Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Fox affiliate: Is "Glee" turning our kids gay?

Fox affiliate: Is "Glee" turning our kids gay?

The commentators miss several important points about how tv influence actually works. Two great theoretical insights might help straighten the nonsense out.

First, the theory of influence has to take into account the polysemy of television. Because there are many messengers and many channels, there is no single message. You'll notice that smart advertisers don't limit themselves to one channel, one show. Tax Masters appears on afternoon TV, Judge Judy - and on Glen Beck and on History Channel and on and on and on. If you want to have a message be transmitted across audiences, you have to follow the lead of "Tax Masters" (or Geico or Progressive). Otherwise, expect that the message will be either contradicted or in conflict with other messages.

Second, they seem to have a vague idea of cultivation theory, but they don't get that right either.

Gerbner's work studied attitude arising out of news viewing. He found that heavy news viewers tended toward a "mean world" idea of the place where they lived. He did not find (nor has any other reliable study ever found) that viewers of news violence tended to become violent.

If Gerbner's idea is applied to gayness on television (not just one show, but the whole of television), one might expect to find that heavy viewers of situation comedy might have more positive attitudes toward gayness, i.e., they do not fear it or see it as being somehow threateningly abnormal. From "Hey faggot" on Soap to the kiss on Glee is a long trip, and one that's been thirty years in the travelling. Where we've come is from a position of fear, humiliation and degradation of anyone who is gay, to acceptance of gayness as no big deal.

One of my favorite stories is Josh's story. During his Senior chapel talk he spoke of coming out. His friends told him that they already knew, and that it was no big deal. If there is anything that has been cultivated by television portrayals of gayness it's that it's no big deal. Thinking that will not make you catch the gay.

I have to wonder if that isn't the problem for conservative commentators. If the youth of America come to believe that being gay is no big deal; that smoking marijuana is no big deal; that dancing naked is no big deal; that being religious or non-religious is no big deal - what will the conservatives use to keep the youth of America aligned to the conservative point of view? They are losing the youth of America because many young Americans just think that the positions of their elders are out of touch with reality.

Of course, the Fox commentators, even if they acknowledged the idea that this is about keeping power, couldn't very well say that out loud. Could they?

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