Just a few decades ago, a TV set was viewed by most Americans as a magical box with a blue screen that could show them a new world. Only a few people could afford to have a TV set at home since such a device was too expensive. Nowadays, however, it is difficult to find an American family that has no set in its house. Series, movies, reality shows, news shows, and endless advertisements construct an important part of a modern person’s life. Sometimes, it is so important that people may develop an addiction and can literally die in front of their TV sets waiting for another episode of their favorite show. Within just a short period, television in America has turned from a means of broadcasting news and entertaining people into a powerful cultural phenomenon that shapes Americans’ way of thinking, changes their daily routine, and forms the image of Americans in the whole world.
The United States was among the first countries in which television started developing at the beginning of the twentieth century. In fact, first, it had much in common with radio and mostly broadcasted news about the events happening in the state or the world accompanied by black-and-white pictures. Nevertheless, television created a real furor among Americans who gathered around shop-windows in which quick-witted entrepreneurs exhibited working TV-sets to attract more visitors. In the 1950s, when more American families gained an opportunity to buy a set, television started developing very quickly. As Steve Allen and Robert J. Thompson claim, due to the development of such genres as comedy and drama, American television reached its Golden Age. The American Broadcasting Company and the Columbia Broadcasting Company were among the networks that regularly showed various programs. Among the most popular genres were vaudeville, traveling shows, variety shows, and anthology series (Allen & Thompson). One of the television genres that can be viewed as purely American was the sitcom – “a 30-minute format featuring a continuing cast of characters that appeared in the same setting week after week” (Allen & Thompson). Short episodes demonstrating the life of ordinary American families flavored with humor became extremely popular among the audience. More than that, at the end of the 1950s, television also became a means of political impact: speeches of presidents and political commercials started appearing on Americans’ screens. A decade later, the National Education Television appeared (Allen & Thompson) that signified a new stage in the development of television in the USA: now, it aimed not only at entertaining people but also at teaching them and influencing their worldviews. Finally, the development of cable TV in the 1980s turned television into the most influential media that maintains this status till now.
Television has an extremely powerful impact on people’s worldview. While, just a few decades ago, people formed their opinions on the basis of their personal experience, the information they got from their teachers and dear people, and of what was written in books, now, one just needs to watch a TV set for it. In fact, with the help of television, one can learn almost anything without even leaving their house. Social and political issues, natural disasters, cultural events, and problems in interpersonal relations are just a few things demonstrated on TV. American television promotes such values as equality, love, family, friendship, patriotism, and devotion, trying to cultivate them in American citizens (Huston). Television is the tool with the help of which Americans learn to be tolerant, to respect other people, protect children, and to understand themselves as a nation.
Moreover, television has changed the way of life of many Americans. E. B. White claims that, in the 1960s, when TV sets appeared in most houses, people completely transformed their daily regimen. In particular, “a lot of farm families who used to rise early are now late sleepers, and this has worked changes in their husbandry” (White). In fact, one’s life started being dependent not on the weather or the time of the day but on the TV programs one wanted to watch. Even nowadays, it is rather common that children do not go to school until they watch cartoons, parents do not go to work until they watch the news, and older people do not go to bed until they watch an episode of a soap opera. More than that, for many years, watching TV remains one of the most popular types of family leisure. At the same time, since Americans have started spending too much time watching television programs, they have become less active and frequently suffer from health problems that are the results of their low-active way of life.
Finally, since American television is popular all over the world, it helps people from other countries to understand American culture and Americans as a nation. For many years, most TV series and movies present the United States as a country of power, economic stability, new technologies, and endless opportunities, a country in which dreams come true. As Tim Arango claims, it is the result of a special policy promoted by American politicians who, by creating an image of a perfect state, try to find support on the global stage. Nevertheless, even though TV shows do not always reveal all the truth about life in the United States, they at least allow people from other countries to get acquainted with a unique American culture.
Summing up, though television is often considered to be a goggle box, its power should not be underestimated. For Americans, television is a mirror that simultaneously reflects their morals, behaviors, and attitudes towards others, and changes their worldview, routine, and international image. One can hardly find a more informative and relevant source about American culture than TV series and reality-shows. However, one should realize that television is a tool that helps one to discover reality, and it should not substitute the latter.
- Allen, Steve, and Robert J. Thompson. “Television in the United States.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 1 July 2019, https://www.britannica.com/art/television-in-the-United-States.
- Arango, Tim. “World Falls for American Media, Even as It Sours on America.” The New York Times, 30 Nov. 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/01/business/media/01soft.html?mtrref=www.google.com&assetType=REGIWALL&mtrref=www.nytimes.com&assetType=REGIWALL.
- Huston, Aletha C., et al. Big World, Small Screen: The Role of Television in American Society. University of Nebraska Press, 1992.
- White, E. B. “Letter from the East.” The New Yorker, 25 Nov. 1960, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1960/12/03/how-television-changed-us.