Television Families Communication

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Typical Television Families
Many television shows portray the lives of typical American families; both African American and European American. I have chosen to compare and contrast two television shows: Family Matters and Home Improvement. The two shows are surprisingly similar in many aspects, but there are a few differences in the communication styles and other aspects of the two families. Communication theories can be used to help show and analyze the communication between each family. These theories include interactional, dialectics, speech community, and cultivation. Do prime time television shows really represent and portray the differences and stereotypes between African American and European American families?

Family Matters first aired on ABC in 1989 and lasted until 1998. There are 215 episodes that tell the story of the middle-class Winslow family from Chicago. The show focuses on Carl, a police officer and his family: Harriet, Eddie, Laura, and Judy. Harriet is Carl’s wife. Eddie is their eldest child, Laura is the oldest daughter, and Judy is the youngest of the three. Also living in the Winslow household is Harriet’s newly widowed sister, Rachel, and her child, Richie. In the “Pilot” episode Carl’s mother, Estelle, also moves into the house. The Winslow’s have a stereotypical nerd next door neighbor, Steve Urkel, who is constantly causing mischief. He is introduced midway through the first season and quickly becomes a favorite main character for many. The shows’ episodes usually involve a minor problem or conflict, but by the end of the 30 minute episode it has been resolved and everything is alright again.

In the very first episode we meet Carl and his family. They are African American, but they appear very normal and much like a European American family. The first main problem in the episode is that Carl does not want his mother to move in even though Harriet has already told Estelle she can. Carl is torn between wanting to keep his mother out of his home life and wanting to make her happy and let her move in. This is an example of integration versus separation from dialectical theory. Carl knows that his mother will want to control his life – setting him up on a diet, telling him how to discipline his children, always wanting the final say. He does not want to have to allow her into the house 24/7 because she will cause a major change in the household. Despite his attempts to convince Harriet to change her mind about Estelle moving in, Estelle moves in. Carl was right, “Mother Winslow,” does start to try and control the rest of the Winslow’s lives. Carl begins to feel that his role as head of the house is being compromised by having his mother living in the house. After a few days Harriet convinces Carl to talk to his mother about how he is feeling. In the end Carl and his mother talk and agree to compromise and give each other more space. In dialectical theory this is known as a responding to the dialectic with neutralization, which is a compromise that meets both needs somewhat, but neither is fully met (Wood, 2004).

Another example of opposing tensions in Family Matters happens in episode four, “Rachel’s First Date.” Rachel’s husband has been dead for about a year and she has avoided dating during that time, but recently a man from the church choir, Alan, has been calling to ask her out. Finally, she agrees to go to dinner and a movie with him at the end of the week. When the day rolls around she is found in her room trying on nearly every dress in her closet. Harriet comes to console her and help, but Rachel is adamant about not going on the date anymore. Mother Winslow shoos everyone out of the bedroom except for Rachel and sits her down. The two women have an emotional talk about how Rachel feels guilty for going on a date with another man. She says that she was so comfortable with her past husband that she can’t imagine even being happy with another man. She experiences the opposing...
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