There was an error in this gadget

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Leave it to Beaver Culture Myth

They have come to symbolize the stereotypical 1950’s– 1960s family and American life to the point where many people today believe these representations of family life were factual, if not somewhat idealistic, views of the 1960s. Shows such as The Donna Reed Show, Father Knows Best, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and Leave It To Beaver all espoused upon the ideal, middle class family…not quite perfect but whose faults were minor and non-threatening to the individual and society. These themes were carried on into the 1960s with shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show and even into the 1970’s with The Brady Bunch. Even though some aspects rang true, the reality was different for a majority of Americans. It’s interesting to wonder what effect these shows had upon those, especially females, who lives were not reflected, and never would be, in the mythical family life portrayed every week.

The setting was almost always the same; a neat and tidy small town, suburban setting, near enough to a city that supplied the father his white collar profession. Mother were seen as happy to stay at home, cleaning and cooking all day (often clad in dresses and pearls) with no career ambitions beyond volunteering for some local group. Father worked at a nondescript profession, the white collar ‘salt mines’ and never talked about work beyond a few vague replies to the “how was your day” comment from his wife. Children were well adjusted and well behaved, unlike the more realistic though ignored angst ridden young adults, though probably not to the extent that was seen in films such as Rebel Without A Cause or novels like The Catcher In The Rye.

But what did those true middle class Americans think of these images? They may have been humorous for many women, but the reality was often different. Women were in the workplace and in careers, though many were regulated to the traditional roles. They usually worked out of necessity and not for fun money for themselves. For instance, my father was a white collar worker in a research lab, yet my mother was always working. She had a full time job until she had children, and then worked part time on night and weekends while my father cooked, cleaned, and took care of four small children. This was the norm for nearly all families in the 1960’s neighborhood I grew up in, and seemed to be that way for nearly everyone.

Beyond the mass consumerism aimed at Americans, especially the new teen demographic, television emerged as an entertainment device with sometimes an unexpected impact. The growing power of the new entertainment segment would have a perceptual influence upon Americans. It also became a device that could manipulate though its entertainment. If your weren’t part of the Leave It To Beaver world, were you viewed as doing something wrong or not working hard enough? Or did people simply realize that it was a fictionalized take on life, done purely for entertainment reasons. It’s also odd, given this promoting of woman in television land as nothing more than secondary apolitical beings that some many women stepped to the front to take action on so many social and cultural issues. I wonder what people like Betty Friedan, Rosa Parks, Mamie Till, Diane Nash, or even Jackie Kennedy thought of the completely sterilized suburbia of television.

While television created the ideal middle class myth, it also had unexpected influences. The McCarthy Red Scare hearings revealed to Americans the transparency of Washington power politics and the fear mongering that it employed, often for personal advancement. The nightly news broadcasts of such events as the Childrens March in Selma, complete with fire hoses and attack dogs, brought the Civil Rights movement home to all Americans (Could anyone imagine Theodore Cleaver or Ricky Nelson being involved in such a protest…or any type of protest). The altering of presidential politics in the 1960 election with the Kennedy/Nixon debates, where substance began to take a backseat to style. The impact of the daily televised war footage in the later 1960’s split a nation into opposing sides, the anti-war verse the silent majority. If television was meant to be a conforming device, it failed in several areas.

No comments: