What impact did the television have on American society?
Between the 1940s and 2000s, commercial television had a profound and wide-ranging impact on American society and culture. Influencing the way people think about important social issues as race, gender, and class.
Given that TV, including the streaming services, has become pretty much a desert. I had the occasion to switch to a couple of channels on the Comcast system that replay “classic TV”. It is tough to watch knowing that pretty much your entire life is made up of “classic” programming. However, it is better than the alternative, I guess!
You begin to notice pretty definite transformations and transitions through TV. Moreover, a pretty good reflection of where we are as a culture.
The 50’s began with “pure” TV.
Most of it was Golden Rule/10 Commandment, classical Western cultural themes. The good guy was always good and won the conflict, the bad guy was always bad. But learned his lesson in the end and it was entertaining. I remember running in from playing outside or finishing chores early. Just so I could get in front of the TV for the weekly broadcast of Saturday morning cartoons, Davy Crockett, or The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights.
During the 60’s through the 90’s.
Shows became more interested in social issues and began to show “anti-heroes”, bad guys doing bad things for good reasons. More and more social themes entered the prime time shows as TV became distinctly less “white bread” focused. Beginning to incorporate more racial content – but in the end, still working within the boundaries of Western culture while being entertaining. We became entertained, sometimes laughing, as broached serious issues. Morality plays were everywhere. In the hospitals, police precincts, law firms, full houses, and even in the exploits of an ex-Marine turned PI in Hawaii. Even though messaging was becoming more of the content, the focus was still entertainment. Even the heavier procedurals (even though they were all strictly formulaic), were interesting and enjoyable to watch.
But then came the 2000’s.
The transition over the past twenty years or so has seen programming become less about entertainment and more about messaging. Most of the productions are only enjoyable if you agree with the message. Entertainment becomes secondary if considered at all. The good guy doesn’t always win and as a matter of fact, he might not even be good. The bad guy often turns out to be the hero – if there is any such thing. Many of the shows throw dirt on everybody, promoting the idea that there is no good guy. And it is likely there has never been. Traditional morality is outmoded, there are no rules in this Brave New World.
History is often repackaged and retold “from a different perspective”. Which more often than not means that it isn’t history at all, just a dramatic redefinition of the past.
I told my wife it seems we are in an age of “Punishment TV”.
Lastly, programming designed to force messages down your gullet. And berate and make you feel bad about who you are in the process.