This Week’s Mtg: TV/Movies Effects On Our Political Opinions

We talk about the media a lot.  But, we never discuss its non-news functions and the influence they have on public opinion.

Yes, some TV shows and movies deal with explicitly political subjects and/or take firm political
stances:  The West Wing, 24; The Passion of the Christ, Avatar, Michael Moore movies.  But, mostly, TV and the movies avoid being openly partisan and politically opinionated, in part so as not to alienate viewers (plus, politics is a ratings snoozer).  And, as Chris pointed out to me a while ago, TV and movie viewing is not very different from other realms of information gathering in that most people seek explicit political opinions they already like and avoid those they don’t.

Still, I think TV and the movies have an indirect but important effect on Americans’ political opinions because they help to shape our views of the world more generally.

I’m talking about:

  • Dramas and comedies (e.g., crime shows, action/war movies, sitcoms),
  • Reality TV,
  • Non-news oriented talk shows (like late night comedians, daytime talk)
  • Science and history TV shows and film documentaries.
  • Sports programming.

Such shows can be insidious because they deliver politically related messages when viewers
are not looking for them and often are not even aware of them.   These messages can relate to a lot of things that touch on politics:

  • Race.
  • Class and inequality.
  • Business and corporations.
  • Politicians and the profession of politics.
  • Religion.
  • Hot button social issues.
  • Crime.
  • National security.

IMO, these messages are a mix of liberal and conservative.  But, they matter and I think they’re worth discussing as part of our long-term effort to examine the root causes of our political wars.  Remember, the typical household still watches 4+ hours of TV per day and the Internet has not yet
come close to crowding out movies and TV as the main sources of Americans’ entertainment.

On Thursday, I’ll be brief and try to guide us more using the questions below than with a lecture.  I’ll open by listing some of the effects on voters that TV and the movies allegedly have, at least according to critics on the Left and Right.  Then I’ll either talk briefly about sources of entertainment media bias or, if people have that vacant stare look, just open it up.


  1. How do you think TV and the movies affect Americans’ political opinions in the areas listed above:  Class, race, religion, etc.
  2. Are these messages direct, or implied?  Deliberately planted or unconsciously biased?  What  are the biases of the people who make these shows?
  3. Has the situation and/or the message in these shows changed in recent years (grown more conservative, more liberal, less/more political, less/more racist, less/more corporate-friendly, etc.)?
  4. Can you think of an important movie or TV show that illustrates any of these effects?
  5. Is all of this exaggerated?  Do the entertainment media really influence political opinions this much?  Do they reflect public opinion more than they lead it?
  6. Are movies and TV a big obstacle to the kind of country you want to see us evolve
    into the 21st century?


See yo all there.  As always, tell a friend.


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