The Generation of Representation: Examining TV’s Changing Social Impact

We’ve entered an age of political correctness and constant awareness. Millennials are growing up with greater understanding of the varying demographics and relevant problems than any generation past, and this is due to the the extensive strives towards fair representation in media, especially television. There are few networks shows on air today aimed towards young adults that you can watch and not find a character of a ‘minority’ demographic or discussion of some contemporary world issue.

This trend of including representation on screen has rapidly increased in the last decade. It’s no longer a matter of throwing in a token minority character into an all-white cast and then calling it ‘diversity’ or ‘inclusivity’. We now have characters crafted and plots specifically created for these demographics, whether they be LGBT, minorities, disabled, or etc., and that is making all the difference in impact and perception. We also now see an increase in the incorporation of many politically and socially charged issues as well.

A leader in this front of representative casting is the ABC Network medical drama, Grey’s Anatomy. Grey’s Anatomy has always been a frontrunner in the category of shows with representation. Them having more characters of color than white currently, with a strong showing of the LGBT community among the cast as well. Furthermore, they’ve also been known to tackle very pressing social topics. In Season 14, their episodes have taken an even more intense approach. We’re currently halfway through this new season, and they have targeted a new pressing topic in every episode, including domestic violence, police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, systematic racism, and systemic sexism. Grey’s is using its massive platform for the purpose of promoting awareness and education on these topics, and they’re undoubtedly sending important messages to their millions of viewers, many of whom would otherwise be blind to these issues; this is, of course, their ultimate goal. Importantly, it’s not just Grey’s Anatomy doing this. Television shows across numerous networks are doing the exact same thing. But as they target these topics more directly and explicitly than they ever have before, many viewers complain of these pressing issues being ‘shoved’ in their faces.

There are many viewers who want to be able to watch television without it being a public service announcement. TV time should be an opportunity to escape the harshness, the inequalities, and all the issues of the world. They argue that if one wants to be socially informed, they can turn on a new broadcast or read the paper. And this is where the true debate lies: should our entertainment, TV, be allowed to be the area of reprieve where we forget about national problems, or should this massive communication platform become the informative and alerting force that makes viewers pay attention to the world’s problems?

It appears that as times change, so do functions. Television was originally intended to entertain and uplift, provide us with plot lines and characters that we could live vicariously through, and escape the ‘averageness’ of everyday life. But now, with increasing popularity, it has become a tool for education, where we can learn to become more accepting and aware of the pressing situations going on today. People are slow to adapt to change, but in the hopes of a better society, we should view these TV shows as doing important work. In terms of eradicating these very important issues in the world, there should be no barriers to which the messages can be spread.