Television Shows or Film: Which is more culturally significant?

Does "The Sopranos" trump "The Godfather"?

I prefer films to television. Films just seem to be a more mature extension of television shows, with generally better writing, acting, and effects (except for films in the vein of Beverly Hills Chihuahua and the like).

But recently, I’ve found an appreciation for television. Shows like Breaking Bad, Battlestar Galactica, The Wire, The Sopranos, and the 1950s Twilight Zone are all great examples of the format. These programs not only force viewers to think and criticize the ills of society, but they’re also damned entertaining while they do it. Since I’ve discovered quality television programming, I’ve begun to wonder which is more culturally significant: films or TV?
By applying a literary metaphor to this question, television ultimately wins out. Most literary critics would agree that novels are more important than short stories, and the demand for original full-length works rather than anthologies also supports this claim. In doing so, this illuminates the question of which format is more culturally significant. Television has an episodic format, with shows often running for more than one season, so viewers are able to connect with the characters over a long duration of time, often years. Films, on the other hand, do not have this. They are usually two hours in length, and once completed, that’s all she wrote (unless of course there are sequels). Therefore, in extending this metaphor, films are like short stories, while television shows are like novels. And if a quality novel is more valuable than a quality short story, then it follows that The Sopranos trumps The Godfather.

Or does "The Godfather" trump "The Sopranos"?

However, film seems to penetrate deeper into the cultural consciousness. Films like Star Wars, Jaws, Taxi Driver, Pulp Fiction, Raiders of the Lost Ark, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The Matrix are all ingrained in Western culture and personal history. Films seem to shape our lives more than television does, which is interesting considering films have less screen time to make an impact. I don’t think that there is a simple answer to this question, but I still stand by my conviction that film is the higher format. It’s interesting that in the visual medium, less is more, while in the literary world, less is just that. Anyway, that’s some food for thought. What do you think?


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