The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Television should be used as a platform to address social issues

3 min read
By SARAH GARNETT Staff Writer While some are getting ready to go out for a night at Brock’s, I’m usually settling in at home for a new episode of “Grey’s Anatomy.”


Staff Writer

My typical Thursday night usually looks a little different than some other UMW students. While some are getting ready to go out for a night at Brock’s, I’m usually settling in at home for a new episode of “Grey’s Anatomy.” I’ve followed the show for the last five years and have invested hours watching all 15 seasons. The show boasts millions of viewers each week and will break a record for the longest running medical drama on television this week. 

In recent years, I have noticed an increase in social issues addressed throughout the story line of the show. For example, in season 14 of the show, a young boy is brought in with a gunshot wound inflicted from a police officer. The officer shot the boy as he attempted to enter his home, thinking he was breaking and entering. The narrative of the story highlights that the color of his skin is likely the reason he was shot. 

The film and television industry has the capability to reach millions to raise awareness about current issues. Producers, writers and directors alike should produce more content that confronts issues across the spectrum such as gun control, police violence and LGBTQ+ equality. 

“Grey’s Anatomy” is just one example of a television show that addresses social issues. Others include “13 Reasons Why”, which tackles the issues of bullying, suicide and sexual harassment amongst teens; “Shameless”, which centers around mental health issues; and even “Orange is the New Black”, which raises awareness of mass incarceration issues. 

However, many shows have received backlash over attempts to talk about social issues on air. While Grey’s is praised for its ability to eloquently address social issues, shows such as “13 Reasons Why” received major criticism from viewers who felt the show approached suicide insensitively, some critics even claiming the show glorified suicide.

In the industry, it is difficult to portray social issues in a way that it is interpreted positively by majority of the audience. 

Dan Wolfe, a professor in the College of Business, recently left the movie industry after working for over two decades at NBC Universal. When asked if he believed writers and producers use their platform to project their opinions of social issues onto the audience, he said, “Yes, it’s a very liberal point of view if you think about it. When you look at today’s dramas they are very much reflective of our society today, whether it’s about immigration or violence.” 

When shows project opinions on current affairs, the audience has no say in how the issue is addressed. In turn, not all viewers will agree with the message, or the delivery of it. Subsequently, the shows lose their audiences and their ratings go down too, all at the price of much needed discussion.

This obviously puts members of the film and television industries in a compromising position, and begs the question, how do writers and producers determine how far is too far? When asked if he felt that there should be regulations for how to address social issues in the movie/television industry, Wolfe responded, “No, I think that you need to have creative liberties. I might not agree with [all opinions] but it is a platform, just like anything else, to express opinions.” 

Senior Rebekah Eyob said, “it’s important for the media that influences viewers’ opinions and understanding of the world to adjust to the new social world we’re living in, and use their influence to normalize discussions and thought surrounding these issues.” 

Now more than ever, diversity among both actors and content is at its highest peak in the industry. However, the industry can’t stop there. With so many social issues taking the spotlight in today’s society, it is only fitting for these issues to be addressed.  The industry and its leaders must continue to practice their creative liberty, as Wolfe said, and continue writing narratives that educate audiences on current social issues that demand attention.