Television isn't just some inconsequential, mindless diversion. It is that, sometimes, yes. But not always. Television can be meaningful, and not just in that hokey "makes you think" way, like when you realize that you really would like to go where everybody knows your name. No, television can have actual consequences; its history is filled with examples of it affecting the real world. And we must study these occasions, lest we be doomed to repeat them.

Here, then, for your viewing pleasure, are five examples of television affecting the real world.

Super Bowl Bathroom Party

 

People have needs. Food, clothing, and shelter are the classics, but there are so many more. Water. Air. Human contact. A safe place where the demons can't reach us.

One particular need we all have is the need to relieve ourselves at semi-random intervals. Most people can put these urges off for a few minutes when circumstances require it. (Or, with the right yoga, and a will of iron, hours.) But outside of tired jokes about women going to the bathroom together, humans generally don't synchronize our bathroom time with each other, and indeed there's all sorts of etiquette on how to not do that.

Norbert Nagel/Wikimedia Commons

The only real exception is during massive group events where everyone is either restricted from or trying their best to avoid using the bathroom until the event is over, like at the movie theater or during a concert -- or the Super Bowl. The largest televised event in the world, the Super Bowl can attract significant percentages of a city to all watch the same show, inadvertently syncing the bathroom habits of millions of people. Rumors have long circulated that in the minutes after the Super Bowl, water pressure drops dangerously in cities around the country as everyone uses their toilets at once.

And it's (sorta) true! Both potable water and sewage flows increase significantly during halftime and the minutes after the game. The danger part of the rumor is definitely overblown, the dip in pressure is only around 10 percent or so, which isn't that different from what can be seen every morning or night. But that is enough for engineers to have to be at the ready with standby pumps, as well as cause a noticeable dip in reservoir levels, accompanied by what we can only imagine is a really hilarious noise.

So don't feel too bad tinkling after the Super Bowl. It definitely causes an effect, but somewhere a guy with a hard hat and a stinky job has our back.

The Rachel

 
Friends poster

Friends was a show about six people who lived in a fairy-tale version of New York. That's not an exaggeration; the insertion of a wicked stepmother or enormous beanstalk would probably have made the show more realistic.

The other notable thing about Friends was that it was a monster hit sitcom from an era when such a thing still existed. It was watched by a scale of audience most current shows would envy. Among young adults it was especially popular, and it inspired many trends in the real world, such as drinking coffee, conversing with friends, and adultery.

Perhaps the most famous trend launched by the show was "The Rachel," the name given to the haircut worn by Jennifer Aniston's character in the first couple seasons. Here at Cracked we're not really qualified to describe the hairy qualities that made it so popular. It had layers, maybe? Looks like it was also probably done with scissors, we'd guess.

The Rachel, worn by Rachel
It sure concealed the skull, we can say that much.

Whatever it was, it inspired millions of women around the world to get the same thing for themselves, so many that, for a time, it seemed like we all lived in a fairy-tale version of New York, just nonstop dancing in fountains. The trend died out, mostly, as trends so often do, not helped by the fact that The Rachel was apparently a real nightmare to maintain. Aniston herself has said multiple times how much she hated it.

And so the world learned that sometimes fiction works best just as fiction, even for hair. And no one made a shortsighted hair-styling decision ever again.

The Delia Effect

Delia Smith and her husband

Wikimedia Commons

It shouldn't be news to you that a recommendation from a celebrity can massively boost the sale of a product. For example, a nod from Oprah Winfrey's book club was widely considered a surefire way to land a spot on national bestseller lists. But it's not every celebrity who gets their name in the actual dictionary for this effect, and we have to journey to the strange, foreign land of England to find such a case.

Delia Smith is an English television cook whose programs were famed for her simple, straightforward recipes. And because until quite recently there were only like four channels in England, certain programs could be watched by almost everyone in the country, which Delia's shows often were. This led to the curious phenomenon of products she recommended one night being swept off of supermarket shelves the next morning. This is called the Delia Effect, and we weren't lying about it being in the dictionary, either. Recommendations from Delia have caused national cranberry shortages, prompted the maker of one omelet pan to increase their production by a mere 45,000 percent, and instigated stampedes for eggs. Yes, just basic white eggs. We guess England had forgotten about them until she reminded them.

So keep that in mind if you're ever in England and can't find, like, bread or something. One of their celebrities may have reminded them about it.

A Surge of Enrollment in Historically Black Colleges

 

A Different World was a spinoff of The Cosby Show, following Denise Huxtable and her classmates through their lives attending the fictional Hillman College, a historically black college. A Different World was noted for having less insane sweaters than The Cosby Show and for tackling issues far weightier than "Theo gets a pierced ear." Starting in its second season (when there was a lot less Cosby hanging around), A Different World regularly tackled serious subjects like race relations, AIDS, and date rape. Several particularly challenging episodes dealt with the existence of Sinbad.

A Different World cover
"Oh God, he's right behind us."

But the reason we're talking about the show here is that there's evidence that in the years A Different World was on the air, enrollment in historically black colleges increased significantly.

To be fair, it isn't immediately clear how much of this increased enrollment can be attributed to A Different World. School Daze, Spike Lee's film about life at a historically black college, also came out in 1988. And the college-friendly middle class values dripping off of The Cosby Show every week probably helped a bit. But A Different World was consistently one of the most popular programs among black people throughout most of its run, and its broad range of characters and intelligent depiction of life at a historically black college reportedly inspired many viewers to apply for these schools themselves. So yeah, we're going to give a lot of the credit to A Different World.

Everyone's an Expert in Forensics

 
CSI: logo

To say CSI is a "hit" is a pretty dramatic understatement. It is quite literally the most-watched show in the world. Which is a little uncomfortable, isn't it? People across the planet are constantly studying how to get away with crime in America, and we're all apparently cool with it?

The show's main hook is its attention to forensic science. Evidence is gathered and analyzed, theories are hatched, and then the forensic techs draw their guns and race off to catch the baddies, just like they never do in real life.

That should give you a hint of what the problem is here. Although the show makes an effort to be realistic, it is still a drama, beholden to solving crimes in 44 minutes. Not everything displayed on the show is an accurate depiction of forensic science. Which normally wouldn't be a problem; nobody watched Frasier to learn how to be a psychiatrist. But that isn't quite the case for CSI, because of how many of its viewers end up on real-world juries, convinced that they're already experts on forensic science. Prosecutors and judges have complained on multiple occasions that jurors are showing up with their own ideas of what forensic science should look like, and are affecting trials because of it.

To be clear, this is mostly anecdotal evidence. Detailed studies haven't found much evidence that this is affecting trial outcomes. Although jurors are showing up with unrealistic expectations, judge instruction, prosecutor arguments, and juror screening seem to be limiting the effect this has on actual conviction rates. It still is probably slowing trials down, however.

There are other effects that can be attributed to the popularity of CSI though. For one thing, there's the massive increase in enrollment in university forensics courses. Which doesn't sound like that bad of a thing, although we can't help but wonder if graduates of these programs are finding it hard to get a job when there's only so much work for forensic scientists out there. Also thanks to CSI, criminals are now more diligent about cleaning up crime scenes. Bleach is now found at way more crime scenes than it once was. Whether that's actually helping criminals get away with anything is debatable; criminals are often spectacularly dumb, and their attempts to destroy evidence may end up leaving more of it.

Still, nice work CSI. You almost ruined the criminal justice system, but not that badly. Criminals are now smarter about getting away with crimes, but they weren't that smart to begin with, so you're OK there too. Really, the only possible negative left to worry about is the horde of forensic science graduates turning to a life of crime after being unable to find any jobs. There's no evidence this has happened yet, but they wouldn't be leaving evidence behind, would they?

For more from Chris, check out 7 Video Game Healing Methods Least Likely to Actually Work and 4 Things Movies Always Get Wrong About Computer Hackers.

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