Television's Depiction Of American Family In The 1950s And 1960s
Television depiction of the American family in the 1950s and early 1960s
Television has for many years shaped the American society depending on the prevailing circumstances at that time. Ordinarily it is expected that television as a form of art would mimic the real life, but this has not always been true across the eras since at some point, television shaped and gave direction of style to be followed and presented the viewers with the 'ideal' society that the programmers thought kept the viewer glued to their channels, rather than the real society out there.
The depiction of the American family by the television in the 1950s through to 1960s was geared more toward the portrayal of a peaceful culture devoid of the challenges facing other parts of the world, financially stable and happy. This trend caught up to act as the anesthesia for the just expedited pain of WWII and the difficulties of the cold war that were going on at the onset of 1950s through to 1960s.
After the WWII, the popular culture introduced by TV entertainment in the 1960s proved to be a strong political force in defining 'culture'. Popular culture acquired a positive picture and many took to it as form of liberation form the societal structures and formalities (Jenkins H, n.d:27). It is a subversion of the dominant notions of taste. It is further worth noting that the American population formed an intimate bond with the TV and film entertainment since these two did not require the viewer to do any criticism but did everything for the viewer, giving these captured viewers a high sense of divine power to watch what they enjoyed most with least effort. Television shaped the American families to love the easy way to knowledge and entertainment. It was different from reading a novel for entertainment since here the audience experienced dreamlike qualities with no effort to understand but sheer mental attention which would be different in a play or in reading a novel. The 1950s through 1960s saw the coming up of various 'genres' and genre came out not as type of narrative with affixed meaning, but as a repeat of ways of doing things that sticks in the mind of the viewers as well as programmers in such a manner that they can be able to easily recognize these programs like sitcoms and the likes (Taylor Ella, 1989:18). These genres were and still are not static and were largely socially constituted; it is that fluid link between the programmer and the viewer.
Television entertainment also acted as a catalyst towards reshaping the psychology of Americans to the post war economy which presented a dichotomy of economy with a few of the society members enjoying the economic affluence yet a greater majority reeling under the burden left behind by the war on the economy and the livelihoods of families. The television therefore prepared the Americans to embrace the 1950s consumerism which was a different trend from the more reserved post depression era. The family structures were also altered with majority of the cases the father figures missing or were back from the war with fatal injuries and disabilities (George Lipsitz, 1990:Pp44). There was a lot of emphasis created by television programs between the economy and the family and particularly the motherhood role was taken very seriously in programs in the 1950s as a result of the family structure change.
The 1950s marked era of TV being the badge of consumerism, this is considering the background of the strengthening of the economy, increasing employment and productivity. The TV managed to reconstruct the consistency of the American family and the nuclear family became the normal structure of an ideal American family away from the extended structure that was predominant during the 1930s when depression brought people closer.
The TV became more like the theater with anthologies dominating the screens. This was an attempt to keep the heterogeneous audience of the postwar urban America entertained and their needs catered for in full, this however did not last long and the genre changed to more of the movie than the live anthologies. TV then changed to the movies and the sit-coms since they offered consistency in characters and variety in episodes and subjects, this was a trend that kept the viewers more glued to the TV hence delivering these viewers to the sponsors of these programs. At this point, genre was strongly used as a strategy and tool for controlling the response of the audience.
TV programmers and sponsors looked at the American populace as consumers or potential consumers and not just as people who were to be entertained. The TV owners and the sponsors used the Nielsen ratings to determine the number of people was watching TV at a given time. This was to enable the owners of the TV know which times were prime hence sell them expensively and the sponsors wanted to know the ratings to know if they are getting return for their investment (technically on the viewers).
In 1958, there emerged a 'new' trend of the viewers being fed on episodic series which worked out best for the broadcasters since it delivered the viewers in wholesale to the sponsors. The episodic series were programs crafted to revolve around a character or two (not necessarily a plot) and were delivered in chapters for every week and episodes carried complete stories around a character. These series meant the viewer created an attachment to some character hence must follow the actions and trials of the character to the very end. This promised consistent viewership and as to the broadcasters the commodity was in the trap and delivered to the sponsor effectively.
Television entertainment was also reflective of the society and changed with the consistency of the society. In the 1950s, the issue of race was one that easily created conflicts within the urban areas. This pushed the programmers to drop some 'ethnic' series and programs.
The other significant depiction is that of the family comedies that did not depict the true American family as it was, not that of the postwar affluence but of a liberal conservative dream of a harmonious society in which much of the conflict would disappear at the end of the day. Indeed, most of the shows that persisted on depicting the gang violence, drug issues, financial troubles and marital discord quickly lost their sponsorship since sponsors felt they were not widely watched by their target audience hence television chose to depict the family as a charming excursion into modernity.
The cold war and the paranoia about communism also crept into the TV programs with comedies and sitcoms crowded with anti-communist gags. This is what sold in the years following the cold war and the family was correctly depicted through the television as these were the sentiments of people about communism.
The American families were also portrayed by the TV and the movies as places full of heroes particularly towards the end of 1950s. Here, there was more focus directed towards the public life and the professional life than the private life. It shifted from portraying the lone hero in the society to a group of heroes. This was as a reaffirmation of the solidarity among the Americans after the WWI and during the cold war as well.
Generally the television programs in the 1950s and 1960s were structured around a language or realm which was meant persuade the audience that they are a reflection of the daily happenings in the society hence worth paying attention to. The Television strives to convince the viewer that the images and the words from the TV are a representation of our own experiences or even of people like us. This was…