As I watch “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” on YouTube every Monday morning, I imagine someone who is conservative at home somewhere raging at their screen. Oliver’s biases and political predilections, for the most part, align with my own, so I can sit back and enjoy his take on the world. I recognize, however, that our values are not fundamental, and there are millions of people who would sooner watch nothing at all than flip the channel over to HBO on a Sunday evening. Our political divisions are present in the programs we entertain ourselves with, though perhaps not as starkly as one might expect.
We see this division in television preferences with news networks. MSNBC has been both lauded and condemned as a liberal network and Fox News has been similarly regarded as a conservative one. We, as Americans, can choose where to watch, and we often prefer programs that confirm our biases. It’s natural to want to be able to watch the news without feeling attacked for your viewpoints.
But the television divide goes further and extends to prime-time shows. Top shows among Democrats include “Empire,” “Black-ish,” “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” and “Veep.” This makes sense if you think about it. A large portion of the Democratic party consists of African Americans, a demographic from which shows featuring and about African American experiences draw much of their viewership. Like in my case, the political agenda of “Last Week Tonight” and “Veep” appeal to liberal viewers.
Popular shows watched by Republicans include “Last Man Standing” and “Antiques Roadshow.” “Last Man Standing” still reigns as one of the top shows, despite being canceled, because it voices views that appeal to conservatives — it often criticizes the Obama administration. Many are hailing the popular “Roseanne” reboot as a show that fills the gap created by the cancellation of “Last Man Standing.” In fact, the “Roseanne” reboot has appealed to many right-leaning viewers due to her character’s views as well as Roseanne Barr’s personal views. According to Roxane Gay in The New York Times, ” … the tensions in the TV show — which more than 18 million people watched, a TV network high since 2014 — are the same tensions that shape this current political climate.” And “Antiques Roadshow” is part of a Republican trend toward shows featuring old and vintage things, which tracks with the party’s aging baby boomer demographic.
Despite this clear divide, the shows that members of both parties say they watch most frequently happen to be surprisingly similar. Both Republicans and Democrats enjoy shows like “The Big Bang Theory,” “America’s Got Talent,” and “NCIS.” In fact, seven of the top 10 shows on television are watched fervently by both parties. Some of the appeal comes from these not being explicitly political shows, but another part is that these shows appeal to both old and young audiences.
In this increasingly divided age, it is more important than ever to grasp onto the ways we are the same, rather than emphasizing our differences and how they separate us. Even here at Binghamton University, where the divide in who reads Pipe Dream versus who reads the Binghamton Review, for example, is visible and reminiscent of party lines, we are more alike than we are different. Our political divisions should not trump our human bond. Maybe discussing our favorite television shows is the first step to relearning cross-party communications.
Jessica Gutowitz is a freshman majoring in English.