The role of the media in democratizing information is second to none. But I do think being too reliant on media as our only source of information and knowledge is dangerous. Dangerous, because television, radio and print media can only go so far in educating and creating awareness for specific issues. So many issues, so little time. I say that as a compliment, because there has been more representation given to marginalised groups in the past 5 years than in the past 20 years combined (and as a black gay atheist, that makes me giddy indeed!).
But what all the TV shows in the world cannot do is create change in our societies. They can spark the flame that leads to greater understanding, sure. But we must keep the flames alight, and let them spread to other places.
The media, in all its democratized glory, has seen the importance of driving social change and transformation. That’s why we’ve seen a slew of series confronting LGBTI issues, traditional circumcision, and the Black Lives Matter phenomenon (shout-out to Mutual Friends, the highlight of my week!). Soapies, which usually deal with who’s cheating on who, have incorporated social issues into their storylines. Not to be activists, no, but to depict real life as its happening in our homes and on the streets. They got this!
What the media haven’t got is the ability to change minds; to actually make people deal with complexities and hardships that don’t directly affect them. Like I said before, the media -and television, in particular- have used their role as the epicentre of our daily lives as privileged (I use that term loosely) urban citizens to teach. What a television show shouldn’t be expected to do, however, is condense all the experiences and feelings of every marginalised group ever into 30 minutes. Ratings and drama will always be prioritised over “painting an accurate picture”.
As social beings, it’s important to recognize the (justifiable) shortcomings of the media as educators, and start educating ourselves.
That means reading. That means actual dialogue within communities (say, weekly lekgotlas?) where experiences of people are spoken about and listened to, without being minimized or compared. That means making a conscious commitment to understanding the experiences and struggles of those who aren’t like you- be they uneducated, a different skin colour, or whatever arbitrary differences keep us constantly secluded from each other.
You know what else that means? It means putting down the phone for once, and out of your inner circle. Very often, our comfort zones serve as barriers to debate and engagement. No matter where you are on the social activism spectrum, understanding and listening to human topics from other perspectives is a big help in that it creates solidarity.
If television shows are a depiction of real life, then we should see less hate crimes, less rape, less racism. But we aren’t. Mainly because there’s a huge gap between what we want society to be, and what society actually is. Let’s mind the gap.