Television Families: Is Something Wrong in Suburbia?

Television Families: Is Something Wrong in Suburbia?

Television Families: Is Something Wrong in Suburbia?

Television Families: Is Something Wrong in Suburbia?

Synopsis

This volume examines the analysis that was designed to map the development of the television family and assess its current state and, at the same time, to provide insight into the tangled relationships between fictional and real family life. In order to do this, the investigation examines the evolution of the American family, paying special attention to the postwar family, which is not only used recurrently as a benchmark for assessing the performance of modern families but also constituted television's first generation of families. The investigation also traces the evolution of the popular family in vaudeville, comics, and radio. However, the primary focus of the examination is the development of the television family, from families, such as the Nelsons, Andersons, and Cleavers, to more contemporary families, such as the Huxtables, Conners, and Taylors. The unit of analysis for the investigation is the relationship rather than the individual. Hence, the book deals with the portrayal of spousal, parent-child, and sibling relationships and how those portrayals differ across time and across groups defined by ethnicity, gender, and age. Moreover, the relational analysis is expansive so that television family relationships are examined in regard to power and affect, performance, and satisfaction and stability. Television Families provides a thorough summary and critical review of extant research, designed to promote informed classroom discussion. At the same time, it advances a number of hypotheses and recommendations and, as such, is intended to influence subsequent theory and research in the area. The book is intended for senior undergraduate students, graduate students, and television and family researchers.

Excerpt

My daughter, Cara, lived a deprived childhood—a single set of parents, a single pet dog, and a single car in which she occupied the back seat. Even worse, she lived in a home with a single television set which meant, of course, that a great deal of her television viewing was in the company of others—usually her mother, Kate, and/or myself.

It was in this way that I became interested in and, then, fascinated by television families. Each week, families like the Huxtables (The Cosby Show), the Keatons (Family Ties), and, later, the Conners (Roseanne) and Taylors (Home Improvement) were welcomed into our living room and, even though they were unlike us in many ways, Kate, Cara, and I immediately recognized them. We were familiar with the relational rules implicit in their family interactions, the distribution of familial rights and responsibilities, the mundane conflict between parents and children, and the routine crises that each family confronted. We understood why television parents talked about their children and worried for their futures. We took for granted the design and decoration of their homes as well as family members' patterned movements through those homes. Indeed, we found the television family experience quite ordinary.

Of course, television families, especially those in domestic comedy, often strike us this way. Although their experience is typically less ambiguous than that of real families, television families habitually enact behaviors and construct relationships that are contextually appropriate and, so, make sense to viewers. What is more, television families, while entertaining, are not simply entertainment. Viewers become invested in particular families and care about the destiny of specific characters. They also extend television family life and relations beyond what is available to them objectively. All one has to do is ask family members or friends about the likelihood that dj (Roseanne) will require psychological counseling or whether the Cleavers (Leave It to Beaver) . . .

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