Every year at this time, television networks here in the United States unveil their new fall lineups with lots of fanfare. There are dozens of series premieres again this season, including The Mindy Project (Fox), Elementary (CBS), Beauty and the Beast (CW), The New Normal (NBC) and Last Resort (ABC). Many newcomers will be gone by Christmas. But others will find a home in prime time and could become literal world-changers. That’s no overstatement. It’s happened before. Here are several examples of American TV’s global influence:
• The 1970s police series Kojak was so big in Brazil that criminals in Rio de Janeiro coined the phrase, “I won’t give a chance to Kojak,” meaning they’d be diligent not to leave any clues for the police.
• Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu let his people watch the prime-time soap Dallas in the 1980s, expecting them to reject capitalism after seeing that drama’s corrupt oil and cattle tycoons. The communist dictator’s plan backfired. Dallas has been credited with encouraging the Romanian revolution of ’89.
• Beverly Hills 90210 was such a hit in Sweden in the early 1990s that Dylan and Brandon (the first names of main characters played by actors Luke Perry and Jason Priestly) suddenly became huge baby names in that country, even though they’re hard to pronounce in Swedish.
Equally amazing is how the mere introduction of television can impact a culture. Did you know that the South Pacific nation of Fiji didn’t get TV until 1995? For generations, its women took pride in their plump, robust figures. No one dieted. But television changed that. Once shows such as Melrose Place and Friends flickered into their lives, islanders noticed a sharp rise in eating disorders among girls. A study just three years later found that 74 percent of young women said they felt “too fat.”
Anthropologists believe those girls saw TV as a guide for making it in the modern world. It skewed their view of reality. Sadly, the same thing is happening all around us; we just don’t notice because it’s been going on for decades. Our view of family. Of religion. Of romance.
Therefore, as the networks compete for our attention, we need to be selective. Without even realizing it, we can let televised images shape our sense of what’s right, healthy and normal. Instead, we need to plug in to what the Bible has to say and let the truth of God’s word set us free from those mixed messages.
In your opinion, which shows, past or present, exploit the worst in human nature? Which have attempted to celebrate positive virtues? And what have you learned from things you’ve seen on television?
Today’s blog is adapted from “As Seen on TV,” an entry in Bob’s new devotional book The One Year Father-Daughter Devotions, © 2012 and used with the permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.