Three of the theories discussed in Sociology by Richard T. Schaefer included functionalist, conflict, and interactionist. Each of these theoretical approaches views society, the individual, social order and social change differently. Both the functionalist and conflict approaches analyze society on a broad level , whereas interactionists analyze the behaviors of humans on a smaller level in the context of which the interaction actually occurs. The functionalist perspective focuses on the way parts of society are structured to maintain stability (Schaeffer: 2008:15).
Individuals are socialized to perform certain predictable functions that when integrated into society will work together to maintain the status quo. In order to maintain the social order, punishment may be used against those who disrupt the status quo. When social change occurs, it is the result of a certain aspect of society that no longer serves a useful function or value. Using the role of television as an example, functional theorists would view it as both a positive and negative influence on society.
Most children grow up watching cartoons of some type. The underlying themes of these programs, such as Sesame Street or Spongebob Squarepants, is to accept people who are different from you or to teach them that people who break the rules will be caught and punished, such as on Scooby Doo. Adult shows only reinforce these ideals. Individuals who deviate from societal rules and laws are caught, prosecuted and punished for the crimes in which they committed on programs like Law and Order or NCIS.
The conflict perspective states that social behavior results from tension between groups over power, resources, politics or civil rights (16). The tensions can be peaceful in the form of meetings to violent demonstrations or conflict. Individuals are influenced by power, coercion or authority on one side of the conflict and society is composed of competing groups. The social order is composed of constant struggle between the have and have nots. The order is maintained through force and social change only occurs when one group obtains victory over another.
The changes can occur all the time and can have both positive and negative consequences. Television in America tends to highlight conflicts not only locally but worldwide. On the local level in Connecticut during baseball season, many programs highlight the heated rivalry between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Yankee fans brag about the number of American League and World Series Championships won in comparison to the Red Sox and Red Sox fans complain about the exorbitant payroll of the Yankees and their ability to buy championships.
The plight of refugees in Sudan and policies of Hamas in Palestine are frequently reported on the many news networks worldwide. The interactionist approach views humans as living in a world of meaningful objects, such as material things, actions, relationships, and symbols (18). Individuals manipulate objects to create their social worlds through interactions and society plays a key role in influencing the daily social interactions.
The social order is maintained by mutual understanding of expected daily behaviors and a change within the social order is reflected by an individual’s change in social status or their communication with others. Television tends to influence the language and behaviors of teenagers, regardless of where they reside because of such stations like MTV or BET. When I visit my hometown in rural Ohio, it is not unusual to see a group of teens walking around with their pants hanging half way down their butt, head tilted to the side and saying such phrases as “fo shizzle”, “Whaz up, dog? and “Gets me some”.
Television has also helped make interracial friendships and relationships less of a taboo through such television shows as Grey’s Anatomy, Friends and Lipstick Jungle. The characters on these shows are not subjected to the bigotry of previous decades and these relationships are “normal” in society. “Television models for us what we should think about people, really determines our taboos and what’s acceptable. The more people see positive and normal representations, that will lessen the fear and taboo. ” (Oldenburg: 2005).