Media That Matters
Lately, it seems that everyone is in the business of engineering pop culture; Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon are producing TV shows and movies, and even Facebook and Instagram have launched TV platforms. Add that to the existing cable offerings and Hollywood/box office releases, and I currently have access to more media than I know what to do with.
Do these media creators have my best interest in mind? Possibly, but unlikely. They’re interested in my time, attention, and wallet (I could upgrade my Hulu subscription now for ad-free viewing!). Perhaps it's unrealistic to expect production companies to have the best interests of a single consumer in mind, so perhaps a broader question is appropriate here: are media creators sharing programming that's intentional, kind, or loving?
My answer here might surprise you: yes. Some are. I’ve felt incredibly hopeful lately because I’ve come across three specific examples of media that matters. And by that I mean, I was happy to have spent time letting these things into my brain.
Won’t you be my neighbor?
A documentary about the life of Fred Rogers and the long-running children’s show he created and starred in: Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
Why it matters: For starters, it’s a slow placed documentary that gives your brain a chance to relax and really listen to what each person on screen is saying. There’s no twist, no climax, no foreboding score encouraging your heart rate to rise. In a broader sense, Fred’s life and work matters because he was devoted to kindness and love. He was deeply concerned about the use of television to broadcast programming that wasn’t good for kids, so he took matters into his own hands and intentionally created a show about loving oneself and others. That show would eventually broach topics like racism, war, and the assassination of JFK. Yet, no matter how heavy the topic, Mister Rogers and his pals spoke directly to children in a way that was kind, comforting, and loving. This matters because this show and the team behind it are a model of intentional media development.
Where to watch: stream it on iTunes or Amazon, buy/rent at Redbox or Amazon.
A Netflix reboot of the groundbreaking TV series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (Bravo, 2003), the new Fab 5 prove that this show lives up to its tagline; “more than just a makeover."
Why it matters: This show is loving, hopeful, and promotes acceptance. I could list so many reasons why this series is important and you should love it, but there is already a Buzzfeed listicle for that. One of the most striking things about each episode is how the Fab 5 show up and just heap love and hugs and compliments onto their heroes (which is what the makeover recipients are called!). Most of the people receiving makeovers are men, and spending time with five other men who are encouraging emotional openness and playful creativity is probably the most important ingredient in the makeover. The deep human connections are what make this show so meaningful (though, the hair and wardrobe transformations are a close second).
Where to watch: stream it on Netflix.
Nanette by Hannah Gadsby
An authentic comedy special that tells tough stories, asks searing questions, and will leave you with a new understanding of the power of media.
Why it matters: Hannah got up on stage and did something extraordinary; she evoked a spectrum of emotion that I didn’t know was possible to experience while watching TV. That’s one reason Nanette matters; it’ll make you feel something. Moreover, Hannah tells sobering truths about trauma and being a lesbian woman in Tasmania during a time when it was illegal to be homosexual. Her voice and experiences are underrepresented in the media and letting Netflix know that you will show up to watch content from this voice will help amplify the voices of others. If you’d like to deep dive on Nanette, Judy Berman over at the New York Times beautifully summarized and annotated a piece on “what to read” about this historic comedy special.
Where to watch: stream it on Netflix.
Watching these three programs within the last couple of months has me thinking deeply about the media I consume and whether it's beneficial to me as an individual and my community as a whole. Every minute I devote time to watching ads, shows, or movies, I'm submitting a vote for what gets made and what will continue to be made. In essence, what I watch today helps determines the media landscape of tomorrow.
Media: there is plenty of garbage out there. There are also some important bright spots that are promoting kindness, love, acceptance, and making space for new stories to be heard from a stage. Being an intentional consumer of media (of intentionally crafted media, in particular) matters for our individual and collective well-being.
We’ve got to show up together to let media creators know we want more media that matters.