“After World War II, the press generally promoted the establishment and the stability of American families; the nation needed this readjustment and security after the tumult of the war years” (Mock, 011, p. 29). As the old saying goes “life imitate arts” and vice versa. This is a true statement when it comes to the entertainment industry. Situation comedies are a key factor in mimicking the American way of life. The traditions and values are often embedded in entertaining television shows that are capable of reaching millions of viewers. There are shows that offer a realistic view of the American family, while others are only mere reflections of what they believe the idea American family should consist of via reality television. Nonetheless, they all involve a critical look at American family via television shows.
One of the most influential and controversial shows that impacted the way the American family was viewed is Roseanne. Roseanne, which debuted in 1988, was a breakout hit due to its quintessential portrayal of a blue-collar working family. This show benefited society because it gave the working-class family a voice. It showed that even through the troubles of maintaining a home life, there was a level of realness and hope in the quest of living a day by day life. The matriarch, Roseanne, was a working-class mother, whose relationships with her husband, children and sister was put to the test. However, it was embraced by millions due to its realistic portrayal.
In recent years, situation comedy has turned more of a sinister way of thinking dealing with issues that have shaped modern times. The show Black-ish, is about a middle-class African American family, who are met with the “isms” that have become headlines in recent years. The show benefits the American family because it critically approaches the issue of culture appropriation and the other dealings that a middle-class African American family has to encounter on a daily basis.
Like Black-ish, the hit sitcom Modern Family, is also a show that tackles societal issues and make a critical light of the them. The show has been dubbed a “mockumentary” due to its lens of a documentary. The values in this sitcom are from the perspective of Jay Pritchett, his second wif,e and stepchildren. This blended family provides a voice to the modern family, which is not as rooted in tradition and a nuclear set up as past generations. Yet, the ultimate goal is to make the family system work regardless of how it is made up.
While situation comedy has for the most part been beneficial in the approach to the American family, reality television shows offer a more unrealistic and often times shallow approach to American family values. This is partly due to the fact that celebrities are usually the headliners of these shows. Keeping up with the Kardashian, which debuted in 2007, became one of the first in a wave of celebrity reality shows about an entire family. The show has garnered millions of followers and has turned the family members into reality and social media stars. The celebrity worship that follows reality shows has greatly impacted American families. The very thought that shallow millionaires are looked upon to bring values to the American family life is negatively impacting society. Studies show “People who watched voyeuristic shows such as the Kardashians or one of the “Real Housewives” iterations were more likely to feel that they had power over others and that they were more special than others” (Kendall, 2013, p.13). Furthermore, shows like Love and Hip-Hop on VHI bring such a low value of love and raising children that viewers are actually finding value in this.
The American Family is changing and some of the television shows are a reflection of the new dynamics. Yet, value and tradition should still be treasured. Television is more than mere entertainment; the impact that these shows have is more than what people tend to realize. This is why it is important to keep up less with the Kardashians but more with shows that speak to the fabric of the American family system.
- Boschert, S. (2013, July). Blognosis: narcissism and reality TV: chicken or egg? Clinical Psychiatry News, 41(7), 12-13.
- Mock, E. L. (2011). The horror of “Honey, I’m Home!”: the perils of postwar family love in the domestic sitcom. Film & History, 41(2), 29+.