Television's Impact on American Society and Culture | dayline.info
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As awareness of racial discrimination unfair treatment based on race increased, more social critics began complaining about the absence of minority characters on television. They argued that positive portrayals of minority characters in TV programs could help increase the self-esteem of minority viewers, promote understanding, and improve race relations in the United States.
Breaking the color barrier InAfrican American actor and comedian Bill Cosby — costarred as a detective on the popular series I Spy. He won three Emmy Awards for his role. In Diahann Carroll — became the first black woman to star in a prime-time TV series. She played the title character in Julia, a sitcom about a nurse raising her young child alone after her husband's death.
Since Julia lived in an apartment building with both black and white tenants and never faced prejudice or discrimination due to her race, some critics complained that the show did not reflect the realities of the African American experience. But Carroll claimed that Julia was as realistic as any other fictional program on TV.
Even the white families were cardboard [one-dimensional or flat]. Once the networks could collect more detailed data about the audience, they began creating programs to appeal to specific groups. Around this time, the networks also shifted their general focus away from older, rural viewers and toward younger, urban viewers, who were seen as more likely to spend money on sponsors' products.
This change in audience focus led the networks to tackle more frequently debated issues in their programs. As a result, several programs featuring minority characters and families first appeared in the s.
Some historians credit Wilson for leading the way for later black comedians who had successful television careers, such as Arsenio Hall —Eddie Murphy —Chris Rock —and Dave Chappelle —. However, other critics claim that Wilson started an unfortunate trend in which a growing number of African American entertainers on television played the role of comic fool. Another important minority show of the s was Good Times, which aired on CBS for five years beginning in This situation comedy focused on the struggles of an African American family living in an inner-city apartment building.
Each week the Evans family relied on love and humor to overcome discrimination, unemployment, crime, and other problems faced by many black families in the United States. Many TV critics praised the series for dealing with these issues in a realistic way, and many viewers identified with the family's struggles during tough economic times.
But some African Americans felt that the character of son J. In fact, the actors who played his parents, John Amos — and Esther Rolle —left the show in protest when its focus shifted from the family to the clownish J. The Jeffersons, which aired on CBS for a decade beginning inwas another important show about an African American family. It was created by Norman Lear —who also created the popular but controversial show All in the Family.
The sitcom centered on George Jefferson played by Sherman Hemsley [—]a successful black businessman who moved his family into a luxury high-rise apartment building in New York City. George often behaved rudely and made a fool of himself, only to be rescued by his patient wife, Louise Isabel Sanford [—].
The program reached number four in the annual television ratings in —75, demonstrating that shows starring African Americans could achieve widespread, popular success. But it also received criticism during its long run for portraying some characters as stereotypes. The mids also saw the launch of the first prime-time TV series centering on a Hispanic character.
Chico is a talented young mechanic who builds a relationship with a cranky old garage owner, Ed Brown played by Jack Albertson [—]. The show was set in a multicultural neighborhood in East Los Angelesand it received critical praise for presenting a thriving Hispanic culture to national TV audiences.
The show continued after the death of Prinze inbut went off the air the following season. Another landmark program in African American TV history is Roots, an eight-part mini-series a short series of television programs with a continuing story line that earned some of the highest ratings ever when it aired in Based on a historical novel by Alex Haley —it followed four generations of an African American family, beginning when the first member was brought to the United States from Africa and sold as a slave.
Many people hoped that the miniseries would increase awareness of the impact slavery had on African American families, and thus would help improve race relations in the United States. The Cosby Show a sitcom that aired on NBC from to and claimed the top spot in the annual TV ratings four times, also had a broad appeal.
Cliff Huxtable, a successful physician and wise and loving father. Phylicia Rashad — played his wife Clair, a respected attorney and patient mother. Some critics claimed that the program was unrealistic, partly because two professional, working parents could never spend so much time at home with their children.
Others complained that the show did not do enough to address issues of importance to African Americans. But many viewers found it refreshing to see the positive image of a comfortable, confident, and loving black family on TV each week.
Cable TV targets minority viewers During the s and s, American television viewers gained many new channel options. The growth of cable TV services—and the introduction of new broadcast networks such as Fox, UPN, and WB—greatly expanded the amount of programming available on television.
Many of the new cable channels and smaller broadcast networks directed their programs toward minorities, since these audiences were not being well served by the major networks. Even as shows for and about minorities became more widely available, however, prominent roles for people of color were rare in prime-time programs on the major broadcast networks. There were a few examples of multicultural casts in mainstream series. The police drama Miami Vice, which aired from todepicted a pair of detectives.
In many cases, though, the minorities who appeared in prime time cop shows were depicted as criminals, gang members, or drug addicts. In general, television programming became more segregated separated by race in the age of cable, with individual shows tending to feature casts that were either white or black. As of The Cosby Show was the last major network program with equal appeal to black and white viewers.
Polls showed that black and white Americans tended to watch completely different sets of shows. Most of the programs that attracted large numbers of minority viewers aired on the smaller broadcast networks or on specialized cable networks. Critics argued that these separate viewing patterns prevented people of different races from developing shared interests and common cultural references and thus contributed to the racial divisions in American society.
In the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People NAACP and other minority organizations formally complained about the lack of diversity in network television programs. The networks responded by adding more minorities to the casts of shows and actively recruiting minority employees."Hamilton" creators on crafting a revolutionary musical: Full interview
By the early s the effort had produced some positive results. Surveys showed that African Americans accounted for 15 percent of the characters in prime-time series. This figure was similar to the percentage of African Americans in the overall U. Hispanics did not fare as well in prime-time TV series.
Although Hispanics made up Cable operators targeted the Hispanic market with an increase in Spanish-language programming in the s. But Hispanic activists wanted to see more Hispanic characters in mainstream programming as well. For example, they pointed out that several popular prime-time series were set in Miami, Florida, where as of the early s about 66 percent of the population was Hispanic. Even so, these programs did not feature Hispanic characters in major roles.
One of the few successful network series to focus on a Hispanic family was George Lopez, which began airing on ABC in This sitcom starred Hispanic comedian George Lopez — as the manager of an aircraft parts factory who struggles to deal with his rebellious teenaged children, ambitious wife, and meddlesome mother.
Some experts believe that the key to improving minority representation on television is to increase the number of minorities who work in positions of authority in the TV industry—as station managers, for instance, or as network programming executives.
They argue that putting people of color in charge of programming at the major networks and at local TV stations would lead to more frequent, accurate, and respectful portrayals of minorities on screen.
Women on TV Television has a mixed record when it comes to portraying women and gender roles. Although women made up more than 51 percent of the U. The organization, which promotes equal rights for African Americans and other minorities, played a role in shaping the content of TV programs from the earliest years of television.
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Infor instance, the NAACP filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop the CBS network from airing the show Amos 'n' Andy, because it portrayed African American characters as stereotypes generalized, usually negative images of a group of people. At the start of every television season, the major broadcast networks release descriptions of the new programs they plan to introduce.
Prior to the — season, the NAACP reviewed the TV schedules and pointed out that none of the new prime-time network series featured minority characters in prominent roles. The organization held meetings with television executives about the lack of minorities on TV and reached agreements in which the networks promised to take steps to increase diversity.
Afterthe NAACP continued to work with the television industry to increase the number of high-profile roles for minorities on screen, as well as to create more employment opportunities for minorities behind the scenes of TV programs. In his introduction to a report on the organization's progress, NAACP president Kweisi Mfume explained the importance of television in shaping people's views of minorities: Ideas and images guide our lives.
They create the belief systems that control our individual and societal actions. Television communicates more ideas and images to more people in a single day than [Biblical King] Solomon or [English playwright William] Shakespeare did in their entire lives. More people depend on the medium for news and entertainment, from which they construct their worldview, than on any other venue in the world.
When it comes to forming ideas, reinforcing stereotypes, establishing norms, and shaping our thinking, nothing affects us more than the images and concepts delivered into our lives on a daily basis by television and film.
Accordingly there is ample cause for concern about what does or does not happen on television when there is little or no diversity in either opportunities or the decision-making process…. With all the [problems] affecting communities and people across our nation, one might argue that there are more urgent needs and other battles to fight. Although that might be the case in some instances, few if any issues will define us more in the context of who we are, what we think, and how we respond than the medium of television.
Over the years, many other special interest groups have recognized the impact of television on the way Americans think about various issues. Like the NAACP, these groups have increasingly tried to work with the TV industry to make sure that programming reflects their viewpoints. But the history of American television also includes a number of progressive programs that helped viewers come to terms with the expanding role of women in society.
In the s, television programming had a male focus. The most popular shows tended to be Westerns, police dramas, and science-fiction series. These programs usually featured strong male characters that faced danger bravely and used their wits—or their fist-fighting abilities—to solve problems.
Most of these types of dramas did not have any regular female characters. Situation comedies often included female characters, but these women appeared almost exclusively in roles as suburban housewives and mothers. A few early TV programs included mild challenges to traditional gender roles. Lucy Ricardo, the heroine of the s sitcom I Love Lucy, felt dissatisfied with her role as a housewife and wanted to get a job in show business.
But Lucy's struggles were presented in a zany, humorous fashion in order to make her ambitious nature less threatening to audiences of that time, when the majority of women did not hold jobs outside of the home.
During the s, popular oddball comedies such as Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie featured strong female characters who moved beyond their traditional roles with the help of their own magical abilities. Some reviewers claimed that these series helped prepare American society to accept greater empowerment of women.
In the s, feminists supporters of women's rights began actively seeking equal rights and opportunities for women in American society. Network TV programming started to reflect the growing women's rights movement by presenting more women in nontraditional roles. The main character in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, for example, was a smart, independent, single working woman.
The sitcom One Day at a Time featured a divorced mother struggling to raise two teenaged daughters on her own. Maude, a spin-off from the successful sitcom All in the Family, centered on a divorced woman as well. In one of the most controversial sitcom episodes of all time, Maude played by Beatrice Arthur [—] faced an unplanned pregnancy and decided to have an abortion.
As the broadcast networks gained more information about the viewing audience during the s, they began trying to capture female viewers with dramatic programs as well. Instead of providing nonstop action and adventure, many drama series started to focus on characters' emotional lives. But male characters still dominated these types of shows. Inaccording to Mary Desjardins in the Museum of Broadcast Communications publication "Gender and Television," 74 percent of the characters in prime-time drama series were male.
Little progress was made over the next fifteen years: Such statistics prompted the National Organization for Women NOWa women's rights group, to challenge the networks to include more positive representations of women in prime-time programming. Pressure from NOW helped convince CBS not to cancel the original s police show Cagney and Lacey, which was the first prime-time drama to star two women.
The networks also produced several popular sitcoms starring strong women in the s, including Roseanne and Murphy Brown. The rise of cable TV ensured that even more programming for and about women would become available in the s. Meanwhile, the broadcast networks began featuring women in more diverse roles in entertainment programming.
By the s, however, some gaps in coverage remained to be addressed.
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Women's sports rarely appeared on television, for instance, and news programs used far fewer women than men as expert commentators. Gays and lesbians on TV Gay and lesbian characters did not appear on television until the s.
Several factors contributed to the introduction of homosexual characters at that time. First, the broadcast networks shifted their focus toward younger, urban viewers, who were thought to hold more accepting social views.
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These independent producers tended to be more willing to address frequently debated subject matter than the networks. Finally, homosexuals began to be more visible in American society, and TV shows began to reflect that change.
At first, gay and lesbian characters made occasional appearances in single episodes of ongoing TV series. These characters were usually one-dimensional, or not realistically portrayed, and they typically served the purpose of creating conflict among the regular characters.
As more gay and lesbian characters appeared on TV, some critics charged that they were too often presented as stereotypes. In the National Gay Task Force provided the broadcast networks with a list of positive and negative images of homosexuals.
The activists encouraged the networks to avoid presenting negative images of gays and lesbians as sexual predators or child molesters. Instead, they asked the networks to present positive images of gays and lesbians as contributing members of society who are comfortable with their sexuality. In the early s, gay advocacy groups had some success in working with the television industry to promote fair and accurate representations of homosexuals in TV programs.
GLAAD releases an annual list of gay and lesbian TV characters as part of its mission to eliminate homophobia fear of homosexuals and end discrimination against gays in American society. Some conservative religious and political groups resent gay activists' success in working with the television networks. They believe that homosexuality is abnormal and poses a threat to traditional family values.
They view positive portrayals of gay and lesbian characters on TV as promoting immoral behavior. Some groups, such as the American Family Association AFAhave organized protests against advertisers that sponsor programs that portray homosexuals in a sympathetic or positive way. Television networks thus face pressure from advocacy groups on both sides of the gay rights issue.
For many years, the networks tried to balance these competing interests by including more gay characters in TV series, but strictly limiting any physical or sexual interaction between them.
But cable TV channels relaxed these standards in the s, and the broadcast networks had to follow in order to compete.
TV and the American family In the s, television was considered a form of family entertainment. Most American homes only had one TV set, and many families would gather around it in the evening to watch programs together. The Castle exhibition, however, was unlike shows she had done before.
Born deaf in rural Idaho inthe artist never spoke about his work. He never attended art school; in fact, he never learnt to read, write, lip-read or sign. Nevertheless, he taught himself to foreshorten, to make his own books and meaningfully to incorporate words in his drawings, which he rendered with a unique admixture of soot and saliva. Cooke resents the classification. What, really, is the difference between work by an artist with academic training and one without, Cooke wondered.
It does not designate an inside and outside, but a mobile relationship between the norm and the exception. Both approaches have their problems. It starts with the inherent value of culture, continues through all the social and educational benefits and only ends with the economic. Otherwise we fall into Oscar Wilde's celebrated definition of a cynic: We instinctively know this. Imagine society without the civilising influence of the arts and you'll have to strip out what is most pleasurable in life — and much that is educationally vital.
Take the collective memory from our museums; remove the bands from our schools and choirs from our communities; lose the empathetic plays and dance from our theatres or the books from our libraries; expunge our festivals, literature and painting, and you're left with a society bereft of a national conversation … about its identity or anything else.
Then there's society — and I think we're all now agreed that there is such a thing. Although the arts do not pretend to be a frontline health service, we're coming to understand how they can function very effectively in a complementary role. Look at the work of orchestras such as the Royal Philharmonic, which runs workshops for people with dementia, or the collaboration between the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and NHS Mersey Trust, which puts musicians in residence to work with adults with a complex range of mental health issues.
Festival confronting, as they put it, the physical, mental and social challenges of life and death. There's the popularity of the Books on Prescription scheme in GPs' surgeries or the work done by Colchester and Ipswich museums for homeless people.
All these projects are supported by Arts Council England. That is, by you and me, via our taxes or our purchase of lottery tickets. In 18 years, the national lottery has transformed arts provision across so many of our communities and has been particularly valuable while government funding has been under pressure.