Popular Culture: The American Family in Television Entertainment
In the 1950s and 1960s, television entertainment depicted a "traditional" American family, which generally equaled a man and woman who were married, homeowners, had at least one car (sometimes two), and had two to three children (Taylor, 1989). There were exceptions, of course, but television indicated to the American people that the "norm" was to have this particular type of lifestyle. These television programs catered to a demographic (individuals grouped together based on specific characteristics) that was interested in seeing shows about a lifestyle that was nearly expected of the American people but that was not really what was seen in society (Coontz, 1993). The episodic series that were seen at that time portrayed people with struggles, but those struggles were generally very mild compared to what society was really experiencing. These television programs showed something that was completely unrealistic for the majority of the people in the United States, and did so for a variety of reasons - most notably to show society how things "should" be in a family unit and to give society an escape from the way families actually interacted during that time period.
That is not a question that is easily answered, because there were multiple reasons why television programming was created and offered to the American people. One of the main reasons people watched television during the 1950s and 1960s - and one of the main reasons people still watch it - is to escape from their problems (Spigel, 2001; Taylor, 1989). They want to see things that are funny and uplifting, and they want to get involved in the lives of other people and families so they can feel more "normal' in comparison. Seeing a show about a family that struggles with all kinds of problems can help a real American family feel better about themselves. However, in the 1950s and 1960s most of the shows were about families that seemed to be very functional and have very few problems of their own. The real problems with society were being seen in the actual society where single-parent homes, a loss of jobs and income, and poverty were taking place at a high rate, instead of being portrayed on the television screen. It may have been helpful for society as a whole to see some of these problems they were facing demonstrated on television, but they were not offered that as an option when it came to television programming.
In the 1950s, poverty was common and there were more single mothers because divorce was becoming more accepted and frequent. There were many things in society that were not discussed in polite company or were not talked about. People looked the other way more often and did not say anything when a person was divorced or otherwise had struggles with family, money, and other issues. It was understood that these things happened, but many families pretended that these things did not happen, as the 1950s and 1960s were more about keeping up with appearances of propriety than what is seen in modern day life. Television, however, did not really portray these kinds of problems during that time period. The television shows in the 1950s were about strong families and happy couples. Shows like I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, and Father Knows Best showed the alleged best of society. They offered strong morals and values, along with family members who "knew their place" and situations that always brought the family closer together by the end of the episode (Jenkins, McPherson, & Shattuc, n.d.; Lipsitz, 1990). While this was shown as the ideal of society and what people should be striving for, it was also an escape for families that did not have this kind of life.
In the 1960s, the television shows changed to popular favorites like Bewitched, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Green Acres. While these shows still portrayed families, they also acknowledged the fact that what made up a "family" was changing to some degree, and that the stereotypical family may not be the "norm" anymore (Taylor, 1989). There were families where paranormal was the new normal (Bewitched), and there were families where the woman had much more say, the…