International Center for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities (IZEW)

Ethics in Series

In recent years, television series have increasingly evolved into a subject of ethical debate in the wider public as well as in application-oriented ethics. As such, they are also becoming interesting for the didactics of ethics and media education.

The value systems unfolded in series can intentionally or unintentionally challenge the moral intuitions and convictions of their audience. Prominent examples are ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘Black Mirror’, ‘Normal People’, but also the numerous ‘Star Trek’ seasons. Already short sequences of action – showing examples of ethical approaches or moral dilemmas – can stimulate viewers to ethical reflections. Many showrunners explicitly claim to take a moral stance in social debates. ‘Dear White People’, for example, deals with racism, ‘13 Reasons Why’ with suicide and bullying, and ‘Sense 8’ with LGBTQ issues.

In this way, television series become narrative formats that trigger and shape the discussion of social issues. Ethical questions arise both about the value systems and moral conflicts audiences encounter and about their aesthetic design. Series do not simply depict such systems and conflicts but shape them and thus guide ethical debate. Application-oriented ethics is interested in the content and form of television series, which are increasingly becoming narratives about the societies we (don’t) want to live in.

In 2018, the volume ’Ethics in Series’ was published, aimed at both series lovers and teachers. And to stay with the metaphor, a second season is currently being created, i.e. another edited volume scheduled for publication in late summer of 2021. Meanwhile, courses are planned to teach ethical competencies using the example of series.