so doing redeems another character, who realizes that they were wrong to hunt and to equate killing with manhood.

Now, one could argue either way on the morality of hunting. That was just the catelyst for my further thoughts: that the perspectives represented in scripted entertainment are very narrow and provincial. The people who write television shows tend to be white, male, urban, educated, and left-wing. The content they produce is from the perspective of people with those characteristics. The depiction of hunting is one way this comes out, but there are plenty of others: the depiction (or lack thereof) of religion, the white male head of household/authority figure being a buffoon, the depiction of business and businessmen, and so forth.

So, questions:

  1. Is scripted television indeed the product of essentially one, narrow perspective?

I say yes, obviously.

  1. Is this a problem? Would the culture benefit from more perspectives, either from more access to writers who don’t fit the above description, or a conscious effort on the part of current writers to write with perpectives other than their own from time to time?

Again, I say yes. We know television can have a major impact on culture, and not simply mirror it. For example, see this paper about the growth of television in rural India leading to changes in attitudes toward women, including a reduction in domestic violence. I believe in the marketplace of ideas, and that’s not what we have at present in scripted entertainment.

I haven’t watched television for ten years, with a few very rare exceptions, so my observations are out of date.

It’s my impression that while there are an enormous number of television programs out there, shows on network television and the more popular cable shows generally match your description. The group of people who control these channels are, in terms of demographics, exactly the class that controls most large institutions in this country: white, male, urban, educated, and left-wing. The shows that they produce generally conform to the viewpoints of this group.

That being said, there’s a simple solution for anyone who doesn’t like it: don’t watch it. Better yet, be like me and don’t watch TV at all.

I think for the most part network producers produce shows that people want to watch. The target audience of Ironic cartoons such as South Park, Family guy, American dad etc. are likely to be people who like ironic humor and making fun of authority and so tend to be left wing.

The right might be more interest in sports; shows about law and order patriotic shows such as 24; family values shows such as 19 kids and counting etc.

If you want to watch a Right leaning show I would recommend Revolutions. I started watching it on Netflix because I found the premise interesting, but gave up after the third episode when the libertarian, pro-patriot, pro-gun, anti-tax message got to be too much for me. The fact that the main villain is the splitting image of Obama didn’t help either.

So to reiterate ITR’s poing, watch the shows you like don’t watch the ones you don’t.

The only regular TV I watch is Fox’s Animation Domination. I’m not a huge fun of any of the cartoons, but I don’t have cable and sometimes a gal needs a break from documentaries and Straight Dope.

I know some guys are troubled (or at least say they are) by the portrayal of men on these shows (The Simpsons, American Dad!, Family Guy, The Cleveland Show). And I agree that the men are all buffoons. But they are buffoons who have good jobs, have friends, have adventures and interesting storylines, and have lives considered worthy of attention. The women on these shows are relegated to the home (even though Donna on TCS has an important job, she’s never shown doing it). They serve as props to their husband’s antics. When their fathers aren’t hogging the limelight, their sons are. And like their fathers, the sons are shown with friends, doing wild and crazy and fun things, and made into likeable people. Meanwhile, the daughters are the constant butt of jokes, portrayed as sluts (Haley and Roberta) or marginalized weirdos (Lisa and Meg), with no friends and no interesting stories. The shows’ “unreal” characters (Roger, Bryan and Stewie, Rilo) poke fun at everyone, but you can always expect them to make the most cutting misogynistic remarks. We can overlook “cunt” when it comes out of the mouth of a baby. A talking dog pawing at an unconscious’s woman’s breast is funny, but we would be offended by a man doing this.

So yeah, the writers love to make men out to be idiots. But I can’t feel too sorry for them because the message they send out is that if you’re a guy, you can be the biggest jackass and still get the wife, the kids, plus all the “fun” of life. The world will still revolve around you like you’re the star of your own show, jackass or no. Being “good” is the domain of your lonely, humorless, lifeless housewife who lives in your constant shadow and serves as the butt of your sexist jokes. This message is more demoralizing to women than it is to men, IMHO.

To answer the OP, yes, there is a lack of diversity in Hollywood and television. This complaint is an ancient one.

As the OP pointed out, television can have a major impact on culture. It can influence people’s attitudes and expectations. Surely you should care about that, whether you watch it yourself or not.

I think this is a great point that contrasts the role of the audience with ITR champion’s point that Hollywood is full of leftists who are probably trying to push their agenda on everyone else.

Take, for example, ads on daytime TV about cleaning supplies and such. The men in those commercials are always total idiots:

Wife: Jon, I’m tired after cooking that huge meal for our lovely family. Can you take care of the dishes today?
Husband: Sure, sweetie! I’ll go get my hammer… and remind me how long am I supposed to cleanse the fine china WITH FIRE!!!
Wife: [Take the the camera] Jon, all you need is one Cascade tablet for the dishwasher, you sexy beast who can’t be counted on to operate a car in a safe manner! Here, let me show you how easy it is!

Now, are the writers of those ads actually feminazis who are pushing a secret sexist agenda to rid the world of the male of the species? Get a grip. They’re lazy writers who rely on stereotypes to get the attention and an easy laugh out of people who aren’t really thinking about what they see on TV.

It’s not so much that I want to watch a right-leaning show, I don’t even consider myself right-wing, it’s that I want right-leaning shows, or rather shows that display multiple views and perspectives, to exist.

I watched a lot of Law & Order (classic) growing up, but I can’t recall if it seemed skewed in any particular direction. I’ll have to watch some and see. I avoided Revolution because it pains me to see Giancarlo Esposito on terrible network dramas, I’ll have to check that out too. Thanks for the input!

The family-values shows, the king of which is Duck Dynasty, exist, but always seem to be reality shows. It’s scripted shows that seem so uniform to me.

I agree with your take, it’s a case of the left-wing perspective clashing with the male perspective. The result does seem to be a white man who’s a buffoon and shouldn’t be in charge, but is nontheless in charge and the main character.

Well, put me down as one more complainant.

Not likely. They are ad writers who know that the purchasers of this product are women, and whose research has shown that women become favorably disposed to a product when they see someone like them in a position of superiority, no matter what their actual life is like. They may leverage the dumb dad stereotype, but if smart men sold more soap they’d be in the ads.

Which is exactly my point. You just phrased it much better than I did.

The under-represented group in television does not have to do with sex, race or religion but consists of people willing to buck the trends and make it work. People like Roddenberry, not very successfully and Norman Lear much more successfully. A right wing Daily Show would get good ratings if they could find someone competent to put on a funny right wing Daily Show.

You need to watch better TV.

Don’t watch low brow animated comedies for serious consideration of the human condition.

If you don’t want to see men being buffoons, paired up with their cardboard cutout wives and unruly children, watch good scripted TV

Breaking Bad
House of Cards
Game of Thrones
White Collar
Downton Abbey

These are just the ones I follow, there are a dozen more shows out there that you can watch that aren’t going to give you the shallowest possible treatment of characters and topics.

Regarding the prevalence of dumb men on TV shows I also wonder if it has to do with the difference between the way men and women handle insults. In male culture it is possible to bond through insult and competition. Men are more likely to engage each other in trash talk and yo mamma contests they will laugh at themselves don’t mind an occasional good natured ribbing as long as they can give as good as they get. Women seem to be less likely to engage in this type of behavior and are more likely to only use insults when in actual conflict and desire to make the one insulted feel bad.

As a result if men are portrayed as stupid bumbling fools, neither male nor female viewers are likely to take offense, but if women are portrayed as uniformly incompetent, men will be by and large OK with it but many women will take offense. So unless you are pretty sure that your entire audience is male you are better off making the man look like a buffoon.

Not really. Back when I watched television, I often got worked up about the stupidity and incorrectness of what I saw on TV. (Most often with the alleged “news”, but sometimes with fiction as well.) When I stopped watching TV, I found that it became amazingly easy to not care about it at all.

Besides which, even if I did care, what could I do about it? In other countries or in previous generations, I might have contacted the censors and demanded that something be done to make our mass entertainment more highbrow and polite, but today we don’t have censors of mainstream TV. I could write letters to the networks, expressing my dismay at how much filth and stupidity is coming over the airwaves, but my voice alone wouldn’t carry much weight.

I watch Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Justified, The Americans, Broadchurch, and other middle-to-high-brow shows as well. By their nature, though, as highly-serialized stories, they don’t feature the sort of broad, sprawling commentary that accompanies sitcoms and the like. Watching Breaking Bad, I get a strong sense that the perspective behind it is a male one, and an intensely moralistic one. Also, I think I’d have been able to guess that Vince Gilligan was a Southerner, and possibly that he was from a small-to-medium sized town, had I watched the series without already knowing that.

But, there’s no hunting-is-barbaric episode, no gay-rights episode, no big-business-ruins-small-towns episode, no religion-is-a-joke episode. It’s too focused to touch on any of that. Thus, it doesn’t raise my hackles the way the parade of white-male-urban-educated-leftist perspective shows do.

That said, you make a good point. There are shows with different perspectives, but they aren’t the opposite of white-male-urban-educated-left, they are much more idiosyncratic and deliberate than that.

Sorry, didn’t get that. But I’d say the writers are anything but lazy. Making something that’s been done over and over for 75 years vaguely original is harder work than just being original.

You could try South Park.

What we need is to institute positive discrimination in order to redress the biased hiring practices whereby ignorant morons are not given a fair chance in the competition for scriptwriting jobs.

I do watch it, and it does, oftentimes, offer a different perspective than its peer shows, though not on the subject on hunting.

That could work, people like Norman Lear (a college dropout), Lucille Ball (never went to college), and Chuck Lorre (college dropout) certainly made their mark on television. One person’s ignorant moron is the next person’s Mary Tyler Moore (never went to college) or James L Brooks (college dropout).

With channels proliferating, and gatekeepers becoming less and less powerful, it’s easy to imagine television production headquartered outside of New York and Los Angeles becoming more frequent, and a greater variety of people being allowed to create and write shows.

Maybe the perspective isn’t as narrow as it once was. Around here, hunting used to be virtually a rite of passage when boys reached their teens. Nowadays, the wildlife population is increasing because there are fewer people taking up hunting. So a bias against hunting on TV might be a reflection of the majority opinion.

I agree that Hollywood is a business, and I’m sure that when the suits make decisions about what movies and TV shows get the green light, they’re thinking primarily about the bottom line. At the same time, the talent–I use that term loosely–leans heavily to the left, and in some cases this spills over into the shows and movies. Stuff like Syriana, Bulworth, and Blood Diamond wouldn’t get made otherwise. I’m sure that someone who pays more attention to movies and TV than I do could come up with more recent examples.