WASHINGTON, D.C., May 7, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – In 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle criticized the sitcom Muphy Brown to task for undermining the nuclear family. Twenty years later, another Vice President is crediting television with redefining the family.
In a controversial “Meet the Press” interview Sunday, Joe Biden appeared to endorse same-sex “marriage,” saying he was “absolutely comfortable” with granting same-sex couples the same privileges enjoyed by traditional families.
Biden told NBC’s David Gregory that society had changed its views on marriage, thanks largely to one television program.
“I take a look at when things really begin to change, is when the social culture changes. I think ‘Will and Grace’ probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody’s ever done so far,” he said. “This is evolving.”
The popular sitcom, which featured a homosexual character and his female friend, ran for eight seasons.
Conservatives greeted the vice president’s blunt acknowledgment of the role media play in shaping moral values with praise.
“Biden is absolutely correct,” Matt Philbin, managing editor of the watchdog group Culture and Media Institute told LifeSiteNews.com. “Television does have the ability to shape our attitudes.”
“What we see on television and what we’re exposed to in teaches us new norms,” Philbin said. “It reforms what we think of as normal. Maybe ‘Will and Grace’ did start to normalize homosexuality for the mass culture.”
Despite industry claims that its product has no effect on its viewers, psychologists have noted that television impacts moral stances. Dr. Judith Van Evra of the University of Waterloo found that children who watch television “see greater variety in the makeup of families including single-parent families, blended families, and same-sex relationships.” This colors their sense of “what families should be like and what is appropriate and desirable behavior.” Since children have a “more limited experience and knowledge base, and in the absence of competing information, television may have a particularly potent effect on them.”
The shifting of societal norms is occurring once again, Philbin told LifeSiteNews, with the show “Modern Family,” a well-regarded sitcom that presents a same-sex couple as “normative.”
Scholars have discovered television plays a particularly strong role in forming its viewers’ notions of normal family make-up and the roles of the sexes.
A 2002 study conducted for the Kaiser Family Foundation stated “some media scholars argue that entertainment TV’s impact can be even more powerful than news in subtly shaping the public’s impressions of key societal institutions,” because its “messages are more engaging, often playing out in compelling human dramas involving characters the audience cares about.”
Popular culture is also influential because of the feeling of shared community. “Americans experienced the first man on the moon together on television,” Philbin said. “Americans have experienced great sporting events, great tragedies together on television, and that lends it a certain cultural weight.
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Another factor is that “we are just a television-centered culture.”
A 2011 Harvard Medical School study revealed the television viewing habits of their social circle shapes how Americans think and act.
CMI, a project of the Media Research Center, tracks the media’s message and finds it pushing in only one direction.
“The liberal groupthink in Hollywood is notorious,” Philbin said.
Hollywood often claims it merely reflects societal norms, but he noted “Hollywood is terribly insular. They don’t understand much that goes on outside of Hollywood. They’re in the position where they believe that they make the taste. And they do to a certain extent – they have too much power to dictate cultural norms to the rest of us,” Philbin told LifeSiteNews.com. “But they also don’t realize that what they say day after day is not reflective of the rest of America.”
Vice President Biden’s remarks were just to “Will and Grace” star Debra Messing’s taste. After his appearance Sunday, Messing sent two messages on Twitter expressing her pride at promoting the redefinition of the family through entertainment. “I’m thrilled Biden has come out in support of gay marriage and am beyond proud of what he said @ W&G,” she wrote. A few minutes later, she tweeted, “I could not be more proud. Thank you Mr. Vice President for yer support and yer words about W&G.”
Such comments highlight the sense that Hollywood deliberately infuses messages with political or moral content intended to change the values of its consumers.
“It’s very difficult to look at these things today and not feel like you’re being assaulted by an agenda – a libertine, anything-goes sexual agenda,” Philbin said.