TV Programs Accused of Glamorizing Infidelity

Posted on April 4th, 2015

TV Programs Accused of Glamorizing InfidelityInfidelity has become a staple of major television programming in recent years. While extramarital affairs have been featured prominently in soap operas for decades, it has taken longer for infidelity to infiltrate primetime programming on a regular basis. The increasingly adulterous nature of popular television has some people worried that infidelity is being glamorized and promoted by such content.

Now, many of the most popular and critically-acclaimed dramas and comedies in the primetime lineup prominently feature or even center around infidelity. The multiple-Emmy winning drama “Mad Men” has scarcely a single character who has not had an extramarital affair, while the main character of another multiple-Emmy winning drama, “Scandal,” is having an affair with the president of the United States. Another show called “Mistresses” focuses entirely on the sexual misconduct of a group of young women.

How Much Influence Does TV Have?

There is no doubt that television influences the way people talk, dress and behave. Since characters on scripted television tend to be significantly better looking, cleverer and funnier than the average cross-section of the population, it would be more surprising if people didn’t want to emulate these characters.

Television has given us words and catchphrases that have spread throughout the country (and sometimes even made it into the Oxford English Dictionary) and helped to create fashion statements that turn into major trends. However much we may feel cynical and disdainful of commercials, it’s also pretty clear that advertising campaigns influence what we buy.

But could television really glamorize infidelity so much that it makes us more likely to have an affair? It’s one thing to get yourself a Fendi handbag a la Carrie Bradshaw in “Sex and the City,” but surely it’s quite another to get yourself an extramarital sexual partner just because Don Draper has one.

Showing Infidelity Is Not Necessarily Glamorizing It

Despite concerns, there is no real evidence that infidelity on television has had any effect on the frequency with which people cheat on their partners. Everything that happens on scripted television is arguably more heightened and glamorized than the same things in real life, but that doesn’t mean the infidelity we see on the small screen is turning the viewing public into cheaters.

Despite the lack of evidence that they are corrupting viewers, television writers and producers such as “Scandal” creator Shonda Rhimes have been asked to defend themselves against the allegations that their shows are promoting infidelity. Part of the response to such criticism is that good television reflects real life and that infidelity is an undeniable part of real life. Some surveys have estimated that one or both spouses have cheated (emotionally or physically) in approximately 41 percent of marriages, so it’s clear that Rhimes and others have a point.

Another defense is that simply portraying infidelity on television is not the same as glamorizing it. Defenders of programs like “Mad Men” argue that the characters on these shows do not get away unscathed when they cheat on spouses or partners. By showing both the infidelity and the consequences, these shows are portraying affairs realistically rather than glamorizing or promoting them.

It seems unlikely that a television show is going to drastically change someone’s ideas about infidelity. The vast majority of people consider cheating on a partner to be wrong, and that is true even for a large percentage of the people who do cheat. Given that people cheat even though they believe it is wrong, it is questionable whether their behavior would change even if television somehow convinced them that cheating is acceptable.02

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