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The Intersection of Culture and Television

What came first: the chicken or the egg? Fast forward to today...Does culture inform television? Or does television inform culture? For many reasons, this cyclical enigma cannot have an absolute answer. Hence, the term “enigma.” However, your neighborhood Gavel writer is here to struggle through the topic to offer an answer, and most likely leave the reader more confused than when they started reading. That’s what philosophers do, right?

Speaking of philosophers, it seems impossible to know what some of the greatest philosophers would say about the enigmatic connection between culture and television. But, entertainment and human beings have been around since the beginning of recorded history. When hunting wild animals was introduced to the Holy Roman Empire, the sport became a popular public spectacle. As a result, the international trade of wild animals expanded. To put it into a modern context, professional basketball was broadcasted because of society’s interest in basketball. And, as a result of professional basketball on television, interest and participation in basketball increased across the country.

Thus, television is a reflection of American society. However, it extends far beyond just a reflection. It is a reflection of culture that can become a manipulation of culture without the viewers even realizing it. Psychologist Jim Taylor proposes that reality television has resulted in a decline in American values. Cue someone complaining about the lack of talent of Kim Kardashian. The most common argument is that “trashy” reality shows and teen dramas featuring promiscuous teens have encouraged and glamorized the immoral. Taylor argues, “Popular culture has no values; it’s amoral. It doesn’t care about us, and it has no sense of social responsibility.” He suggests that reality shows like “The Apprentice” encourages pursuing success at all costs, leading to an increase in cheating and greed. “The Apprentice” even encouraged someone to run for President!

However, television does not "create" greed, ignorance, or gluttony in human nature. I’m sure that many experts will agree that these “bad traits” have been an element of human nature since the beginning of time. Reality shows, as suggested by the names, are extensions of the reality that we live in. So, shouldn’t people be more concerned about the reality that the shows focus on rather than the reality shows themselves?

The extent to which television informs culture only extends so far. While it’s true that television can have a powerful effect on the trends of pop culture on a certain day, month, or year, those trends fade away in time. Society will always be the continual inspiration for television.

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