Diversity In Television, Part 4: Politics

How much do politics affect us in our daily lives, really? Does it depend on where we live, who we know, and how involved we are in our communities? How do our political views affect those around us,  from acquaintances, family members, or co-workers? And what about those of us who are a little less inclined to take part in the political arena?

I will admit to being extremely apathetic, perhaps even pessimistic, about politics. It seems like there is so much drama surrounding issues, there are too many people involved, and there isn’t a lot of power being meted out. The injustices that have occurred, the scandals, conspiracies, and general lack of competency do not inspire me to get involved. I am, however, grateful for friends and family who are involved in politics and take the time to research and then talk about their views as well as do the responsible thing and vote.

This is another diversity issue that presses a lot of buttons. I don’t understand the hullabaloo that often surrounds politics and can’t even force myself to get worked up over candidates and campaign trails and terms of office. I rarely have an opinion. In my life it doesn’t appear to change how I do things when one party has more power than the other or when a new party starts gaining traction. I have taken part in discussions on politics but only if it is an issue, like equal rights, that really matters to me.

Right now, the political climate is dark. Television has reflected this, going so far as to name the shows based on this particular viewpoint: Scandal, House of Cards, etc. Aaron Sorkin’s show The West Wing and Greg Daniels and Michael Shur’s show Parks and Recreation are the only political shows I’ve ever been able to get interested in and that was because I admired or enjoyed watching the characters. But why is it that most shows with political issues are political dramas? Why don’t politics enter other genres of television much?

The problem with political dramas is that they really only appeal to those already interested in politics. Those of us who don’t particularly care to get invested still need to be knowledgeable and vote responsibly and it would be even better if we took part in the world of local and global politics whether through discussion, active support, monetary donations or ensuring awareness via social media.

The only shows I can think of that aren’t political but do include at least one storyline about politics are Once Upon A Time, when Regina made one of her minions run against Emma for sheriff (local election), Ugly Betty where Betty’s sister Hilda was dating a political candidate (local), and then a few science fiction shows: Battlestar Galactica, Continuum, and The X-Files.

Here again I think it’s perhaps a better idea to discuss something as heated as politics in a safe setting (space, in this instance). Battlestar Galactica managed to discuss race, religion, and politics in a setting that invited discussion instead of the fury that usually accompanies arguing between people who hold differing viewpoints, perhaps because the show didn’t take sides. The Cylons rely on a small group of commanders for orders. The humans, on the other hand, rely on a party system with debates, candidates, and a voting system. While there appeared to be a bias toward the humans at the beginning of the show, the grey areas spread throughout the seasons, and by the end, it was hard to tell where people stood.

Cast of ContinuumThe X-Files spent a lot of time spinning yarns about a corrupted government and the people attempting to expose the government’s secrets. The inner workings of the government in The X-Files is less about the way American government works and a look at the absolute power the group possess and how it becomes corrupted.

Continuum‘s characters are fighting on either side of the government, one group fighting to uphold it while the other group attempts to overthrow it. Unfortunately, neither side has all the information. The time travelers from the future are running from a totalitarian government who is keeping secrets from its citizens, while in the present, there are already plans and plots in place for moving in that direction.

None of these actually do a lot in terms of showing what the government process looks like in real life, how local elections affect people in day-to-day life, how different people are in their political views, and how much of a range there is between those who may take a mild interest in politics to those who thrill to the idea of a campaign trail or attending a ball at the governor’s mansion and those who want to run for office.

That leaves me with three ideas:

First, I’d like to see a more diverse political atmosphere. Instead of just Republicans and Democrats, what about the Green Party? Or the Tea Party? And instead of catering to stereotypes, showing a range of views would be much more realistic. There are varying degrees of conservative and liberal views, and not everyone in the group agrees on every issue. I’d like to see non-crazy people in every party and people in every party who don’t make the best decisions. That sort of thing takes all kinds.

Second, it would be best to present political views without commentary and let the audience engage. Any time a view is forced on someone it becomes distasteful and the audience will lose trust in the story. Presenting a wide rage of views and letting the characters interact with each other in an organic way would be more difficult for the writers, but ultimately the most rewarding when it comes to portraying politics and people realistically.

Third, I think it would be fascinating to see something other than American politics. I loved the parts of Star Wars where we got to see the Galactic Senate, thinking about all the different planets and dignitaries and their relationships with each other and their peoples. Wouldn’t it be great to see a show set around the UN or to see a historical piece about shifting governments and people changing their political views because of real life encounters? Or what about emerging governments, or governments that are degenerating?

Galactic SenateI think what I’m really saying about political diversity is that I don’t want to be apathetic. I want to care. The decisions made for me and my country affect me whether I vote or not. I want to be responsible. I simply feel overwhelmed because I can’t see the big picture. I don’t know how everything works together. I took Government & Economics in high school but there was never a time where I felt like I got how much of an impact local, state, and national government makes on me in my life.

I also want to know about other governments. I don’t think there’s any one system that’s “the best” but I’d like to see how they all play out. And think of the opportunities for other diversities to show up when speaking about worldwide government, from revolutions to tribes to royal families to setting up new governing systems.

There’s a wealth of stories to be mined from these various political climates and I hope that someone realizes the potential to display something more than a slick American government drama focusing on greed and power or a comedy about inefficient local government. Not that there’s anything wrong with these shows, but I don’t think they should be the only two choices (or parties?) available.

You might wonder why I haven’t mentioned any news programs in this look into political diversity. It’s because I don’t see diversity in the news. I see a bunch of people arguing over petty things, pushing the important issues aside in favor of toeing the political line, and pushing propaganda on people while deliberately misleading us in order to gain power.

Picture 3The few big news-worthy items I remember from the last several years are scandals, like the ones surrounding Chris Christie, Anthony Weiner, Obama and his birth certificate debacle, and Clinton’s fiasco (and the former governor of the state I live in, Mark Sanford). What’s even more shocking is what we’re not being told. While everyone is gathered in a frenzy over the new big scandal, there are dozens of senators, house representatives, and local government authorities who are being investigated, sentenced, and fined. Wikipedia has an incredibly long list of scandals just of the last two years, including one state senator candidate who was accused of 117 counts of child molestation.

How can we trust news sources who only share the big stuff if it’s in their favor? I don’t want to hear someone screaming at me (looking at you, Rush Limbaugh) about his political opinions. I want someone to show me, without trying to force me into their camp, what is going on in my state and in the country. I want to know what I can do to make a difference. I want politicians to take responsibility and actually try to solve some problems we’re having, like lack of decent and affordable healthcare (some of us can’t even buy the new healthcare we’re supposed to have), rising education costs, and taking care of animals, children, and those who are without jobs.

So, I’ve decided to do something about my political apathy. I registered to vote (as an Independent), and I’m going to be talking to my political-savvy friends about their take on various political parties and issues. I would also like to know more about local elections and what we’re doing to solve some city-wide problems.

I’m not saying I’m jumping in headfirst. I don’t think I’ll ever be as excited about politics as I am about other things. But I do think that even those of us who aren’t interested have a responsibility to do what we can, even if it’s just being aware of local and national elections, making informed decisions, and casting our vote in hopes of finding a political candidate who will work toward making things better for all of us. Maybe television will one day follow suit.

K.M. Cone

K.M. Cone

K.M. Cone is a story nerd, particularly for the episodic stories told via the medium of television. When not parked in front of the TV, K.M. Cone can be found writing kooky urban fantasy on her personal site, attempting to learn German, or making a huge pot of soup for her friends, who are probably coming over to join her in her latest TV or animated film obsession.
K.M. Cone

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