Blue Velvet TV rooms

Longtime New York Times television writer Bill Carroll has applied the blue America vs. red America motif to TV programming, finding that "choices of viewers, whether in Los Angeles or Salt Lake City, New York or Birmingham, Ala., are remarkably similar."

Carter's report may give many conservative readers a small sense of just how tiresome red-and-blue generalizations have become for their liberal neighbors. Consider a sentence like this one: "So if it is true that the public's electoral choices are a cry for more morally driven programming, the network executives ask, why are so many people, even in the markets surrounding the Bush bastions Atlanta and Salt Lake City, watching a sex-drenched television drama?"

OK, I'll give you Salt Lake City (SLC Punk notwithstanding), but Atlanta is now a "Bush bastion"? Carter soon qualifies that description a bit: "In the greater Atlanta market, reaching more than two million households, 'Desperate Housewives' is the top-rated show. Nearly 58 percent of the voters in those counties voted for President Bush."

That 58 percent may make sense depending on how broadly Nielsen Media Research defines Atlanta's Designated Marketing Area, but it leaves an incorrect impression of a uniform 58-42 split across greater Atlanta.

The percentages vary more widely than that. Look at the overwhelming Kerry turnout in Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton counties and compare them to the overwhelming Bush turnout in other, sometimes rather smaller, counties that surround Fulton:

Bush 24,813 (70%)
Kerry 10,203 (29%)

Bush 55,447 (79%)
Kerry 14,090 (20%)

Kerry 50,445 (72%)
Bush 19,808 (28%)

Bush 173,206 (62%)
Kerry 103,720 (37%)

Bush 31,649 (74%)
Kerry 10,630 (25%)

Kerry 200,632 (73%)
Bush 73,527 (27%)

Bush 25,835 (61%)
Kerry 15,986 (38%)

Bush 37,322 (71%)
Kerry 14,862 (28%)

Bush 47,254 (83%)
Kerry 9,198 (16%)

Kerry 189,899 (60%)
Bush 123,670 (39%)

Bush 160,013 (66%)
Kerry 81,334 (33%)

(These numbers and percentages are from CNN's richly detailed results map for the 2004 election.)

Should it be a great surprise that television audiences in greater Atlanta do not differ significantly from those in greater Los Angeles? And is it realistic to expect that exit polls from highly motivated voters should reflect the views of an entire metro county's population, including nonvoters and slack-jawed yokels who never turn their TVs off?

Still, Carter gathered thoughtful remarks from people who try to help explain how a person might vote red but work blue as a couch potato:

Herbert J. Gans, professor of sociology at Columbia University and the author of "Popular Culture and High Culture: An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste," said, "For some people it's a case of 'I am moral therefore I can watch the most immoral show.'"

That point was echoed by Gary Schneeberger, the senior manager of issues for Focus on the Family, an influential evangelical Protestant group that urged its supporters to vote on values. "History has shown that even people who could be described as values voters are prone to sinful behavior and watching representations of sinful behavior," Mr. Schneeberger said. "Is it shocking that people would be enticed by it? It's not shocking, but it is tragic."

He said he understood how some viewers might enjoy the murder-mystery aspects of "C.S.I.," the No. 1 show his group has assailed for its graphic depictions of violence, even though justice is served most weeks. But, he added, "is it worth having to go through all this garbage to solve a mystery?"

My wife, who is a research scientist, likes CSI because it depicts other scientists helping solve crimes, she's always been fond of murder mysteries and the show usually ends on a note of justice, however late or bitter. I can barely endure any show in the CSI franchise unless Sarah Foret, one of my nieces, is in a guest role (she recently played a stone-cold killer on CSI: New York).

Terry has called before for research on how entertainment affects the lives of self-identifying conservative Christians. I have a feeling the red-and-blue generalizations will not even hold at the level of households if that research is ever performed.

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