This piece originally appeared in MUSE Issue XVIII. Check out the issue here.
I’ve long grown up hearing from peers and adults that watching too much television would turn my brain to mush. As high school progressed and the number of shows that I religiously watched increased, I felt I needed to downplay how important television was in my life. I’d pretend to feel sorry for myself, sitting on the couch watching TV on a Saturday night, while, on the inside, I was in fact thrilled. From the comfort of my own living room, I could travel through different times and places, taking on perspectives I’d never be offered in real life.
Back then, these TV shows didn’t need to be high-brow. Since middle school, I’ve been obsessed with Survivor. Observing the interactions between people from different walks of life has brought me new perspectives, and allowed me to connect with people vastly different from myself. Today, This Is Us—often pegged as just a wine-and-cry show for moms—features characters coping with problems ranging mental illness, grief, addiction, adoption, racism, and body image issues. While it may present a romanticized version of these journeys in which everything ends up okay, the show still creates a space for mass audiences to think and talk about these issues. And while the government strips sex education from primary schools, shows like Sex Education and Big Mouth step in to educate on topics ranging from puberty to birth control options.
Our generation has seen a shift in TV. We were raised on shows like Friends and The Big Bang Theory in which only white actors were featured and the occasional non-straight character was exhaustingly over-stereotyped. Throughout our time as teenagers, however, shows like Transparent and Dear White People have countered these narratives, shedding light on social inequalities and experiences of marginalized groups. As the face of TV grows, it’s awesome that more people are now finding television characters with whom they can identify. It’s also awesome that more people are now finding television characters from whom they differ, and from whom they can learn.
I’m not saying TV is the most important way of understanding other people, nor should you prioritize it over other aspects of your life. Talking to people with lived experiences will likely always be more authentic than the romanticized stories put on television. It’s time, however, to move on from the narrative that nothing is to be gained from television. The past decade has shown us than TV consumers and creators are not lazy people, and movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp have proven it. While we can find some sort of educational aspect to any form television, its recent push for diversity has granted us the opportunity to admit how much we love it. I’m no longer ashamed to be honest about how much TV matters in my life; it’s a way to relax, but it’s also a way to learn, and don’t let anyone shame you for it.