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American Television In The 1950s And 1960s

2113 words (8 pages) Essay in History

10/05/17 History Reference this

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The televisual representation of black people had been a highly contested phenomenon since the television broadcast of ‘Amos ‘n’ Andy’ in June 1951. It is believed that ‘Amos ‘n’ Andy’ defined for the first time the side that television was to take in the postwar to represent Black people in America. In Amos ‘n’ Andy, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll created and fixed an image of blackness, black people believed, which made racist Americans fight against them more and more. The program lasted just two years and was cancelled in the midst of growing protest by the black community in 1953. Because ‘The Jeffersons ‘ not only was the first TV programs which featured African-Americans in leading roles since the cancellation of the infamous ‘Amos ‘n’ Andy’ show in 1953, but also the first television program to feature black couples. Because it was the first time television showed a rich, successful African American family, many people believed that the appearance of ‘The Jeffersons ‘was the first positive image of a new role model of Black African American families on television. However, John D.H. [1] pointed out that this television show may have been just ‘a typical of American television fare’ because ‘media image of American of African descent have ranged from the blatantly to the latently racist’. ‘Father knows best’ was, the first white family television sitcom and popular around 1950s-1960s. Therefore, I would like to use both ‘The Jefferson’ and ‘father knows best’ as examples to examine how ‘race’ was constructed by American televisual representation.

Just a few years after the Second World War, how to attain and live the American dream became one of the most prominent themes of the 1950s .Therefore, for helping Americans rebuild their dream, television program in 1950s was made as a creation of American dream rather than a reflection of society. [2] The television producers believed when people conformed to the ideal of beneficial families bring those family audiences stand up to the same level and made people more enjoy the sitcom and their life. [3] According to Census, in 1950, “families with both the head and his wife present,” were apparently the norm, accounting for 87.1%. A non-couple household was counted for 3.6%. The figure of independent female household just was 9.3%. it mean, during that period, most Americans demanded to see a family television shows which ‘defined a household in patriarchal and nuclear terms, with the centre assumed to be a male breadwinner heading a household of his dependent wife and children’.

Therefore by adopting that idea, in ‘Father knows best’s world Andersons family has an upper-class, white-collar fathers, a stay-at-home wives, and two or three children whom lived in suburban. The television show offered viewers a comforting unified vision of the American family. In most episodes of ‘Father knows best’ the stories were all about how the father helped the family find out one or two beneficial social formations from their everyday life. Moreover, by showing a special episode ‘the importance of a strong American democracy’ in ‘school, churched, civic organization ‘, United State Treasury Department promoted U.S. Saving Bones. Given the sitcom show title “father who knows best,” the television producers hoped that the way of lived in “father who knows best” would made the majority of Americans understood what real meaning of “beneficial family” was.

Some contemporary historians argued, although the show suggested that the white-middle upper class nuclear family may be the most naturally beneficial for all, [4] many women in particular still ‘experienced the detrimental aspects of and expressed a high level of frustration with this isolated, suburban nuclear unit’. [5] Moreover, some other historians and sociologists made commented on how unfulfilling suburban life could be and how impossible its contradictory, gendered demands could seem.

Early social scientist, Franklin Frazier [6] , unwittingly used the idea of “beneficial family” to argue a social perspective of Black families on legacy of slavery and he believed slavery culture had left many Black families weak and female-dominated. Later, his ideas had been highly developing by Senator Moynihan at the height of the civil rights movement, which became the most politically-charged Black family issue of the century.

By the end of the 1960s some revisionist scholars [7] challenged the point of view from early social scientist on African American families. The revisionist believed this perspective was narrow and they reclaimed the cultural heritage of African Americans, and rejected that notion that viable families had to conform to the male/breadwinner-female/homemaker structure. They described the adaptive nature and functionality of Black families [8] and documented their strengths and survival strategies [9] . At the same time, revisionist historians analyzed archival data from large plantations and argued that enslaved Black families often enjoyed relatively vibrant and stable family lives, that men participated in and contributed to those families, and that Black people embraced the two-parent, patriarchal family ideal as much as they could [10] .

People could found some reflections of revisionist scholar’s opinions in ‘The Jeffersons ‘. Because the show was the first television program which feature black couples and created by independent producers, Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin during the 1970s to early 1980s, it may helped people understand the real culture of African Americans.

‘The Jeffersons ‘did superficially seem very different from ‘Father knows best’ in many ways. Meanwhile both ‘Father knows best’ and ‘The Jeffersons ‘ adapted the same idea of ” nuclear family” and both set the story in upper-middle class families. Neither family was wealthy; neither family was threatened by poverty or the continuing financial problem.

The two programs seemed to go beyond male solidarity to centrality and superiority. This could be seen in their titles, the title ‘father knows best’ speaks for Paternity. ‘The Jeffersons ‘ did not make the statement very clearly through the title, but giving the family name of the breadwinner.

Different from ‘Father knows best’, the story lines of the ‘Jeffersons ‘more focused on the lives of George and his wife Louise Jefferson rather than their children. In ‘The Jeffersons ‘, George was a successful businessman, millionaire; however his wife -Louise just was a former maid who was attempting to adjust her life from poor to rich. When they moved to a ritzy penthouse apartment on Manhattan’s fashionable and moneyed East Side with their son, Lionel, they try to fill their house with expensive furnishings. For quickly adapt the rich life, they even hired their own black housekeeper, a ‘wise-cracking’ maid named Florence.

Compared to Jim Anderson’s kindness and politeness, George Jefferson was rude and selfish. He frequently called white people as “honkies.” and attempt to rebel against the rich upper-middle class which he was in. An article in Ebony magazine in 1979 referred to him as “bombastic, frenetic, boastful, ill-mannered, prejudiced, and scheming.” Even his wife, Louise, saw George as “Wheezy” and spent most of her time apologizing for him. Moreover, the funniest moments came with the repartee between George and his maid Florence. She always called him “Shorty” and humiliated George but did not miss a chance to put him in his place. This attitude was very hard to see in ‘Father knows best’. I may argue that this could be seen as fragment of idea of the patriarchal family in African American culture, because women still in dominate position in family as old time.

From the title, people should see George not only was a millionaire businessman- breadwinner of the family, but also the centre attention of the family. However in the show he often positioned himself as the buffoon of everyone’s joke. No one, not even his maid took his words seriously. As the Ebony article described, [11] “He was often the victim of his own acts: a put-down that backfires, a contrivance that goes astray, an ego-filled balloon suddenly deflated.”

Patricia Mellencamp [12] believed that the ideal of beneficial families in tradition sitcoms portrayed the ‘comic containment of women’ in traditional domestic roles-the angel in the house. Margaret Anderson in ‘Father knows best’ was in such role; she was always on duty, preparing meals, cleaning the house, attending to the children’s need. However, someday, the angel in the house in ‘Father knows best’ could rebel against her role and take a day off. But the situation of ‘The Jeffersons’ was different; Louise Jefferson was a housewife with maid. Although she did not need to do any housework, she demands to work as slavery.

When I first time watched ‘The Jeffersons’, I was not sure why George’s behaviour in such rude manner and why Louise demand work as slavery. But the second time, I had a different opinion that this may be the slavery culture of African American. Morgan [13] argued that in order to understand such African American culture, one must procure more than a superficial understanding of American enslavement of Africans, as slavery was the birthplace of African American culture. Conrad [14] made the argument in The Invention of the Negro; he believed that in many respects, White Americans created what became known as African American culture. Researchers insist that those interested in understanding and addressing the challenges faced by African American communities today. It must investigate the origin of those African American communities. This investigation would necessarily begin in the era of American institutional slavery.

Ogbu [15] made the argument more Profound. She suggests that African American culture is similar to that of other American minority subcultures; Jones [16] argued every subculture was different. African American culture was not similar to any other American subcultures. Jones emphasized that African American culture was the only minority culture in the United States that was founded and created in slavery. Sue [17] insisted that, “Slavery was one of the most important factors that shaped the social, psychological, economic, educational, and political development of Black people”. Van Deburg [18] maintained that ‘the root’ cause of the present sociocultural differences in American society. However I believed the Slavery culture could be change by education. In later black family sitcom ‘cowboy show’, it was very hard to find any phenomenon of Slavery culture.

The CBS took a conservative view in the black civil right movement to represent the black in 1970. As watching ‘Amos ‘n’ Andy’ twenty years ago, America’s black community remained divided in their assessment of this television program-even It brought a slight change in society . Many critics complain that ‘The Jeffersons ‘ was too idealized and too exaggerated and failed to fully represent African American life. The television programs slightly changed the view of African American over the decades, but the way shot and fix images of African Americans had not progressed very far at all. Nevertheless the show was highly popular both in Black America audiences and white America audiences. It could be seem as not only the CBS want to representation of African Americans in general white American way; but also black community appeal to adapt the traditional white families’ value and crossed lines of class and gender.

Word account: 1900

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