The discussion of politics and controversial social issues in entertainment media is a phenomenon that is widely debated among its consumers. Television, film and other forms of media frequently incorporate context from real world phenomena—people, occurrences and ideas—within plotlines. Some use satire, which mocks said phenomena, as a driving comedic force, while others create dramatic social commentaries. These depict the harmful effects of said phenomena, causing audience members to reflect on their own beliefs and morals.
For many, entertainment is a way to escape from daily hardships. To turn on the television after a long and stressful day and be exposed to channels that are talking about depressing, negative things that are happening around us is less than ideal. People would much prefer a good laugh, or a heartwarming story that takes them out of their world and into a completely made-up one.
While I certainly acknowledge the appeal behind this argument, I think it is crucial to recognize the importance of social and political commentary in popular media. Many people close themselves off from politics because of stress, disinterest and confusion. This decision, while understandable, does come with harmful consequences. Ignorance is not bliss in a democracy like the one we live in. Our words, actions and votes are liable to have a strong impact on the rights, well-being and overall lives of our fellow citizens. Uninformed decisions perpetuate a world in which the values of those who face discrimination and/or oppression under current political conditions are overlooked, and where improvement is unlikely.
Putting relevant commentary in entertainment media, especially in a comedic way, is akin to hiding vegetables in dessert. It is an enjoyable way to facilitate discussions about existing problems that should not be ignored. “Family Guy” is a popular example of this that I have seen brought up in this context. Its animation and general crude humor are enjoyable elements which draw in a large audience. However, throughout the episodes, many jokes pertain to subjects such as politicians, government organizations, sexual identity, gender roles in American households and more. The criticism behind these jokes sheds light on such issues, pointing out flaws that would otherwise be ignored.
Still, shows like “Family Guy” should not be the primary source of education on important political and social issues. Many jokes miss the mark, and often cross the line between satirical and offensive. It is merely a way to spark curiosity as to why these things are being criticized, rather than to fully educate. To say that this curiosity leads to further research is likely naive, but perhaps it at least creates a greater sense of willingness to learn more about political and societal issues. It is time to open our minds to social commentary in the media.