The Will & Grace Effect
How a 90s TV show changed the American public’s perception of same sex relationships for the better.
Great storytelling has the power to change even the most entrenched of mindsets.
Will & Grace is a popular American sitcom that first aired in 1996 and is now in it’s ninth season.
Set in New York, the main characters are two best friends Will Truman and Grace Adler.
Grace is an interior designer and Will is a lawyer.
When the show came to TV screens in the mid-1990s it immediately challenged one of the last remaining taboos in American society: same sex relationships.
You see, Will is gay.
Whilst this is no big deal in today’s world (as attitudes towards homosexuality have improved massively in the last two decades), it was somewhat controversial back then.
Will was the first openly gay character on primetime television at a time when much of the country still held deeply conservative attitudes.
The brilliance of the show’s writers was in their ability to tell his story in a way that challenged people’s perceptions of homosexuality.
Psychologists have long studied the power of stories to influence human behaviour for both the good and the bad.
Well told stories shape us profoundly and have the ability to flip long held beliefs on their head.
The Will & Grace show is a great example that has deservedly been credited as having had a profoundly positive impact on the American public’s attitude towards gay people.
Joe Biden, who served as Obama’s Vice-President during his two terms, publicly commented that he believed the show to have done more than anything else to advance the cause of gay rights in America.
Indeed, so influential was the storytelling in changing people’s views social scientists have labelled the phenomenon ‘The Will & Grace Effect’.