7 TV Shows That Have Tackled Recent Social Issues, From #YesAllWomen To GameGate

The upswing in awareness of our culture’s violence against women has given way, over the past year, to observable action. It's given way to movements like #YesAllWomen, aggression against systematic misogyny such as that under the GamerGate umbrella, and a realization of the subtle forms of sexism in common behavior and language. (Recall, for instance, the pedestrian’s command to “Smile.”) Although such retaliations against what has for so long been viewed as “the norm” are yet still young, they’ve taken great enough stature to earn their spotlight in our art and media. Case in point: The development of a major motion picture about the GamerGate controversy.

Scarlett Johansson is said to be circling the aforementioned project, an adaptation of game designer Zoë Quinn’s in-progress memoir Crash Override: How To Save The Internet From Itself. We take to her name, as well as that of renowned producer Amy Pascal, with optimism, hoping that such a production may prompt a long awaited journey of this kind of conversation to the big screen. Necessary though this graduation in pop culture attention would be, we have to give due credit (though, in some cases, for effort alone) to the varied small screen participants that wasted no time in expanding the reach of these new movements and messages, in one way or another.

1. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Among the most pronounced, and unsurprisingly so, critics of American culture’s often predatory behavior towards women is Tina Fey’s sophomore sitcom Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The relevance of the Netflix series proved not only in tandem with the specific, vexingly pertinent context of kidnapping, but with the adversity that comes innately with being a young woman in a new part of this world. Collected scenarios treat star Kimmy to catcalls, overbearing boyfriends, and systematic invalidation of her perspectives — all issues addressed by the #YesAllWomen banner.

2. Broad City

Though infused from the ground up with a feministic attitude, Broad City is generally too lighthearted to engage severely with the conflicts in question. However, the program is not averse to the occasional jab at sexism. In the wake of new volume behind the condemnation of catcalling, stars Abbi and Ilana reacted to a passerby’s command to “Smile” with due frustration.

3. South Park

Among South Park’s proudest claims is its timeliness — a phenomenon chronicled in the 2011 documentary The Making of South Park: 6 Days to Air — making it a surefire participant in such freshly ubiquitous conversations. Granted, South Park’s primary agenda is to satirize any and all aspects of the culture, and, as such, has made a target of both sides of what has, derogatorily, been named the social justice war. These factors in mind, it’s odd that South Park has not devoted an entire episode to the GamerGate conundrum. Instead, we’ve only seen asides spring up through Seasons 18 and 19. Episodes revolving around Ferguson, Caitlyn Jenner, and varied tenets of political correctness have offered intermittent asides to #YesAllWomen, GamerGate, and the Bill Cosby scandal.

4. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

The long-running procedural series is one of the chief benefactors of the above “effort alone” qualifier. The show’s GamerGate-related episode, which broadcast in Februrary of 2015, accessed the widespread controversy through a peculiar lens. The episode’s crime was fueled not by xenophobia, but a delusional inability to distinguish between the reality of fantasy video games and that of the human world. In short, Law & Order didn't exactly capture the sentiment of the actual problem enveloping the gaming community.

5. Parks And Recreation

Before going off the air earlier this year, the gleefully feminist Parks and Recreation managed to wedge in a slamming of the ridiculous Men’s Rights movement — and right at the height of its real world annoyance, too. Chris Gethard, playing up his penchant for the pitiful, represented a harebrained MRA chapter that took issue with Leslie Knope’s refusal to participate in a sexist tradition that relegated the wives of congressional candidates to pie baking. Though we on Earth are inclined to deal with the MRA with abject hostility, Parks and Rec didn’t stoop to dropping its pleasant demeanor, simply dismissing the pathetic organization as “nothing” in a sign-off scene.

6. Inside Amy Schumer

I won’t need to dive too deep into Amy Schumer’s on-air response to sexism in regard to female actors — prompted specifically by the comments of film critic Jeff Wells’ dismissal of Schumer as “too fat” and “too ugly” to star in a mainstream romantic comedy movie — as you more likely than not have watched the episode five or six times since its May debut. But this kind of focus on the misogyny of critics, audiences, and the industry alike remains of paramount value to the discussion.

7. BoJack Horseman

Surprisingly enough, the very best example of a show addressing contemporary matters of American sexism came from BoJack Horseman, Netflix's animated sitcom about a horse-man hybrid/washed up sitcom actor. A Season 2 episode parables controversies like that surrounding Bill Cosby, calling attention to the public's unwillingness to turn against a beloved male authority figure no matter how many women speak out against him. What makes the episode so successful is its embrace of all the complications that come with such a subject. Diane Nguyen, the title character's biographer, makes it her personal mission to tear down Hank Hippodopoulos, much to the chagrin of the public (and of her boyfriend). Although BoJack Horseman doesn't make it its business to tackle social issues on a per-episode basis, its handling of this one proves that it's got even more on its mind than its introspective central story might let on.

As we as a culture move toward being more socially aware of the issues that plague our culture, both overtly and subtly, so too does our media get smarter and more referential to reflect that. And that's a truly wonderful thing.

Images: NBC (3); Comedy Central (3); Netflix (2)