Mar 1, 2013

Watching Television Can Change the World ("The Wire")

 . . . [P]opular culture reaches a different and much broader audience than “serious” nonfiction. Popular fictions not only reach a vast audience, psychologists tell us they are highly effective in changing readers’ or viewers’ attitudes towards the topics discussed. In fact, narrative fictions are actually more effective at changing beliefs than nonfiction texts. Fiction designed primarily to entertain is a more effective teacher than nonfiction designed to persuade. The reason for this surprising fact is that reading or viewing fiction radically alters the way we process information. When we read nonfiction, we are skeptical of the ideas presented, but when absorbed in a story, this critical attitude dissolves, our emotions are engaged, and we tend to uncritically accept the narratives ideas. The better the story is crafted, the more effective its propaganda effect. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin’s role in changing the way Northerners viewed slavery in the antebellum era is only one example of the potent propaganda potential of popular fictional narratives. And The Wire is a very skillfully crafted fiction.
That is from a new paper by John Denvir (February 2013). The abstract:
Popular culture can have political impact. "The Wire" is not only engrossing melodrama; it also tells a compelling story of how and why the American political system fails us. Because a television series like "The Wire" not only appeals to a much broader audience than traditional political arguments, but also transforms abstractions into concrete images aimed at both our hearts and our minds, it can play a major role in efforts to change the world for the better.

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