You want a resolution for 2009? Watch more TV and heed its lessons. Two examples of why:
Every weekday morning Bravo! airs two episodes of the West Wing – the Emmy Award winning drama about life inside the west wing of the White House. I was watching this morning and caught this excerpt from an episode in 2002, featuring an interview between a local Philadelphia TV station and the fictional President, Jed Bartlet, about energy policy:
TV REPORTER: And joining us now from the Mural Room of the White House is President Bartlet. Good morning, Mr. President.
BARTLET: Good morning. Thanks for having me.
TV REPORTER: And you’re here to talk about Thursday’s prime-time press conference.
BARTLET: And to shill for my new energy plan, which is about raising fuel economy standards, working with Detroit to develop hybrid cars, and using tax incentives to promote alternative energy.
TV REPORTER: Why is alternative energy important?
BARTLET: After a decade of wars with Iraq and a spread of religious extremism in Saudi Arabia, we still rely on this very dangerous, very uncertain region for a quarter of our oil reserves. And I, for one, wouldn’t mind not sending quite so much of my money there.
TV REPORTER: Now, wouldn’t that suggest that Florida Governor Robert Ritchie was correct in his book “A Promise to Lead” when he says we should be opening up the Arctic for exploration?
BARTLET: Exploring is what Magellan did and Balboa and Jacques Cousteau. What we’re talking about is drilling which is the only way you know if there’s oil there and which will forever damage national treasures like ANWAR.
TV REPORTER: What about Clean Coal?
BARTLET: Clean Coal is a term that pollsters came up with ’cause it polls higher then regular coal. What we want are real cleaner burning fuels. We want to control our destiny through innovation and that’s what we’re going to be talking about Thursday night.
TV REPORTER: Mr. President, thank you very much for being with us today.
BARTLET: My pleasure.
TV REPORTER: It’s 16 past the hour. We’ll be back with traffic and weather as Wake-Up Philadelphia continues.
Turn on the news and you will see the same debate taking place today — six years after the episode aired. That’s right — even though the show has been off the air since 2006, the reruns demonstrate that the writers understood the pulse of the nation (then and now) and had a better sense of where American policy was headed, or should head, than most of the nation. I wonder why nobody heeded their advice (on this issue or many others)?
My wife and I have also been watching Mad Men, the AMC original series about the life of advertising executives in the 1960s. If you can see past the clothing (thin ties are back, aren’t they?) and rampant sexism of the time, what you will see is that the advertising industry hasn’t changed that much. The ideas are being recycled, money is flowing to most of the same venues, and many ad industry folks, it seems, are still sitting in their offices thinking up slogans and strategies without truly understanding what the audience they are trying to reach really thinks or wants. Are people from the ad world not watching, or not willing to acknowledge that some of the same blind spots still exist today?
I thought TV was supposed to reflect our society, but more and more I think the best shows are teaching us how to act, or at very least the lessons we need to learn and mistakes to avoid. I suppose if the problems in our government or advertising industry are so obvious that television dramas can exploit them to drive ratings, it may be past the point where acknowleding the change is enough. But I think there is the potential for change if our leaders, as well as those who aspire to lead, pay closer to attention to what is on TV. We must be willing to watch and learn.
Clearly, since the auto industry and the government haven’t made much progress on the energy issue, and the advertising industry is still making the same mistakes it was forty years ago, there are lessons waiting on our TiVo’s still to be learned. I say tune in and step up.