Should TV shows have a political message?

From Black Mirror to the Last Leg, Grace Dean discusses the role of politics on the small screen.

Grace Dean
10th March 2017
Al-Zaim (The Leader) was a 2013 Lebanese reality TV show with a twist. Similar to many other reality shows, the candidates were scrutinised by a judging panel and celebrity performances were aired as a lead-in to the voting results and contestants battled through challenges to win a much-coveted prize. Where the show deviated from conventional reality shows, however, is that every aspect of the show was related to current political affairs, with the tasks including leading civil rights protests, exposing corruption and promoting social causes, with the winner ultimately being selected to run for parliament and their campaign expenses being covered.

Whilst not all address the topic in such an explicit manner, TV shows are increasingly having a political undertone. From the gritty portrayal of life in a Yorkshire council estate in The Moorside to the dystopian reality portrayed in Black Mirror’s The Waldo Moment, screen-writers are increasingly using their TV shows to promote, explore and even promote their political beliefs. However this arouses debate over whether even the most seemingly apolitical of TV shows should be allowed to promote their own critical agenda.

TV is an incredibly influential form of media; it dictates our daily routines, lifestyle habits and purchasing behaviour. As traditional forms of media such as newspapers decrease in popularity, especially among the younger generations, the TV is becoming a much greater source of information, and this includes forming opinions on political matters. Most people have a limited exposure to opposing beliefs, as humans gravitate towards social spheres with homogenous beliefs, and therefore our political ideologies are often reinforced by our peers. TV shows, however, offer the opportunity for people to explore unfamiliar beliefs to them and thus serve as an educational tool. This is portrayed through almost every television show – from simple observations of current affairs newsreels on Gogglebox to the aggressive political mocking in Family Guy. In addition there somewhat more intellectual debate sometimes raised on comedy panels shows such as Mock the Week and the Last Leg (including Jeremy Corbyn’s renowned guest appearance), which presents current affairs in a humorous light to make it more accessible to viewers.

TV as a form of media can be seen to serve a variety of functions. For those who view TV as a pure entertainment function, the political undertone of many TV shows can be overwhelming; they regard TV shows as bringing them an alternate reality they can escape in, and the intrusion of political debate into these can be an unwelcome call to reality. For others, however, TV can serve as an educational and information tool, in which people seek to broaden their perspectives on the world through confrontation with opposing viewpoints, be it directly or indirectly.  

While the example of Al-Zaim may be extreme, it is inevitable that it the future the TV will increasingly be utilised as a form of promoting political messages, although the extent to which this message influences the public is up to the viewer.

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AUTHOR: Grace Dean
Editor-in-Chief of the Courier 2019/20, News Editor 2018/19, writer since 2016 and German & Business graduate. I've written for all of our sections, but particularly enjoy writing breaking news and data-based investigative pieces. Best known in the office for making tea and blasting out James Blunt. Twitter: @graceldean

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