Can television become a positive force in society? Can socially conscious entertainment change the world? Two Aspirins and Comedy asks these questions and offers surprising, unconventional answers.The historic social and political effects of such books as Uncle Tom's Cabin and such films as Gandhi led sociologist Metta Spencer to delve into the power of entertainment to influence society - too often for the worse, but potentially much for the better. She identifies examples of socially constructive TV dramas. She shows how mass entertainment productions can enhance our emotional well being and social sensibilities, as well as point out promising solutions to global issues; and even inspire us to become activist.Two Aspirins and Comedy identifies entertainment as a public health issue. Our vicarious emotions, based on our empathy with fictional characters, actually harm or restore us physically. Spencer cites research proving that watching a funny movie will relax the blood vessels by 20 percent, whereas watching the battle scene from Saving Private Ryan will constrict them by 35 percent; these effects last for hours. Life expectancy is extended several years both by love relationships and by frequent sex. People who are temporarily short of such relationships often make up the deficit vicariously by empathizing with characters on the screen. Indeed, great storytelling, especially in prolonged serial TV dramas such as Northern Exposure, can impart wise lessons, stimulating personal growth and fostering a culture of peace and social justice. One cannot form an intense bond with a stranger who is encountered only briefly, but can with a series that lasts years. When we develop affectionfor characters, they may influence our opinions. Powerful soap operas are inducing people in developing countries to enroll in adult literacy classes; to limit the size of their families; to use condoms to prevent HIV infection; and to abolish childhood marriage. Such shows are the most influential tools available for promoting beneficial social changes. In the West, series such as The West Wing also pose serious issues in the context of entertainment. Now the challenge is to encourage reviewers to comment on the emotional, ethical, and societal impact of shows, and to gain for ourselves new means of encouraging excellent productions. Spencer encourages readers to view culture not as a commodity but as something to support for human well-being. She even suggests a $200.00 yearly tax allocation to the art of our choice - a way of fostering excellence without censorship. Society needs screenwriters who will stimulate our minds and inspire us to get busy solving society's problems. Spencer sees hopeful prospects of such changes in the new, socially insightful films that Jeff Skoll's Participant Productions are now offering. Two Aspirins and a Comedy teaches cultural consumer responsibility and offers philosophical and scientific rationale for the positive potential power of television, film and radio.
"Two Aspirins and a Comedy is best evaluated, perhaps, as sociologically informed social criticism. As such, it has a lot to offer. ... Sociologists trying to understand popular religious discourses in the media will certainly benefit by reading this provocative and insightful book."
-Stephen Harold Riggins, Memorial University of Newfoundland, in Canadian Journal of Sociology
"An extraordinary book which makes a vital contribution to our understanding of the potential power for healing and goodness in 'television entertainment.' Personally I hate the ads, the violence, the speed, the escapism of American television, but I've learned a very great deal from this book about 'the other side' of TV."
-Arlie Hochschild, author of The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work (Owl Books, 2001)