In this day and age, when ethics in reality have been so far compromised in the hankering for success and self satisfaction, how much does one expect television shows to stick to their ethical protocol? Even more so, when the ethics of TV shows are a hazy blur- no clear rules, and no set guidelines to stick to. But the real question is this- is the lack of ethical conduct in reality resulting in a reflection of the same in TV shows or do the TV shows drive people towards unacceptable behaviour?
The answer is not a simple one- it perhaps starts with reality influencing the content of the shows and then rapidly causes an inverse cycle of these shows, in turn influencing more people to emulate what they see on TV. Some examples of Indian as well as foreign TV shows are required here. Take for instance teenage American dramas like 90210 and Gossip Girl, which for one would make misguided teens a false idea of cultural “coolness” and make them want to behave the way the characters do. Besides explicit content, the show also has morally ambiguous characters which are clearly a bad influence on adolescents.
Other TV shows like Dexter, while extremely entertaining in their revolutionary concepts, can adversely influence people into hero-worshipping a serial killer. Showing a murderer in a good light can be rationalized but the problem is that once out there, the way it influences people is not something predictable of controllable.
In fact there have been several cases, where people have claimed to be inspired into some criminal activity or the other by TV shows. In November 2009, Andrew Conley, 17, was arrested in Rising Sun, Indiana, in connection with the death of his 10-year-old brother, Conner. Conley was a regular viewer of Dexter, and claimed that he felt “just like him”.
Another case is that of the graveyard murders, In April 2011. An engaged couple, Maartens van der Merwe, 24, and ChanÃ© van Heerden, 20, were arrested in Welkom, South Africa, in connection with the death of 24-year-old Michael van Eck. Nether denied the accusation. The murder imitated the brutal fashion as that shown in the series. The police later found that the couple openly referred to each other as “Dexter” and “Lumen”. The parents of the couple stated that the couple had a big love for the television series Dexter, and often quoted and impersonated the characters. Family members stated that “the couple’s relationship was a reflection of the deadly and gruesome relationship between Dexter Morgan and Lumen Pierce.”
The above examples clearly show the extreme to which unethical content of TV shows could directly and violently affect society.
Less impactful but equally unethical, in my opinion, are the vast number of Indian TV shows that depict women as ideally meant for housework and motherhood. Even in this modern age, studies have shown that many people still enjoy TV shows whose underlying concept is the submissive, stay-at-home woman serving her husband devotedly. When on the one hand TV shows like these continue to be shown and received with equal enthusiasm, it is a small wonder that gender equality as the basis of social interactions seems a thing of the distant future.
Besides fictional TV shows, Reality TV is another concept that perhaps disregards all kinds of ethical guidelines. The competitive shows for children not just put undue pressure on them but also thrust them into the adult world almost ten years too soon. Many times parents, in an attempt to prove to the world their child’s talents, force them into participation. This, and the often harsh criticism by the judges, can often damage a child’s psyche and cause serious repercussions later.
Other types of reality TV shows, which involve adults, are even more ethically misguided. Shows like Roadies that are built on the concepts of physical pain and humiliation as tests are not only dehumanizing but also distort the ideas of the young viewers. Other shows like Big Brother, and its Indian counterpart Big Boss, promote an obscene sense of voyeurism in people, and cause unnecessary and often permanently damaging conflicts between people.
In conclusion, it can be said, that the TV shows that flout ethical guidelines, be it in their content or language, do not do so with intent to cause problems in society and in fact, often draw their ideas from the society itself. It is true that these shows have an artistic liberty and too much restriction compromises that, but a line must be drawn. Every work of art is in the end responsible to society and as such it is, extremely important to have a code of ethics and a strict implementation of the same.