In lieu of learning about the origins of television and how far it has come, I’ve often pondered how audiences react to changes in the television industry. The inclusivity movement has upset many traditional and conservative television watchers. They’ve watched as their idea of a good character fades away over time. The straight, white, blue collar cast is becoming scarce across television platforms. They are being replaced with people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities. This representation can garner praise or disgust. People who support inclusivity want to see themselves represented on screen, however, representation is perceived as a threat to some. People who disagree with certain communities’ beliefs or people who have an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality will not jump to support representation. Should mainstream media continue to force ideals on people and their children through television? Does the inclusion of oppressed groups do more harm than good for their communities?
The value of a television show comes from its development. Rooted in a show’s development is the writers and executives behind the scenes. According to pbs.org, 92 percent of the CEO and chair positions of Hollywood’s C-Suite are held by white males. The roots of the lack of representation run deep and start at the development level. While people of color have become more visible on screen, it took racial injustice and a nationwide movement to get to that point. The events that took place during the Summer of 2020 with George Floyd will go down in history. News feeds covered riots, peaceful protests, and speeches around the clock. For a black person, it was exhausting to be constantly reminded of the reality we have to face daily. Floyd’s experience and those with experiences similar to his were shown on television to bring awareness to the issue. Was that enough? People want to be represented on television, but to be represented in a negative, or possibly traumatic way is something that black men and women have experienced for years. The trajectory of African American on-screen representation is headed in the right direction, but positive representation on-screen is in the distant future.
Another community that has experienced more representation in television as of late is the LGBTQ+ community. As one of the most traditional forms of media, television watchers themselves hold traditional views of what they think should or should not be on their families’ television set. In its historic 30th season, Dancing with the Stars produced its first same-sex partnership with celebrity JoJo Siwa and her partner Jenna Johnson according to Screenrant.com. JoJo Siwa started her road to stardom on Lifetime’s Dance Moms. She left Dance Moms to pursue acting on Nickelodeon and went on to build her own brand by selling hair bows, bookbags, books, toys, and other items targeted to a young audience. When JoJo came out as lesbian in January of 2021, she took a risk that could have damaged her brand. She had to face the negativity from homophobic parents who would not allow their children to use her products or support her content. On the other hand, parents could use her coming out to show their children that they can be whoever they want to be. The effects of representation vary from person to person. JoJo coming out this year, and going on to dance in a same-sex partnership on a heavily viewed show is methodical. It gets people watching, tweeting, and sharing about the show. If people are opening dialogues about minority representation because of what they see on television, the television executives have done their job. Television shows serve as an escape from reality, but that does not excuse the oversaturation of certain groups on television and behind the scenes.