Importance of Diversity in Television Programming
When you turn on the television, much of the shows that are trending today are reality shows full of verbal noise, devoid of intelligence or relevance to actual life. It has come to a point that if you actually see something realistic that occurs on a reality show, one refers to it as “real” Reality TV. If you ever catch yourself saying something similar, it gives moment to ponder just how scripted Reality TV actually is. The amount of viewership of reality shows reveal that people are genuinely interested in the human experience and not just any experience but the experiences of others. Watching others how they behave and react to situations around them gives an experience of being able to partake in the feelings that are displayed, kind of like a weird and unintended form of empathy for viewers. This is where diversity in television programming is important in being able to speak to the human experience whether it is fictional or not. Diversity is used in the context to explain how we all vary from one another, the truth is this: we all are the same as much as we are all different, simultaneously. Similarity and difference are contingent and rely on the other in order to co-exist.
In moving forward with technology, our household has not had cable for a long time. Instead, we engage in the diversity of media that is on the Internet. One of my favorites is Netflix. For a while, Netflix has been offering a multitude of diverse entertainment from not only Reality TV but documentaries, shows, movies, slow TV, conferences, and the list goes on. Netflix has a really great structure to how they provide entertainment in that they create their own content and have content of other mainstream television shows. With one exception: they usually do not play shows with seasons and episodes released regularly but allow you to control what and how you watch, hence the terms “Netflix Marathons” and “Netflix Binging”.
Switched At Birth (TV Series)
My latest most favorite Netflix Binge has been the American teen and family drama show “Switched at Birth”. If you have not seen it, the show revolves around two daughters who were switched at birth and do not become aware of this until they are teenagers and meet each other. One daughter grew up in an affluent neighborhood and the other daughter in a working, low-income neighborhood. The lives of these daughters are explored and viewers see the experiences that these daughters go through from two perspectives: as hearing & as deaf/hard-of-hearing. According to ABC Family, now Freeform, the channel that produces the series, this is “the first mainstream television series to have multiple deaf and hard-of-hearing series regulars and scenes shot entirely in American Sign Language (ASL)” (Wikipedia, 2017. Switched At Birth (TV Series). The viewer gets to experience the hearing and non/hard-of hearing perspectives, as the characters explore real-life situations with real-life type of controversies. What makes this even more-so wonderful, is how realistic, balanced, and un-biased, these controversies are presented.
A Realistic Representation
Season 4 Episode 13 Between Hope and Fear has to be the one real, life-like episodes that I really resonated with. *SPOILER* Toby, the brother of Bae and Daphne (the sisters who were switched at birth), discovers that not only is his girlfriend pregnant but that the baby is confirmed to have Down Syndrome.
The episode does a very realistic representation of what it is like to receive a diagnosis of Down Syndrome and how those emotions are worked through as they explore the options available to them. Much like the progressive narrative of this show, it showcases what Down Syndrome is really like in todays’ world and leaves the old perspectives in the dust (with the exception that it shows children with Down Syndrome in a segregated class when in actuality more inclusiveness and integrated experiences in a classroom setting is today’s norm). It brings Trisomy 21 into the 21st Century.
I think many persons with a prenatal or even birth diagnosis of Down Syndrome would be able to relate to this episode’s content. At the same time, it shows awareness about Down Syndrome, that those living with Down Syndrome are not suffers or survivors. They are unique and loving people and that they do many of the same things that you and I do: grow up, play, walk, talk, go to school, go to college, get a job, get married, and some live out on their own. More so, the life expectancies have increased 600% where people are living into their 60’s and 70’s. (Bittles, A.H., Bower, C., Hussain, R., & Glasson, E.J. (2007). The four ages of Down Syndrome. European Journal of Public Health; 17(2), 221-225. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/ckl103).
This episode is titled accurately, “Hope and Fear” because it can be worrisome to learn that your baby has Down Syndrome. At the same time, the lives of those with Down Syndrome are so enriching and rewarding. There has never been a better time in history to raise someone with the challenges of and supports needed for Down Syndrome, as in today’s society. This is not to say that they will be void of delays but that there is a spectrum of physical and cognitive abilities. Reality is, there are many conditions and spectrums of abilities for children without Down Syndrome such as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder or Autism. Hypothetically, if the physical outward characteristics of Down Syndrome were removed, one would barely be able to tell if someone walking by them had Down Syndrome or not and what their abilities are.
Persons with Down Syndrome are capable of meaningful conversations and ideas. They are capable of having rewarding relationships and experiencing love, just like you and I experience it (Morales, G.E., Lopez, E.O., Castro, C., Charles, D.J., Mezquita, Y.N., & Mullet, E. (2015). Conceptualization of romantic love among adults with Down Syndrome. Sexuality and Disability; 33, 339-348. doi: 10.1007/s11195-014-9368-2). They can challenge perspectives and educate others all the whilst having a smile on their face and you will be helpless to do anything but smile back in return. They are all-around amazing people.
“The important finding in the present study is that at least some people with [Down] [S]yndrome very well know what it is to be in love. They may experience romantic love in a way that is similar to the one in which people with typical development experience it. From an evolutionary perspective, this is not surprising. Love is an extremely basic human emotion , and this emotion is possibly not only human but common to many…There is no reason why learning disabilities would strongly affect basic emotions that are common to humans…Findings from the current study are highly suggestive that it does not differ much from other people’s experience.”
(Morales, G.E., et al., (2015), p. 346, see above for citation).
So if you want a different world perspective and a refreshing show to watch that is inclusive of others and is not afraid to explore varying viewpoints and ideas in a respectful manner that may or may not be controversial, watch “Switched at Birth” on Netflix or iTunes Stores or wherever. Thank you ABC Family/Freeform, for creating this show and making a positive difference in lives. Thank you Netflix for bringing this show into my reality.
Life is filled with hope and fear, but one can overcome just about anything-to Hope is to Cope-SWH