Friday, April 22, 2005

Algebra, Role Models and Fictional Characters. (Click PODCAST)

I had an algebra teacher in college who wanted us to look at subtraction differently so as to better handle some of the algebra problems. He told us not to look at subtraction as "take away" as we were taught in elementary school. "Addition and Subtraction are the same thing. Addition is the adding positive numbers, while Subtraction is the adding negative numbers. It's the same thing" I can apply the same idea to role models.

When we used to play on the playground and one of the kids would say an ethic slur, repeating words that they heard grown ups and the older kids say, a teacher would address the child with, "That word is very hateful. Do you want people to think that you’re a racist?" Not fully understanding what she meant we asked, "What’s a racist?" The teacher responded with, "Ah? Archie Bunker. You don’t want people to think that you’re an Archie Bunker." To be fair, Archie was more of a bigot: One who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ. A racist is: A person with a prejudiced belief that one race is superior to others. Archie would freely admit that blacks were better singers, dancers and athletes. People used to criticize Archie saying he was a bad role model. I always thought Archie was great role model. He was a perfect example of what I did not want to be. Parents considered Bart Simpson a bad role model. I say Bart is a great role model. He a perfect example of how kids should not act. By the way, Bart Simpson is a cartoon character that adds a second degree of separation from reality. Fictional characters should not be seen as role models anyway because their purpose is to drive the story many times requiring them to be larger than life. When I have created characters for scripts, I never asked if this character will be a positive role model, nor do I ponder how can I make my script undermine the morals of America's youth. I create characters that I hope the audience likes, identifies with, and will want to see week after week.

Parents Television Council Research and Publications Director Melissa Caldwell discussed Indecency on CNBC's The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch on March 30, 2005. PTC Video Clips -- Playing: Melissa_CNBC.wmv Ms. Caldwell said in regards to Desperate Housewives, "My solution is, show consequences if you are going to depict that kind of behavior." The characters on the show do have to deal with the consequences of their actions. Since the show is done in the style of a soap opera, most story lines do not get resolved in the course of one episode. But eventually they will have to deal with the consequences of their actions and just like in real life, some characters learn their lesson and some don't. Lets face it, does the audience really want to see Archie Bunker, Bart Simpson, Frank Burns, J.R. Ewing, Boss Hogg, Karen Walker or Gabrielle Solis see the light and walk the straight and narrow? I don't think so. In fact that's a sure-fire guarantee that the show will "Jump The Shark". Don't forget even Superman had his flaws, and he was also a pathological liar.

I was talking to a friend on how some people refer to showing bad behavior on TV as glamorizing the bad behavior. I said, " That's as ridiculous as saying that Archie Bunker glamorized bigotry". My friend pointed out that in a way Archie did glamorize bigotry. He reminded me that there were people in this country that idolized Archie and tuned into "All in the Family" every week to hear Archie say what they are thinking and not knowing that the character of Archie is mocking them. CHILD OF TELEVISION: Where’s Norman Lear now that we need him? Should the writers of these shows factor in this clueless demographic? I say no, because were still talking about fictional characters but I will make an exception with some characters that may influence young kids’. Behaviors like Fonzie getting a library card. A television program show is a form of story telling where there are good guys and bad guys (Don't make me bring up that period in the 70s when "Tom & Jerry had to be friends), and many is the time when the audience likes the bad guy best. Besides, before we go after fictional characters I think we should look at how real people in the media like Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Pat Robertson or Ann Coulter influence adults.

I’d like to revisit this topic. So please send me your comments so we can have some intelligent discussion on the subject.

To quote William Shatner on SNL, "It’s just a TV show! It’s just a TV show!"

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa


Richard Tatum said...


Right-on as always! This notion that somehow all characters on TV need to be some sort of role model is nothing short of sheer, unadulterated idiocy. Period. No exceptions. Before there was TV were these same people complaining about the evil influence of bad people on the radio? And before that, PLAYS? BOOKS????

Doesn't this sound moronic now in comparison? "That Bill Sykes in 'Oliver Twist' is a terrible influence on our nation's youth!" There is no difference: popular, mass culture outlets where stories of fictional characters are on display for (and I can't stress this enough) **entertainment** purposes.

I like "South Park" but I'm not really a fan, per se. However, I think the creators of that show made a truly pithy comment on this subject, to the effect of "the problem in America is that people let the television be a babysitter for their children." This is exactly what's really at issue as far as I'm concerned: personal freakin' resposibility (ironic, considering the same side of the political fence loves bringing this up as a reason why there should be fewer restrictions in government). Turn the TV OFF if you don't like the programming? You want to change what's on TV? Hit the networks where it counts: DON'T WATCH IT! Don't buy their sponsors products. Watch the competition. And once more for effect: TURN IT OFF. Or go rent Tom and Jerry cartoons from the '70s (indeed!).

Here's an idea: read "Oliver Twist" instead. Or is Bill Sykes too scary?

--R Tatum

Brent McKee said...

My example of a bad role model would be Mark McGwire. Could anyone honestly point him out to their kids and say "do you want to grow up to be like him". Every boy would whether you were saying it as a possitive or a negative. The guy got rich from playing a game, an who cares about the steroids with all their health impacts, the cheating at a game you supposedly love, not to mention all the crap that goes along with just being a ball player. But then I'll bet kids wanted to be like Lyle Alzado even when he was dying of steroid related cancer.

Peter said...


Another insightful Blog...But aren't people like Howard Stern actuallly playing characters as apposed to showing who they really are.

Archie Bunker was there to laugh at...and perhaps laugh at that part of him within ourselves that we are ashamed of.

Re: "Desperate Housewives" - I admit for the first time that I was slightly disturbed that a network television show is showing a grown woman having sex with an underage high schooler...I must be getting old.

I'll stay tuned...


SFC SKI said...

First of all, some people probably spend far too much time watching TV and pondering its impact on the general populace. (THey could be trolling internet forums and posting comments instead!)

Non-fiction TV is often an escape for viewers, as such letthe writers put in whatever they and the audience watch. I love the Shiled, but I sure wouldn't want to live or work in that precinct.

As for any role-modeling TV might provide, I watch what my kids watch and then decide what is appropriate.

John said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John said...

Want to know a fun fact? Melissa Caldwell played Lady You-Know-Who in a junior high school production of MACBETH. I know, because I was in it. I really do find her moral demagoguery hilarious, considering how she KILLED ME in a play as a teenager. She really got into the role, too, and was upset when the play director divided it between her and another girl that was more popular. But, Melissa got the good half, with the blood and the swearing. I'm just glad I had the chance to see her say the word "damn" in front of a bunch of kids. In light of her current crusade, that's priceless.