Can you recall the jobs or professions of the following television characters from the past?
–Jim Anderson, “Father Knows Best”
–Mike Brady, “The Brady Bunch”
–Archie Bunker, “All in the Family”
–Tom Bradford, “Eight Is Enough”
–Claire and Cliff Huxtable, “The Cosby Show”
–Steven and Elyse Keaton, “Family Ties”
–Danny Tanner, “Full House”
What about some of today’s TV characters? While Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe of “Friends” fame allegedly have jobs, rarely do viewers see them actually working. They do drink a lot of coffee and thus contribute to the economy in that way.
Perhaps the question more pressing than what these characters do is, what messages do they send viewers—especially children and teenagers—about work?
The Center for Media Literacy, a nonprofit educational organization, works to help people, especially the young, “develop critical thinking and media production skills needed to live fully in the 21st century media culture. The ultimate goal is to make wise choices possible.”
The CML currently offers at least two articles on its Web site that, though first published in 1989, can add some interesting insights and promote healthy discussion as you lead adults to talk about work.
One article, “Can TV Characters Pay Their Bills?” reminds us that the media present “images of glamorous jobs with big rewards and little or no effort,” which can lead young people to “conclude work is always exciting and extravagant lifestyles are easy to achieve.”
The writer suggests several pertinent questions your class members might enjoy discussing as you examine what the writer of Proverbs says about work.
Another CML Web site article, “When I Grow Up: Children and the Work-World of Television,” is a good resource for parents and grandparents who are concerned about what children and teenagers watch on television.
“The first thing that should strike a viewer as odd about professional life on television is that very few people do any real work at all. Instead, we see lawyers, doctors, police officers, private investigators, and business tycoons spending a great deal of time talking to one another—generally socializing on the job.”
Susanna Barber, the communications professor who wrote the article, further contends that television has made many jobs seem “mundane and unattractive, while exaggerating the allure of a few professions…. What is more, the motivations that people in real life suggest will get us to the very top are different from those depicted on television. Parents and teachers usually encourage children to study longer, work harder and become more disciplined in order to achieve their ambitions. In contrast, television often implies that they should ‘wise up’ to destructive, unethical ways of getting ahead in their professional lives.”
Barber does remind us that television is primarily entertainment and does not promise to be realistic or serious. Unfortunately, we—and especially children—tend to forget that and allow TV’s not-so-subtle impacts to color our picture of work.
Work is an integral part of life, a way that God allows us to become creative coworkers in the divine plan.
Self-discipline and productivity may not be widely characterized on television, but they are qualities of wise living.
Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.
Want to discuss media literacy with your children or grandchildren? Visit http://pbskids.org/dontbuyit/ for interactive resources they will enjoy.