A private foundation - The California Endowment - is willing to spend millions to back President Obama's Health Law, they have committed to pay $500,000 as a grant in a bid to get TV writers and producers incorporate plots lines about the Affordable Care Act. These shows have a viewership of millions of American people.
By producing gripping narratives aired at prime-time can persuade many young and healthy people to enroll. "We know from research that when people watch entertainment television, even if they know its fiction, they tend to believe that the factual stuff is actually factual," said Martin Kaplan of the University of Southern California's Norman Lear Center, which received the grant. According to Kaplan the public gains a lot of current information from their favorite TV shows so "people learn from these shows".
California Republican strategist Jonathan Wilcox, who has taught a course on politics and celebrity at USC, had his doubts about the entire Hollywood idea as he felt it was very late to influence views. "This is an attempt to use entertainment pop culture to fix a political challenge," he said. "It will be received as a partisan political message, no matter how cleverly it's delivered."
Arthur Caplan, head of the division of medical ethics at New York University's Langone Medical Center, said to have credibility Hollywood must present the health care plan with the pro and cons.
"If there are drawbacks and glitches and discontent, that should be part of the presentations," said Caplan, who supports the law. "It should not be a place to propagandize; it should be a place to have honest open discussion, wrinkles and all, flaws and all, on health reform," he said. Critics of the law will be closely watching to see if "Hollywood might be airbrushing the president's core program, because they are close to the Democrats."
A survey conducted several years ago for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation found that among those who said their feelings toward gays and lesbians had become more favorable, many said a contributing factor was seeing more gay and lesbian characters on TV and in movies. Vice President Joe Biden has credited the 1998-2006 TV sitcom "Will & Grace," which featured a gay character, with doing "more to educate the public than almost anything anybody's done so far."
Zingale and Kaplan both emphasized that the writers and producers take full control of the content created with no red tape from the USC center. "Public health is a common good. Public health is not a partisan issue," Kaplan said. "America needs to be healthy. People need to have access to health care. That's not a controversial statement." Wilcox doesn't believe Hollywood can make a success of the health law. "The Bush White House wouldn't have asked 'Law and Order' to do a show defending the Patriot Act, because it wouldn't work," he said. "In my business, there is way too much reliance and investment in the power of creative communication. Because there is something more powerful than that, and that's people's personal experiences."
Hannah Punitha (IRDA Licence Number: 2710062)
Michael R. Blood and Sandy Cohen, November 2013