While I have been immersed in the stories from Ferguson, Missouri following the police-involved shooting death of an unarmed teenager, my thoughts continue to go to the disconnect so many people feel from fellow human beings. This ages-old human tendency to put other people in categories that separate, and to judge our own categories as preferable or superior to others, well, it just causes so much pain and suffering.
Growing up in a town whose founder designed everything to break down the idea of "other" between people gave me a strong sense of empathy for and connection with all people. Yet, I don't remember anyone specifically telling me that all people are equal. It is a lesson I learned over time, reinforced by countless people and messages from all around.
It's hard to even know how we learn values and world-views, right? I mean, it's not like you could honestly say "I learned my values in Mr. Jones' 11th grade history class. Lucky me, I got them all right then." So I found it really interesting to come across two news items this summer that reveal a bit about how we do develop our values.
First, I came across this NPR piece, "What 'The Golden Girls' Taught Us About AIDS."
Rose's dialogue embodies several misconceptions about HIV infection, pervasive at the time: that "people like her - an older, middle class, heterosexual, "innocent" woman - shouldn't get such a disease, that none of her friends will want to associate with her now, and that she is being punished for some kind of bad behavior.
To which Blanche thoughtfully replies, "AIDS is not a bad person's disease, Rose. It is not God punishing people for their sins.All of those concepts about AIDS seem like big "well, duh" moments now. I bet my kids would have as hard a time imagining how people could treat those with HIV and AIDS the way they treated Ryan White, Pedro Zamora, and the more than 100,000 other people living with and dying of the disease in the 1989. I watched "The Golden Girls" regularly and can still sing the whole theme song. ("...and the card attached would say..." Sing it with me!)
But this is what The Golden Girls was so good at: bringing home those topics that often made people uncomfortable - racism, homosexuality, older female sexuality, sexual harassment, the homeless, addiction, marriage equality and more - and showing us how interconnected and utterly human we all are at any age.Reading this piece about one of my favorite shows made me long for that kind of art for my daughters, and it made me wonder what other shows served us well by tackling tough issues or showing culturally marginalized characters. "The Cosby Show", "Roseanne", "Will and Grace", "The Real World", and "I Love Lucy" re-runs all come to mind. For me, these shows all showed us our interconnectedness and our humanity. We don't watch a lot of TV in our family, so I truly do wonder if there are shows on now that do for today's viewers what my "good ol' days" of TV did for me.
While my children don't watch a lot of TV, they do read a lot of books. It made me very happy to read that many students who read the Harry Potter series had positive attitudes towards people in the LGBT and immigrant communities. (Unless the readers identified with Voldemort. Hmm.) Prima and Seconda have each read the entire series; Terza might begin it this year.
It's not really surprising that the shows we watch as children (and the commercials that air during the shows) as well as the books we read strongly shape our attitudes and values. What do the people selling cleaning products look like? Do you remember the controversy about a recent Cheerios ad? Do TV sitcom fathers remind you of any fathers you know in real life? What do the toy aisles of big box stores reveal about how children with male genitalia and children with female genitalia play? Does the evening news give you a certain idea about life in a particular city? Is there more to the story of that city?
As a parent, I am grateful for resources like A Mighty Girl and Common Sense Media which review books, shows, movies, and games with an eye towards the values and messages these media impart. I think of media consumption a lot like nutrition - you are what you eat, so make it good.