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The Influence of American Television on Audiences

By pen0rzz Jun 16, 2012 1698 Words
The Influence of American Television on Audiences
On April 30, 1939, the first television broadcast was unveiled to the audiences of North America at the New York World’s Fair opening in Flushing Meadows, Queens. Feelings of awe and amazement were shared throughout the crowds. However, with the emergence of the Second World War in the very same year, real growth for the television was delayed and as a result did not truly begin until the early 1950s. At this point in time, the television became commonplace in a great deal of homes across North America—incorporated into the daily lives of families that could afford it. A set was commonly found in kitchens, bedrooms, even in bathrooms. The television was claimed to “bring family together”—idealistic for this postwar time period in which family togetherness was well sought after by families that had been torn apart and separated by the war. The introduction of the television brought about significant changes in society including education of the public, the rise in consumerism, and the surfacing of the post-traditional family for example. Lynn Spigel, author and associate professor at the University of Southern California, argued that with the emergence of the television as the new focal point for family attention, audiences were unified and brought together in some aspects, while divided and segregated in others. I would disagree to an extent, however, by saying that television has caused more harm than good where the ties between families are concerned. Initially, the introduction of the television into the daily lives of families did play a role in creating a stronger sense of unification in how it strengthened the ties between families and brought them closer together by generating shared points of interest and discussion and by keeping families together spatially. Early advertisements for the television depicted families sitting closely together in a semi-circle around the television set, enjoying each other’s company in a sort of “romantic haze”. This idea of a family circle became a cliché associated with the television set—it emphasized the television’s crucial role in reuniting families both emotionally and physically after the hardship faced by so many during the Second World War. In fact, in many advertisements for the television, the actual product wasn’t even the centre of attention—instead, the family, in the centre of the ad with their eyes glued on the screen, was the main focus. The television set became a staple in the typical nuclear family household—it replaced the fireplace and piano as a means for family time and bonding. Instead of gathering around the hearth, families would gather around the television set. Family members would now find the time in their busy individual schedules to gather around the television with their wives, husbands, and children to catch a program on TV and spend some time together. Women confessed to how the television played a big role in helping to increase their romantic relations with their husbands—one woman stated, “My husband and I get along a lot better. We don’t argue so much. It’s wonderful for couples who have been married ten years or more….Before television, my husband would come in and go to bed. Now we spend some time together”. Popular television shows of the time such as I Love Lucy sparked a shared interest and connection amongst family members—they now had something in common that they could discuss as a family. In addition to this, the television became a reason for children to choose more commonly to stay at home with the family and watch TV rather than go outside and cause mischief and trouble with friends, which provided great relief to worried parents. In spite of all this, over time, these unifying effects on the family eventually paled in comparison to the seemingly detrimental consequences that the television set displayed on the relationships within the typical family. For starters, the television replaced traditional means of family interaction and pastimes such as gathering around the piano or fireplace to talk and sing, going outside for family picnics, or playing board games. Instead, the television bound families in a physical sense rather than an emotional sense—instead of talking and interacting with one another, the television created zombies who would just sit still and watch the screen in their own little world—despite watching with other family members, each person was emotionally isolated. For example, an observational study conducted by Assistant Professors Gene H. Brody and Zolinda Stoneman along with Alice K. Sanders, a doctoral student at the University of Georgia that compared the socialization of family members towards one another with and without the presence of television revealed that in the presence of television, children and parents talked less, made fewer facial expressions, and were less active. All in all, despite the short term grouping and connecting of the family that was evident in the early years of the television, a rise in individualism was inevitable—living together physically, yet separately in an emotional sense. With the television today, there are millions of shows that are available to watch—it’s not like in the early 1950s when there were only a handful to choose from. Nowadays, there are shows out there for every type of audience—men, women, old, young, etc. Because of this wide abundance and variety, not everyone agrees on what shows to watch. A mother may wish to watch a home cooking show, while her teenage son may wish to watch extreme sports. Therefore, the old cliché of the family circle gathered around the television set does not really apply to the modern world. Realistically, families today rarely gather together in whole to watch a program on television—the television has become more of an individualistic activity in which one family member may watch the TV at one time in the day, while another family member may watch the TV at another time in the day, therefore eliminating the sense of unity gained from watching the television set as one big happy family. In addition to this, further segregation within families developed as a result of demographic and psychographic specific messages delivered through television advertisements and shows, which separated families into different audiences based on age, gender, etc. For example, a young boy watching television might see a show in which other young boys his age act a certain way, and may feel that is the way he should act as well. In this sense, family members watching the television will see characters that they can relate to, and may subconsciously try to mimic their behavioural patterns. This led to greater differences within members of a family as gender and age identities began to form out of the messages received from the television. In conclusion, the overall point being made here is that although the presence of the television set in homes across North America originally contributed to a unification and bonding of members within a family through shared interests and physical togetherness, a gradual rise of individualism and segregation over time divided families apart. This rise of individualism was triggered on one hand by different tastes in television shows and programs, which moved television viewing from being a group activity to one rather individualistic in nature. The replacement of traditional means of family socialization with the television also contributed to this rise in individualism. Works Cited

Andreasen, Margaret. “Evolution in the Family’s Use of Television : An Overview.” Television and the American family. Ed. Jennings Bryant, J. Alison Bryant (New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001) Print.

Brody, Gene H., Zolinda Stoneman, and Alice K. Sanders. “Effects of Television Viewing on Family Interactions: An Observational Study.” Family Relations 29.2 (1980): 216-220. Print.
Crowley, David, and Paul Heyer. Communication in History : Technology, Culture, Society. 5th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2006. Print.
Livingstone, Sonia. “Half a Century of Television in the Lives of Our Children." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 625.1 (2009): 151-163. Print. Spigel, Lynn. Make room for TV : television and the family ideal in postwar America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. Print.

Spigel, Lynn. “Making Room for TV.” Communication in history : technology, culture, society. Ed. David Crowley, Paul Heyer (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2006) Print.
Von Schilling, James A. The Magic Window : American Television, 1939-1953. New York: Haworth P, 2003. Print.

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[ 1 ]. James A. Von Schilling, The magic window : American television, 1939-1953 (New York : Haworth Press, 2003) 1. [ 2 ]. David Crowley and Paul Heyer, Communication in history : technology, culture, society (Boston : Allyn and Bacon, 2006) 242. [ 3 ]. Margaret Andreasen, “Evolution in the Family’s Use of Television : An Overview” Television and the American family. Ed. Jennings Bryant, J. Alison Bryant (New Jersey : Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001) 8. [ 4 ]. Lynn Spigel, “Making Room for TV.” Communication in history : technology, culture, society. Ed. David Crowley, Paul Heyer (Boston : Allyn and Bacon, 2006) 262. [ 5 ]. Sonia Livingstone, "Half a Century of Television in the Lives of Our Children." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 625.1 (2009): 153. [ 6 ]. Lynn Spigel, “Making Room for TV.” Communication in history : technology, culture, society. Ed. David Crowley, Paul Heyer (Boston : Allyn and Bacon, 2006) 262. [ 7 ]. Lynn Spigel, Make room for TV : television and the family ideal in postwar America (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992) 44. [ 8 ]. Lynn Spigel, “Making Room for TV.” Communication in history : technology, culture, society. Ed. David Crowley, Paul Heyer (Boston : Allyn and Bacon, 2006) 265. [ 9 ]. Sonia Livingstone, "Half a Century of Television in the Lives of Our Children." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 625.1 (2009): 154. [ 10 ]. Gene H. Brody, Zolinda Stoneman and Alice K. Sanders, “Effects of Television Viewing on Family Interactions: An Observational Study.” Family Relations 29.2 (1980): 216. [ 11 ]. Sonia Livingstone, "Half a Century of Television in the Lives of Our Children." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 625.1 (2009): 153. [ 12 ]. Sonia Livingstone, "Half a Century of Television in the Lives of Our Children." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 625.1 (2009): 154.

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