Wednesday, June 27, 2012

An Incredibly Influential TV Show; How a Positive Show Can Negatively Impact Society

    When I first began to consider what TV show has had one of the biggest impacts on American society, I began by thinking of the question in positive terms. For instance, All in the Family and Roseanne challenged America’s perspectives on home life, social issues, and our own judgmental qualities. But I realized that a show’s influence doesn’t just pertain to how it enlightened its viewers; shows can be negatively influential in how they define what “normal” home lives really are. Leave it to Beaver ran from 1957-1963. Throughout its six seasons, the show rarely addresses the political or social issues of the time. Leave it to Beaver portrayed what was deemed as the iconic symbol of the ideal family, thus warping perceptions of the perfect family dynamic.

In Leave it to Beaver, the writers wanted to set up a “traditional family unit” with a housewife mother, a father who works at an office job, and two sons who share a room, despite the open guest room down the hall. The Cleaver family was identical to every other family on the show; all characters were white, middle-class, had a house and a front yard, and only the father needed to have a job. June and Ward Cleaver never had any marital issues; the conflicts in the show usually pertained to either Wally or Beaver getting into trouble, being caught, and having a serious yet understanding talk with Mr. Cleaver about morality. The show had a Consequentialist aspect to it; good actions were rewarded, bad actions were punished.

Although many Americans still say that Leave it to Beaver represents their life, the show chose to ignore many of the important social issues that occurred during its run. Sputnik launched into space on the same day as the Pilot, the civil rights movement was growing, and even though Wally is, in the later seasons, seventeen and eighteen, there is no discussion of the States’ growing involvement in Vietnam. All conflicts begin and end in their town, Mayfield, and all troubles are resolved within a half hour. The family’s main problems concern events that are simple to sort out; Beaver catches a game-winning football and his ego inflates, or Wally has to take his girlfriend to an overly-expensive restaurant. The topic of Communism is only brought up once, and only one African American actor was ever given a speaking role, that role being as a maid.
    Today, many shows mock the set-up of Leave it to Beaver, such as Mad Men and Desperate Housewives. Both shows play with the idea that, although families may look as perfect as the Cleavers, behind closed doors, husbands and wives sometimes cheat, sometimes divorce, and sometimes don’t punish or reward their children appropriately. Leave it to Beaver also reinforced an unrealistic standard of American living; that one’s family can be perfect if all of society’s moral rules and obligations are met, and that the power of family-strength is universally achievable.

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