Opinion: You are what you watch

Holly Fisher is a senior English and linguistics major from Elizabethtown, Ky.

There is an expression for people in this modern age — we call ourselves “media consumers.” This idea that we watch things the same way we consume food has interesting implications — so what happens when we consume junk? Television shows and movies with undertones such as sexism and racism mentally affect us the same way junk food physically affects us — which in turn affects the world we live in.

One of the great qualities of Truman State is how socially conscious everyone is, and this has made me a much more socially conscious person during the four years I’ve been here. I’m starting to see issues such as sexism, racism and classism everywhere, but I see it the most when I turn on my TV. I’ll be watching a show, sometimes one of my favorite shows, and I hear myself muttering under my breath, “Well, that’s sexist,” or, “I’m pretty sure that’s racist” — yet I keep watching.

A little while back I started watching the 1982 show “Knight Rider,” and anyone who has ever seen a single episode knows exactly how sexist it is. I knew this, but I sat down, grimaced a little and binge watched the whole thing during a few weeks. I loved the action, I loved the premise and most of all, I loved the car. Even though I loved so much about the show, I hated myself for being personally offended during almost every episode and then immediately queuing up the next one after it ended.

I’m not a masochist, honestly. However, I’ve done this with so many other shows during the last few years, and sadly, some of them were created much more recently than “Knight Rider.” For a while, I thought I could look past the blatant sexism, racism or classism in what I watched because they were older shows. Times were different back then and, even though most were pretty cheesy to begin with, the various undertones throughout the show didn’t really degrade the quality of it, right?

I realized just how wrong I was when the same trends started popping up in modern shows. “Supergirl,” for example, I was pretty excited about before it first aired. A female superhero lead sounded revolutionary. Clearly, the media industry was beginning to fight sexist ideology, but again, I was wrong. “Supergirl” ended up being so pro-feminist it actually was blatantly sexist. Most, if not all, of the female characters are caricatures, and they still look to the male characters in the show for direction and guidance. They even went so far as to beef up the wonderfully pathetic Jimmy Olsen so they could have some stronger male characters to balance out the women.

These same issues pop up in movies and video games too — African Americans, Hispanics, LGBTQ individuals and anyone outside of the middle class largely are stereotyped and appear only in supporting roles. I truly would have thought we know a little better by now, but the only thing we’ve really improved is how subtle we are.

There’s a saying my mom used to be particularly fond of. She’d say, “Trash in, trash out.” I never really cared for it before, but this is the stance I’m trying to take in regards to my own media consumption. Continually watching sexist or racist shows only serves to cement the pre-existing stereotypes we should be breaking down. In fact, we actually spread these social issues further when we provide certain shows with a mass audience they don’t deserve.

There is so much media product floating around in the world that it would be impossible for any one person to consume it all, so why not be a little pickier with what we do consume? The line of production begins and ends with the consumers — us. For that reason, we shouldn’t watch things just for the sake of watching things, but really consider what we decide to give our attention to.

What’s more is the fact that my generation — the generation of Truman students — is moving from being consumers to being producers. We are reaching the point where we will begin to have control over what reaches the general public. This makes it all the more necessary for us to start focusing on what currently is out there and what we can do to fix the issues.

We are what we eat, and when we consume junk, that’s exactly what comes out. So take some time this week to really look at what you watch, and decide if those shows or movies are actually something you need in your life.

Holly Fisher is a senior English and linguistics major from Elizabethtown, Ky.

This editorial originally appeared in the March 3 issue of the Index.