“The Medium Is The Message”: TV Addressing Social Issues

Nicknamed the ‘small screen’, TV has often been undervalued as a medium for storytelling. It has always been associated with the domestic setting. Despite this having negative connotations, this setting has meant important social issues portrayed on screen have literally been ‘brought home’. Once they’re placed in front of you in your own living room as if they were your own problems, they invite you to give them a second thought. ‘The Morning Show’ addresses issues of sexual harassment in the workplace and the #MeToo Movement; ‘This Is Us’ deals with racism and body shaming; ‘Normal People’ addresses issues of mental health. All these shows clearly tackle everyday issues and help raise awareness of these struggles.

I recently binge watched Russell T Davies’ new series ‘It’s A Sin’ and sobbed. I am not the only one who loved this series, with its high streaming figures making it the most binged series on All 4. If you haven’t seen this already, I cannot recommend it enough. It follows the story of a group of gay men and their friends living in London during the 1980s, where they are challenged by the HIV/AIDS crisis. While the show has its funny moments, it truly concentrates on educating its audience on the crisis.

Prior to watching this I didn’t know much about the effects of HIV/AIDS, nor the history of the virus. The show doesn’t shy away from showing the realities of this illness, both mentally and physically. While heart breaking, it certainly helped me understand the severity of the problem at the time.

Ritchie’s character, played by Olly Alexander, embodies the shame forced upon many during that time. He fears his test results; he continues his denial by sleeping with other men; he delays telling his traditional family the truth until he’s at death’s door. Not only was the illness associated with ‘sleeping around’, but also outed many homosexuals for their actions. Even though women could also be affected, the infection rates among the gay community were much higher, sadly leading to more homophobic abuse.

While the show is truly devastating, it appears to give viewers hope. Today, people living with HIV are able to take medication in order to contain the spread and limit its physical effects. This progress gives us hope for our current situation in lockdown. It reminds us that the sacrifices we are making now are saving lives and the future looks bright. It also reminds us that testing positive for illnesses such as STDs or COVID is not something to be ashamed of, nor is it the time to start blaming others. Rather we should look towards what we can do to play our part by reducing the spread and the shame that society places on it.

It should also be celebrated that a show addressing LGBT+ stories is on prime-time TV. ‘It’s A Sin’ celebrates the newfound freedoms and identities of the community, while also displaying the continued homophobic abuse they withstand. Despite TV being a form of escapism, it is important to include the whole story. Russell T Davies does a brilliant job at constructing a well-rounded narrative, showing many different views during that time period.

I am hopeful that the small screen will continue to portray society’s complexities, just like ‘It’s A Sin’ manages to do. With binge watching becoming increasingly popular, it doesn’t seem like these incredible stories are going to fade away any time soon!

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Anna Taylor

July 2021
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