Monday, November 29, 2010

The Perfect Storm - Part 4

The Second Media Age or the Age of Television started in the late 1940s with the dawn of television and clearly had the greatest, single impact on our culture than any other technological development in the 20th Century. Its development helped to create today’s modern media culture. At the beginning of 1950, few Americans owned a television set. They were relatively expensive, and the prices would not significantly drop for at least a decade. But by 1954, 56% of Americans had a television set, and by 1962 that number reached 90%. Why did television grow so rapidly? It came along at the right time and found the perfect companion in the form of consumerism in the 1950s.

Just like a dam, the development of television and consumerism had been delayed for years thanks to a worldwide depression and World War II. By the late 1940s, Americans had put there lives on hold (in some cases for two decades). They had delayed marriage, starting a family and, in most cases, just living life. There was a pent-up desire to live life to its fullest. There was perhaps a sense of entitlement, which is easy to understand considering what America had just gone through--depression, war, death and destruction.

Many people reasoned that “if I survived all this, there must be a reason--perhaps a better life for myself and my family”. They wanted to believe in the American Dream. But what is the American Dream? Is it based on freedom, justice and the pursuit of happiness? Or did the new emerging media have a different view of the American Dream and was more than willing to sell it to us. It now had the perfect delivery system, television.

So who would pay for the development of programming? The answer was advertisers within the programming itself as well as paid ads. Commercial television led to the beginning of the modern development of media. It created a relationship between business, media and culture. It is based on a triangular relationship with business and media at the bottom and culture at the top of the pyramid. Business needed a demand to fuel consumerism. Media, such as television, needed financial resources to develop programming. The two formed a relationship which served each other’s interests.

Television had the ability to influence culture (shared beliefs and behavior patterns or general consciousness), particularly how we spend our money.

Advertisers used this to create the desire for goods and services. Americans came to believe that what they saw on television through advertising and entertainment programs was a lifestyle that they believed was achievable. This was a version of the American Dream presented by Wall Street and the entertainment industry. Television and consumerism were the perfect companions.

Television shows like Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, Make Room for Daddy, and Ozzie and Harriet depicted a nice home in the suburbs with a white picket fence and a back yard, a car in the driveway, new and shiny appliances and a lifestyle of comfort and convenience. You can only imagine, after watching this night after night, the type of impact it would have on our collective consciousness as a society. Television would help to commercialize the way we viewed life.

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