Americas TV Role Model Essay Research Paper

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Americas TV Role Model Essay, Research Paper Americas TV Role Model What America needs is a family like The Waltons, not families like The Simpsons – at least according to President George Bush. A strange remark, given that one does not normally expect the President of the United States to pass judgments on television dramas like The Waltons, let along cartoon shows like The Simpsons. The producers of The Simpsons were quick to respond, by making Bart Simpson remark that the Simpson family was really just like the Walton?s family – waiting for the end of the depression. The Waltons were an imaginary rural family waiting for the 30s depression to end, while The Simpsons are a postmodern family of today. Both belong to the curious history of the American TV family. A

history so central to the past, present and future of American culture that no one – not even Presidential candidates, can afford to ignore it. Before radio and television, the family home was a space that could function in relative seclusion from public life. In the advice manuals of Victorian times, the ideal middle class home was one that sheltered women and children from the evil influences of the public sphere. The virtues of thrift and self-improvement – the sort of values Bush associates with the Waltons – were a 19th century notion of the good life. In this vision of the family, men worked in the outside world and had the final say at home; women were to be protected from the outside world but managed the day-to-day business of the home and the raising of the

children. Of course, things were not like that for many people, but this was the ideal that the home manuals proscribed. Every good middle class Victorian home aspired to have a piano, and women were supposed to learn to play it teach the children to play it also. The piano was a civilizing influence, supposedly. With the rise of consumerism, however, all this began to change. The phonograph, the radio and finally the television replaced the piano. The virtues of thrift and self-improvement gave way to consumerism and the pursuit of leisure for its own sake. Conservatives have always decried these changes and called for a return to the old ways, but modern capitalism depends on its consumers to keep going. Without this shift in family life from thrift to spending and from

self-improvement to consumption, the industrial age might never have kept going. Indeed, the collapse of the economy that produced the return to thrift and discipline exemplified by The Waltons TV family happened in part because consumerism didn’t quite take off in the 20s. It was only after the massive expansion of manufacturing that took place during the war and the deliberate efforts to turn war production into consumer production that the conditions were set for the kind of TV family we know today. The 50s saw a tremendous boom in housing construction. Young couples who had put their lives on hold during the war got into home making with a vengeance. The period of suburban ecstasy had begun. One of the new consumer technologies that filled the new suburban homes was the

television. By 1955 about 65% of American homes had one. Like all new media technologies, it began by reproducing the popular fare of the media it replaced. Just as the early gramophone records were reproductions of popular music hall tunes; early television reproduced popular radio shows. This is the first phase of any new media – when it borrows and adapts the formats of the old media. Not all of the popular radio programs successfully made the transition to television. Father Knows Best, a well-known TV situation comedy of the fifties, was one program that did survive the transition from radio to television. Interestingly, the ‘ethnic’ radio sitcoms like Amos’n'Andy and Life with Luigi did not. The general public would listen to, but not watch, minorities on