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The Sitcoms of the 1970s - Essay Example

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The Sitcoms of the 1970s

The television sitcoms of the 1970s explored our racism, sexism, and class bias and uncovered a reality that exposed the depth of prejudice in America and the television industry.
Because television during this period was an evolving event, it's helpful to view it somewhat chronologically. By 1970 Leave it to Beaver had been deceased for 7 years. Ozzie and Harriet passed in 1964 and My Three Sons had just two more seasons of life left. The image of the typical American family that consisted of a well employed father living in suburbia had been exposed as a myth and could no longer support a sitcom. The 1960s and the war in Vietnam had dissolved the country's innocence and America was ready to explore their new maturity. No other vehicle would spark as much social, political, or cultural debate as the American sitcom during this period.
The years 1970 - 1972 were as important for what was canceled as much as for what was debuted. In 1971, the rural south was virtually eliminated from the comedy half-hour format. Green Acres and the Beverly Hillbillies were both canceled. These two shows depicted an unrealistic view of the South and rural America in general. Characters were put in positions that were not believable while portraying a bias against the underlying themes of bigotry and ignorance. Mayberry RFD and Hee Haw, shows that reflected the widely accepted view of rural common sense and decency, also got cut in 1971. These shows would be replaced by more urban and topical settings with characters capable of generating greater controversy and better demographics (Butsch 19). Idealism was being tempered by network economics.
A major theme that ran throughout the 1970s sitcom was the reshaping of our perception of the American household. The picture of the house being headed by a strong father figure was fading. Women were becoming more dominant and shown as more independent in shows such as Mary Tyler Moore and Maude. The men were portrayed with character flaws such as Archie Bunker in All in the Family and Fred Sanford in Sanford and Son. Men were underemployed and if married lived with a dominant female.
This restructuring of the household offered the producers and writers the opportunity to explore issues that the white middle class male could not approach. June Cleaver could not even discuss abortion, while Maude Findlay could have one. Ward Cleaver did not drink while Walter Findlay, Maude's husband, was an alcoholic ("Maude"). Many sitcoms of this era were placed in a household where the children were grown. This provided an environment for adult issues to be aired and debated. It would also offer the contrasting social viewpoints that were emerging at the time.
No other show propelled the 1970s sitcom genre as much as All in the Family did when it debuted in 1971. Producer Norman Lear had gone to the edges of the American psyche to explore racism. Yet, television was still in its adolescence and this was shown in the naivet of the program's plot and writing. Archie Bunker, the lead character, was an avowed bigot who referred to minorities as "Spades, Spics, or Hebes" and believed that their social gains were coming at the expense of the middle class whites ("All in the Family"). Lear believed that by playing Bunker as a misguided fool, his bigotry would likewise be ...Show more

Summary

As the turbulent 1960s were ending, network television was gearing up for the even more violent 1970s. Within the first few years of the decade the network executives would virtually kill off the rural south, the working white male, and the obedient mother and her house brimming with smiling well-behaved children…
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