I happened across a thought last night. I think good television should challenge what a 10-year-old knows. Either that, or is should have the power to shape what a 10-year-old believes. Anyone who knows me will be aware that Joss Whedon's work is pretty much my favourite thing ever (followed very closely by anything Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam do!).
I started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer when I was about 9. I vividly remember my sister saying she was going to watch this thing with a really weird title. I figured it was some sort of geeky kids' cartoon. So I ignored it. But some time between episode one and two, my sister convinced me of its awesomeness. And after episode two, I was hooked.
I think because I watched it from such a young age, it shaped what I believe. I didn't see anything unusual about a young girl who killed vampires. But that was unusual in a male-dominated world. Looking back on Buffy now, I think it shaped the way I see a lot of things, mainly feminism and equality. It also defined what I consider to be heroism. That's going into battle despite a prophesy that tells you you're going to die. It's killing the man you love to save the world. It's doing whatever it takes to protect those around you. And it's sharing the power you have for the greater good.
I'll have started watching Angel when I was about 11 or 12. That taught me something very clear - no matter what you've done, however bad, there can always be redemption. And not any religious capital R redemption. Yes, Angel fights with the hope of a reward. But in the final episode, he makes a decision that guarantees no reward will be given (he literally signs on the dotted line!). And yet he fights on anyway. He keeps doing what's right.
I didn't watch Firefly until about 6 or 7 years ago, so most of my opinions were set. But it developed them. Back then, I'd have probably said I was an agnostic. Now I'm an atheist. Turns out that when a TV show puts a die-hard atheist on a spaceship with a religious preacher, both sides are brought out. Mal (our atheist captain) was also probably the most moral man on the ship. That taught me something.
In Serenity (2005), Mal talks with Book (our religious preacher) about faith. Book says "When I talk about belief, why do you always assume I'm talking about God?" That taught me that you don't need to be religious in order to believe in something. You can - like Mal - believe in yourself and the people around you. Mal also says "I'm going to show you a world without sin." Which told me very clearly that challenging what you're told and what the masses believe is a good thing.
I don't think it's a coincidence that my three favourite TV shows have also shaped the way I think. So it's this humble blogger's opinion that good TV has the ability to challenge and shape what we think and believe.