There is an argument to be made that, in this day and age, the cultural preference that most reflects our deepest impulses, personalities and opinions is television. A hundred years ago, sure, probably books reigned supreme. Seventy years ago, definitely movies. But today, we watch so constantly that what we watch seems necessarily to be bound up with ourselves, our goals, our ideas. And according to the New York Times, it’s also bound up with our political beliefs.
If the Times and TiVO Research and Analytics are to be believed, Republicans love golf and Democrats love cartoons. Republicans watch NCAA; Democrats, NBA. Republicans enjoy Nascar, The Biggest Loser, Survivor, American Idol and the Amazing Race, while Democrats revel in Family Guy, American Dad, 30 Rock and Community.
There’s a lot that can be gleaned from this information, though we should probably first ask ourselves how reliable this data may be, and how reliable the New York Times’ (liberal media bastion that it is) coverage of said data might also be. But having done a little soul searching about how much the Times is judging Republicans for their love of weight-loss programming, these are the questions that arise: What kind of intelligence is implied by a devotion to the off-the-wall joke-cracking of 30 Rock or the raw human thrills of Survivor? What opinion of humanity’s worth do watchers of American Idol develop?
And though it’s fun and tempting to assume (and necessarily implied by the New York Times) that Democrats enjoy the more sarcastic, witty and cerebrally intelligent programming, while Republicans stick to cheap thrills, extreme competition and (apparently) the dark underbelly of polygamy (they love Sister Wives Tell All), is this kind of thinking really any use to us? Isn’t the issue with our society already the stark perceptions of elitism, stupidity and fundamental difference that shroud our two main political parties in divisive and hateful rhetoric?
What I’m more interested in is what these findings imply about our attitudes towards ourselves; Democrats prefer the stylized depictions of American values like Mad Men, but Republicans are engaging every day with the literal reality of American men and women, or anyway the reality we project every day over television, which is valuable even in its sometime ridiculousness. One of our political parties enjoys escaping the realities of who we have become as a country, who we tell ourselves we are; the other likes to watch us compete against each other—build each other up and tear each other down.
I don’t know what this means for our future as a participatory democracy, but I do know that, when confronted with my own preferences so politicized (and Democratically skewed, I have to admit) I am not filled with a sense of superior intelligence or moral satisfaction; I’m worried that, if I keep on keeping on with Don Draper in this way, in five years I won’t recognize my own country’s depictions of itself.