January 12, 2015

Top 5 Television Shows of All-Time:

Building Empathy through TV

Brady Norvall, M.A.

Founder and C.E.O. at FindaBetterU®



In honor of the Golden Globes, I want to make a list of a few great television shows which anyone can watch and while doing so, could increase their cultural intelligence and/or empathy. Empathy is key in the world and it's something that I find gets lost in the push for professionalization of our young people at an early age. I don't want to make this "another article about the value of a liberal arts degree", but let's be honest, once you've taken one film studies class (liberal arts) no one ever watches a movie the same again. Same thing with literature, history, anthropology, these are what build the context which so richly enables our understanding of ourselves and others. So, without further ado, let's talk about the television shows which do the same.

1)      Mad Men – This is the show which helped to reveal the cultural shifts the world has undergone in the past 50+ years. Not only is the workplace defined in an entirely different way now, as Google is a 180 degree contrast to Don Draper's space, but the relationships (between the sexes, and from parent to child, in particular), the patriarchy, sexism (and entitlement), and all-around schedule of how a day in the lives of our parents or our grandparents might have been, reveals much to anyone born after 1970. What was the sexual revolution and how did it alter the landscape of everything we do/have today? Watch Mad Men and you'll begin to understand.

2)      Orange is the New Black – It's what most people (hopefully) never see or experience, but it's a tremendously broken system of oppression and expense in the United States. At the same time, the characters in this show enlighten us to the humanity of inmates. One cannot help but feel that perhaps the prison system IS NOT the best place to rehabilitate a person. And let's face it, the responsibility to reform the world's most troubled systems, be it finance, education, politics, or prison, will be up to the generation of those born in the last 40 years: (http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2015/01/08/the_most_entitled_generation_isnt_millennials_its_baby_boomers_125184.html).

3)      Glee – It's really a show about people on the fringe of social acceptance. This is critical for people to come to understand and is the only way to build compassion and empathy. The fact is that with growing economic inequality- and inequality with regard to race and gender issues being exposed much more regularly as a consequence of this- many more people are becoming "on the fringe" of society. Plus, any show about teenagers is a great opportunity for parents to tune-in and come to realize how much times have changed and, perhaps, how saying things like "when I was your age …" is sometimes just impossible to conceptualize for a young person.

4)      The Sopranos – I'm putting it on this list for one reason: Tony Soprano was a depressive (and possible sociopath). His mental illness was not critical to the show it WAS the show. It was not a coming and going choice he made, like too many misunderstand mental health issues to be, rather a part of Tony Soprano he had to learn to understand and accept. Nowhere was this better illustrated than Soprano's relationship with his therapist. In their time together, we can see the struggles and volatility of a man afflicted with himself. It is a topic that we all should work to better understand and this show does much, in my opinion, to bring such a topic into popular culture.

5)      Transparent – It's not just about the issue which the title blatantly refers to: the transsexual parent, the patriarch of the family. This show is about secrets, shame, and how families can exist but not really be present for each other. Many of the actors who are in the show have some intimate connection with the main theme, so it feels very personal at almost every turn. It is, by far, the best television I have EVER seen, period.

Remember, the most important thing we have to do as responsible citizens of a global world is to continue to educate ourselves to the differences and challenges others face. Is television the best way to come to understand others? No. As a stand-alone tool, nothing is. But it is able to create a dialogue and heighten awareness in such a way that we slowly learn (or for some people, unlearn) about ourselves. Happy watching.