Many believe that scripted television shows provide a window into the culture, by portraying cultural norms and standards. Therefore, family television shows should highlight aspects of family life in American culture during the time period in which the shows were produced, not necessarily the time period portrayed in the show. This investigation will involve a single television episode from two family-focused television series that stopped airing new shows at least 20 years ago, and a single episode from two family-focused television series that are currently airing on modern television. The two older television shows chosen for this paper are Little House on the Prairie and Bewitched. The two currently-running television shows are Good Luck Charlie and Two and a Half Men.
Little House on the Prairie
Little House on the Prairie was a television series that aired in the mid-1970s through early 1980s. It was based on a series of semi-autobiographical novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and described the life of the Ingalls family, who established a life on the homestead. In this episode, the father, Charles, has been working for his employer for two months without any wages. The contractor that they were working for has gone bankrupt, which means that Charles will not receive a paycheck and his employer has to close his mill. To complicate things, the family owes money to the Olsens, the owners of the local store, and that debt is causing stress with the Olsens. Caroline, his wife, has a fight with Mrs. Olsen that ends with her promising that the bill will be paid. When Charles returns home, he is dejected. His daughters talk about how sad he is, discussing how their father's sadness comes out when he plays the fiddle. Mary and Laura decide to pitch in to help pay the bills, which requires Mary to take time off of school. Mary is traditionally a more earnest student, something that is pointed out by Charles in the girls' discussion about needing more paper and another pencil in the opening scene of the episode. However, Laura brings home work so that Mary does not fall behind, which encourages her to apply herself to school. Laura faces her own dilemma when she runs out of paper, finally telling her teacher that she has no paper and does not want to add to her father's worry by asking for more paper.
The family issue confronted in this episode is a lack of money. Although the family is challenged in this episode, they are portrayed as a loving and respectful family that helps one another. Moreover, they are very in-tune with one another's body language. When Charles returns home from work after learning he will not be paid, as soon as Caroline observes his body language, she realizes there is a problem. The girls discuss the fact that their father's fiddle sounded sad. However, none of the family members blame one another for the problem. Instead, they pitch in together to fix the problem, although doing so requires each of them to make sacrifices. They seem to come to this decision as individuals, as Mary and Laura discuss their desire to help prior to talking to their parents about helping.
Viewed through a symbolic interactionist perspective, the nonverbal communication of the family becomes important, as the family clearly interprets each-others non-verbal cues, whether it is Charles walking out into a pasture rather than towards the house, the mournful sounds of a violin, or Laura's nervous chewing of her toenails. From a structural-functionalist perspective, one has to consider that the Ingalls owe money to the Olsens. The Olsens extend credit to people on the prairie, which is beneficial to the entire community. However, they cannot do this if people do not eventually pay. The family's commitment to pay their bills is indicative of a commitment, not just to the family, but to their whole community. The relationship between the Ingalls and the Olsens is also interesting from a conflict perspective; Mrs. Olsen extends credit, but uses it as a way to reinforce her position of power. Caroline is relieved at the prospect of no longer being beholden to Mrs. Olsen and has words with her, but this ends up increasing the stress on Charles, because it provides even more reason that the bill must be paid.
Bewitched was a television show that aired from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. The show followed the marriage between Darrin, a mortal, and Samantha, a witch. In the Season 3 opener, "Nobody's Perfect," Darrin and Samantha have had a daughter, Tabitha. Darrin is very nervous about Tabitha's checkup, and he wants Samantha to call him with the news. She responds, without irony, with "Yes, sir." As the doctor is telling Darrin that Tabitha is a "typical, average baby," Samantha observes Tabitha perform her first magic. This is significant because part of the underlying storyline is that Darrin does not want Samantha performing magic, but to live like an ordinary mortal. However, Samantha's mother, Endora, is thrilled that Tabitha can do magic.
The underlying family issue is a disagreement about what the parents want for their child. Samantha is very worried about how both Darrin and Endora will react to Tabitha's newfound ability. Samantha does not want Endora to reveal to Darrin that Tabitha can do magic, revealing the fact that she hides much from her husband. She pretends subservience to Darrin, but does things that he would find objectionable. It is as if Samantha loves her husband, but not the constraints that come with him, which is probably an accurate description of how women felt on the cusp of the women's rights movement. Endora and Darrin have a bitter argument about what is best for Tabitha, and much of Darrin's animosity towards Endora seems based on the fact that she is a witch.
Viewed through a symbolic interactionist perspective, the family's lack of communication is important. Samantha wants to hide information from her husband and her mother, but when she tries to communicate her concerns to people, they talk over her and ignore her. This highlights the plight of women during that time period and how that impacted society. From a structural-functionalist perspective, the family was ethnically diverse, and the marriage between a witch and a mortal placed strain on both mortal and witch society. The relationship between Samantha and Darrin was a great example of the male-female dynamic as viewed through from the perspective of conflict theory; Darrin issues demands and expects for Samantha to comply with them.
Good Luck Charlie
Good Luck Charlie is a television show which began airing in 2010. If focuses on the Duncan family and how that family deal with the arrival of an unexpected fourth baby. In "Charlie is 2!" The entire family ends up in prison because each of them has tried to do something extra-special for Charlie's second birthday. The older sister, Teddy, pressures Gabe, who clearly resents his little sister, Charlie, into trying to sneak Charlie into a children's concert. The oldest brother P.J. still has many child-like qualities and gets in trouble for harassing one of the performers at the concert. The parents, Amy and Bob, end up in jail because Bob rented a horse for Charlie's birthday, and the horse turned out to be stolen.
The family issue presented in the show is that the family members are all in jail, but the episode really focuses on how families struggle to give meaning and relevance to special days, like birthdays. The family goes over-the-top in trying to celebrate Charlie's birthday, which is made all the more clear to the viewer, because Charlie is only two. However, the family does work together. Even Gabe, who is somewhat of a smart-aleck towards his parents, tries to help make his sister's birthday special, even if he has to pretend to do so grudgingly. The family is played as loving, functional, and prone to mistakes.
Symbolic interaction would suggest that the birthday celebration is a symbol of the family's love for Charlie. The structural-functional approach would view the family dynamic as the evolution of how a family must adapt to function well, and thus, ensure the stability of society. Though the family ends up in jail, the older children pitch in to help with the youngest child, which eases the burden on the two working parents. Honestly, the family dynamic in the theory did not show any real power imbalances; to that conflict theory would not be useful to describe their dynamic. However, the fact that they end up in jail because they are struggling to do expensive things to make Charlie's birthday memorable is a reflection on the conflict that arises between those with lots of extra money and those without it.
Two and a Half Men
Two and a Half Men is a show that received a lot of press because of its actor's behavior, but it is also an example of the…