children, television and American values. The writer collects and reviews empirical evidence about the way television affects American values in the children of the nation. The writer uses a survey approach and conducts a study of children age 5- to 10-year-old and combines the results in this paper.
American values are as American as apple pie. When one has children one of the things they hope for is that they can raise those children to have strong American values, which might include respect for others, hard work and the ability to accept diversity. Often times the lack of American values is blamed on the things that children watch on television. Experts claim that the television shows that are popular today with children send a message to the children that they do not have to have values to be well liked and successful in life. Research is firmly divided on the issue and the debate continues. American values can be confusing for anyone who has to depend solely on television to attain them. Television shows today target audiences of children not only with the content of the show but with the commercials that are supporting the show. Even when the age bracket in question is not being targeted they watch and they learn from the messages that are sent.
This study used a survey method with which to conduct an analysis of the message that television shows and their commercials are sending to the children in America between the ages of five and ten years old. The shows were identified through the five children who agreed to take part in the study. Three top rated shows were also identified for the purpose of the study. The shows that were used for this research were Bart Simpson, King of the Hill and Cops. Two of these shows are presented in cartoon format but unlike Saturday morning cartoons they depict a real life family with modern issues and current problems. The third show cops, is a show that children seem to be drawn to because it involves police officers doing her jobs and many children want to grow up to be police officers. Each of the shows was watched twice and observations of the content, the messages being sent and the underlying messages were recorded. The observations targeted things such as gender roles, power relations, class relations and conflict resolution. Family values on the shows were observed as well as observations about the type of advertising that the shows attract. All of the information was tied together and discussed in the realm of five to ten-year-old children and the messages the shows may be sending them.
This is a show that seems to be universally watched regardless of age. It was the first such show on the air waves, in which cartoon figures portrayed a modern day real family with all of the energy of a real people sitcom. The show, when it was first broadcast seemed target adults but as the years go by many more children are being allowed to watch it as well. One of the indicators that this change is occurring is the style and type of commercials that support the show. The commercials are family oriented and designed to sell products to the family as a whole unit. Things such as vacation packages for the entire family are advertised as well as many food products that are designed for enjoyment by children. Given all of the negative humor in the show the Bart Simpson show does provide gender equality in its sitcom episodes. The particular two shows that were observed for this paper each dealt with the middle child Lisa and her desire to be something in her life. In the first episode Lisa wants to be a famous saxophone player. She is initially sure that she can do the job because everything comes easily to her as a gifted child, however she learns right away that music is not her gift and she will have to work at proficiency. This is an excellent value to teach the children watching the show. The perseverance and hard work that is involved taking on and mastering a new task is one of the most important values that Americans can be taught. There is a free trade system in this nation and the child who is taught to value hard work and progress will have an easier time of succeeding than the child who is taught giving up is the answer. The gender message in this show is interesting because the father, Bart has definite archaic gender ideas but somehow he and Marge, the mother manage to raise Lisa to be independent strong and confident in herself. In these episodes Lisa has to face the realization that her brother, who she feels is a dolt, might have natural talents that she does not posses. Family values in this show provide the understanding that no family is perfect and that the family unit is strong and acts as one. Lisa cries when she discovers that she cannot just pick up the sax and play it and is immediately comforted by her brother with assurances that she will learn it because she is smarter than anybody he knows. While the show has an undertone of disrespect (Bart calls his father by his first name, and he is in constant trouble at school) the overall flavor of the sitcom is strong family and hard work get one where one wants to go. The advertisements on this particular show were mainly for family food products. Stouffers kitchen for the busy family ran several ads during each episode, which shows the children in the survey that many families are busy, and still manage to eat together each night. This sends the message to the children that family dinners are important, which can be positive if the children watching have those, but negative if they are in a family that does not sit down and eat together. The show does not focus much on class relations but it does provide a positive look at diversity, with a negative twist. There are several minority or foreign characters in the show who are happy and successful, however the man who owns the local convenience store is an obvious spoof on the negative connotation that foreigners purchase the majority of American convince stores. This show while sending subtle misogynist messages through Homer, presents an overall belief that family tradition is strong, every family has problems and hard work can overcome the obstacles that people face.
The show called King of the Hill is a similar platform but the family in question is a southern family with all the southern values that are frequently joked about nation wide. This show is a bit more risque than the Simpson's as it has a regular character who is the product of an adulteress relationship, as well as many episodes about current topics of sex, and Ritalin and others. The shows gives positive messages about family values however, as long as the children only concentrate on observing the Hill family and ignore the goings on around the Hill family. The first episode dealt with a possible diagnosis of Bobby, the son, with ADHD. The doctor gave him Ritalin and the family wrestled with the concept of medicating their child into compliance. The entire show showed that the family supports each other, which sends another strong message to the children watching, but also tackled a currently controversial topic in this country. The second show was about Bobby being asked to model for big boy clothing and the ensuing fall out of discovering is overweight. The gender messages of the show are skewed. The females are presented as arrogant know it alls, as in Peggy Hill, or dingbats as in heir niece. There is very little positive targeting for females in this sitcom.
The commercials that air during the show are not as family oriented as the ads airing during the Simpson's. The Hill family commercials are generally geared to adults such as beer and other adult topics. Power relations are addressed in this show much more strongly and openly than they are in the Simpson show. The message goes out the children that people are frequently struggling to overcome power issues either with a boss, a spouse or a friend. When Bobby modeled for large children the message also went out that there is something to be ashamed of in being overweight. The father spends the entire episode trying to stop Bobby from being humiliated and in the end that is what happens. This is a very negative message to send to small children when America has a rising childhood eating disorder rate. The show used both episodes to display a bit of a male macho attitude and the women in the show are treated as if they are a lower class then the men. There are not class relations in…