The impact of media on societal norms has been on my mind for years, but it was a recent article celebrating Sesame Street’s fiftieth anniversary that made me realize I needed to write about it.
Because, the iconic show’s founders had a bigger goal than simply creating effective and entertaining educational programming for kids. They wanted to support disenfranchised children of color in particular.
That’s why the show so many of us grew with started with the most diverse cast ever seen on TV at the time. That’s why they all lived in harmony on a typical lower-income city street. And everyone treated each other with kindness and respect.
Psychologists and marketers figured out a while ago that the images we see on the screen or page, and the words we hear and read, make a difference in how we see the world. Human beings are hardwired to learn from stories. And we make decisions based largely on emotion not logic, especially fear.
Add in the social proof so prevalent in advertising and social media, and the simple power of seeing somebody else do something… Well, that makes us believe we can (or should, or have to) do it too.
Pundits have talked a lot about “normalizing” behaviors and attitudes over the past two years, especially when it comes to hate crimes and hate speech. Why? Because the more we see, hear, and read about something the more normal it becomes. We become desensitized to it.
If everyone else is doing it, it must be okay, or even good for us to do it too. Certainly it becomes what’s expected. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing to see here, move along.
When it’s hate crimes that’s bad. When it teaches us to respect others and treat them with kindness, and expect the same for ourselves, it’s fantastic. Like Sesame Street.
For many years, the vast majority of romance novels had a heroine being saved by the strong and virile hero. While the billionaire who swoops and rescues the poor/naive/virginal young woman still exists, modern romance is also a hotbed of feminism and equality.
Romances have the power to show women, and minorities, and other normally disenfranchised people getting exactly what they want out of their lives, careers, and relationships. Today stories feature successful women (and POC, LGBTQ and disabled and marginalized people) who know what they want and don’t want to settle for less.
They don’t need a hero to rescue them, or sometimes even marriage or a child. But they do want a partner (or partners) who loves, supports, and respects them. And they want great sex.
We all need to see more woman and diverse people having happy, sexually satisfying, mutually supportive relationships. Just like we need to see more diverse characters on screen and on the page so they become normal instead of “other”.
Because while books may be escapist fantasies, they also teach us about other people and other ways to live. They show us what we should expect, and what we should believe. When it comes to getting the love, success, respect, and hot sex we deserve, we need all the examples we can get.
Has a book or movie ever changed how you see yourself or someone else? Has one ever inspired you to demand more from your relationships and life?
Please do comment and share your thoughts below.