When Bertolt Brecht said, "Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it," well, he was just being an egomaniacal auteur. But it's quite possible that he was right — if you're willing to classify network television as art, that is. Consider the case of two recent seemingly unthinkable societal shifts — Barack Obama's presidential nomination and the recent decision to legalize gay marriage in California starting today. Both were the plots of popular television shows before they actually happened. Could the paranoid social conservatives be right? Does what people see on TV actually change their opinions? Do Kiefer Sutherland's powers of persuasion extend beyond Defamer? Consider the evidence after the jump.
In 2001, 24 debuted. Its premiere episode was nearly pulled because it featured a plane getting shot out of the sky in a scenario eerily similar to the events of September 11th. But viewers who found the terrorists-are-out-to-get-us premise all too believable could relax because Jack Bauer was assigned to protect an African-American presidential candidate. There was no way that was realistic; there weren't even any Black senators. But a funny thing happened. Palmer won the election. We've spent the past six years watching an African-American president. We've seen him handle one ridiculous crisis after another — and he seemed to be doing a better job than the president we actually had. Palmer even had some of Obama's annoying qualities. He always wanted to take the high road, even when the situation merited a Jack Bauer style ass-kicking. He was too trusting of his unscrupulous associates.
The Obama/Palmer connection has been observed throughout the blogosphere and by the actor who played Palmer himself, Dennis Haysbert. Who knows. Maybe Hilary's real problem was that TV's female president is relegated to basic cable on Battlestar Galactica.
The gay marriage-television link is equally strong. While gay weddings were occasional plot points dating back to the Seinfeld episode where Elaine attends a gay wedding, this past season they were parts of the season finales of two of ABC's hits. Moreover, they were presented as ordinary events, no different than heterosexual marriage ceremonies. Brothers and Sisters ended with Kevin and Scotty's wedding, which was attended by a Republican senator.
On Desperate Housewives, conservative, gun toting Republican Bree, who once abandoned her gay son, catered the wedding of Wisteria Lane gays, Bob and Lee. None of the heterosexuals on the block raised an eye brow.
Mere weeks later, the California Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. Coincidence? Probably. But the muted opposition outside of Kern County could be because people are already used to seeing gay weddings on TV.