For most of us, television and movies are a way for us to access a world out there that we may have never been able to see otherwise. It is a window of exposure to new thoughts, trends, groups of people, and ways of living.
Television shows are one way for us to soak in information about how the world is, but we have to remember that these have been created by people who have their own biases. No matter how hard a person can try, their gender, race, class, and many other demographic information will shape how a person interacts with and sees the world. This translates into most things people do, so no one is truly unbiased in their thinking or producing.
More often than not, shows do not reflect reality yet we somehow absorb most of these “realities” as fact.
So, while watching TV or movies, it’s important to understand that the people who wrote and produced them are most likely those who have had access to this industry. A lot of time it is people from the middle-class producing prime-time television shows, thus shaping an audience’s view of any information through the lens of their socioeconomic standing.
Even Holtzman and Sharpe, authors of “Media Messages“, write:
Most of the people who create prime-time television are middle class and above.
There is great competition between networks for advertising dollars
Advertising want programs and characters that will promote the products they want to sell.
Creative talent needs to comply with these demands in order to work.
Advertising dollars seem to be more efficiently spent on the middle class because this group is probably more likely to have access to TV, and more likely to indulge in the products being advertised than perhaps the working class would be.
So, because a middle-class-based TV show has proven to be just about foolproof, producers will often choose these over accurately representing the population and struggles of the working or lower class.
Take, for example, Full House.
This is a family-friendly television series that aired from 1987-1995 and is about a middle class family living in San Francisco. The premise is that Danny Tanner is raising his three daughters with his late wife’s brother and one of his best friends. Danny is a television show host in San Francisco, and his three kids are all in school. Jesse is a musician and Joey is an aspiring stand up comedian.
By no means does the Tanner family have tons of money, but they are definitely living comfortably. This type of show would appeal to fellow middle class folks who are looking for something relatable, for something that portrays parts of their realities.
What is this show telling its audience about social and economic status? What is it leaving out?
In an article released after the debuting of “Fuller House” in 2016, there was a video explaining that if the Tanner’s lived in this neighborhood today, there is no possible way they could afford it.
This funny-but-true video shows the harsh realities that the media doesn’t depict. Imagine watching “Fuller House” or even the original series “Full House” of a family that actually cannot afford their house, gets kicked out, and the daughters either end up in an orphanage or they all have to split up and live with family members in different cities.
This may be an extreme example, but the point is that the media know what its audience wants and doesn’t want to see. We want to see our own realities, but what about those whose reality isn’t on the big screen? Sugar-coated middle class family sitcoms bring in money and everyone winds up feeling happy by the time they’re done watching, so isn’t it a win-win?
While there is no harm in shows like these, there can be danger in portraying a largely middle class and neglecting the working class. And while some screen time for the working class would be nice, it will be hard to accurately portray if a middle-class person is producing it. Being a savvy citizen means recognizing how small details like one’s socioeconomic status, and how it plays into the big picture.