Editorial: Embracing a New Vision of Global Diversity

May 5, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan just as TV broadcasters are setting their fall schedules may seem unrelated, but it is a good moment to pause and consider the lessons it offers about our world. If nothing else, these wars brought home just how diverse the people and points of view are on this planet. Even a cursory glance at the list of pilots being considered by American broadcasters chronicled elsewhere in this issue shows how little this kind of global diversity is represented in entertainment television.
This does not mean that there aren’t fine and worthwhile shows among the pilots under consideration. A lot of very talented people have toiled for many months to get their shows to this point. There are also enormous pressures on networks and programmers to choose shows that will attract the biggest audience and the most advertising. While that is true, there is also an opportunity for programmers to seize the moment and take those first few brave steps that might actually help change things.
It is not just the rest of the world that is diverse, it is also our own country. There are strong ethnic, religious, social, political and cultural groups in every city. It is not just a matter of black and white. There are people whose proud heritage stems from countries in Asia, the Middle East, the Pacific and elsewhere. The fact is very few of these groups are ever represented on American television. Mostly these are business decisions made out of fear of being different or of offending one group or the other. The fact is that the richness of our society is in its very diversity, and that wealth of social and cultural differences is rarely seen on the small screen.
Obviously, it’s not up to television programmers to set social policy. But it is important that they remember TV presents a window to the world that shows what America is made of. It may not be the intent of a commercial medium, but the fact is for a lot of people, including impressionable young people all over the globe, it is not the news but the entertainment shows that teach them who we are as Americans.
We believe there is in fact an economic incentive to create more diverse programming. It is really about keeping up with the times, and it is ultimately a matter of survival for broadcasters. If the major broadcast networks fail to embrace the true face of American society, they will continue to lose further ground to cable, which has been more responsive to a changing world. The examples set by HBO, FX and Showtime prove that diversity can be part of a successful business model.
In the wake of the war in Iraq, we have arrived at a potentially transforming moment. Television has a responsibility and an opportunity to embrace that moment and help create a vision for the future. By doing so, television can make itself stronger in much the same way that America became strong by embracing its cultural diversity.
Consider what we have just experienced. Many of the problems Americans and the Muslim world face today stem from a lack of understanding. If we see the world as more closely resembling the cast of Friends or Survivor than the population of Baghdad, we see an inaccurate picture of the world. For that matter, we also see an inaccurate picture of American society.
Only by opening up to more diversity in our programming can we really begin the process of overcoming the cultural ignorance, distrust and fear that exist. And it is a process that can also be extended to other corners of the globe and other cultures.
By largely ignoring the Arab world and other societies, prime-time TV has played an important role in perpetuating that ignorance, distrust and fear. While America as a society struggles to combat terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and other global threats, it is the real world that we must learn to better understand.