I will explore the ways course material has reinforce my belief about cultural value in North American society during the 1960s, and the role of entertainment television in social change. I will describe how reflecting on these ideas has confirmed my attitudes about society at that time, and my understanding of the relationship between entertainment television and social change.
The 1960s is a period of time when a great amount of social changes took place. During this time, the Americans realized the improvements of women’s status, witnessed the assassination of President Kennedy, saw gay people’s rebellion, touched by Martin Luther King and experienced the power of the African American. The social changes influenced the TV industry so deeply; as a result, the 1960s’ TV shows reflected social changes more than any other eras do. However, despite causing great repercussions in reality, most of the social changes were not accepted by the public. Most people held the old values from the 1950s and many TV producers expressed their opinions through TV programs, although some others also encourage new changes and evolutions in other shows. I am going to discuss how different TV shows reflected different opinions towards women’s rights movement during that time.
Bewitched is an outstanding shows that reflected but rejected the influence of the beginning of women’s rights movement in the 1960s. This show was once as high as number two in the rating and it was one of the 50 best TV shows of all time in a ranking made by TV Guide in 2002 (The Associate Press, 2009). The show tells the story of a powerful witch called Samantha who married a mortal man named Darrin Stephens, and she tried to hide all her power and be a regular housewife. The concept of the show is very contradictory. Despite it gives the implied message that “women must ‘curb their power’ to be accepted into conventional society”, the theme of the show reflected the beginning of the women’s movements in the 1960s, which demanded more power and respect for women (Stark, 1997).
One of the episodes that reflected the ideology of Bewitched was the episode “Divided He Falls” in season two. In the beginning of the episode, Samantha was waiting for her husband to come home and her mother Endora teleported to Samantha’s home with magic. Samantha told Endora that she was going to a dinner dance at the country club in the evening with her “prince charming” Darrin. However, Endora expressed her scorn and asked Samantha what she really saw in him. Endora then casted magic and turn Darrin into a peasant then into Don Quixote and said those were what she saw him as. Samantha then used her magic and turned Darrin back into normal and claimed that was what she saw he is (mtwini09, 2011). It is very interesting to see two similar women holding opposite opinions towards one man.
In fact, Samantha’s choice of marrying into a normal life with a mortal husband was questioned in many scenes and episodes, and most of these questions were asked by Endora, Samantha’s mother. One of the criticisms about this show was that it disobeyed the spirit of the women’s rights movements. Considering the society environment, Samantha represented those women who were educated and had the capability to find a job or even own a career. Yet the show encouraged those women to “choose” their lives to be a regular housewife like Samantha did in the show (Napikoski, n.d.). Also, the show portrayed Endora as an evil instigator who always tried to pull Samantha back to the world the immortals should be. This show obviously denied the women’s rights movement and hoped to lock the women home as long as it can.
As a contrast, Julia was an epochal show that definitely reflected and advocated the social changes in the North American society. It was not very popular in that time as its highest ranking among the three seasons is seven. However, it is the very first TV show that casted an African American woman as the leading role, and it was also broadcasted from 1968, the year Martin Luther King was killed. Given so many special meanings, Julia soon became the focus of people’s eyes; yet many people focus on its impact towards civil rights movement for black people and ignore its influence towards women’s right movement.
The TV show Julia tells the story of Julia Baker, a black widowed single mother who works in a doctor’s clinic and carries a six-year-old son. Despite the fact that Julia is black, her having a job and living middle class life was criticized as unrealistic as most black people in the ‘60s still lived in poverty. Diahann Carroll who played the role Julia Baker talked about the show and said “At the moment we’re presenting the white Negro. And he has very little Negroness” (Morreale, 2003). However, looking at the feminism side of the show, the show Julia did send out a very positive message to the society: a woman can persuade a career, support her family without a man, living a middle-class life and find her own love. Broadcasted in the later ‘60s, Julia was a show that expressed an opposite opinion reflecting the social changes compare to Bewitched.
The episode “I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas” was one of the most favorite episodes from Julia. In this episode, Julia Baker’s son Corey kept arguing with different people if Santa Clause is white or black. The episode was famous because it involved one of the hot topics of the time – civil right. However, the entire episode demonstrated Julia and her son having Christmas in the same way as many other middle class family despite Julia not having a husband. In the end of the show, one of Julia’s admirers dressed up as Santa Clause and came to Julia’s home to celebrate Christmas with her family; later on, Uncle Lou, Julia’s uncle, also came as Santa (2nicks, 2010). The whole episode, as well as most of the show, presented a single-mothered family which did not suffer from hunger or poverty because the mother was a professional woman who owned a career. Despite the effort from the TV show Julia of presenting civil rights issues drew wide criticism, the image of a professional single mother it portrayed was unexpectedly successful.
Therefore, although Bewitched and Julia were both milestone TV shows in the ‘60s, they stood for two complete opposite points of view towards women’s right movement. Bewitched was more conservative and it suggested women should stay home and be the perfect housewife instead of go out of home and work. In contrast, Julia told the public, especially woman, that it is ok not to be a housewife or even ok to live alone with a son without a husband; as long as she has her own career, she can also have a wonderful life.
Nevertheless, Bewitched was way more popular than Julia in the ‘60s. Bewitched was on air for eight seasons with highest ranking number two, while Julia was on air for only three season with highest ranking seven. There can be many reasons for this difference such as scripts and directors, but audience acceptance is a reason that cannot be ignored. Coming right after the 1950s, the 1960s was still a period when most people held the old value in the 1950s that women should not work but be housewives at home. It took some more years for more people to realize that women can also have their own career, thus in the 1970s the TV show The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which was similar to Julia and portrayed a single professional woman, made a great success.
Therefore, it takes time for people to accept different social changes, some takes less time and some takes more. In 1968, Martin Luther King was killed for initiating the civil right movement; and only 40 years later, Barack Obama became the very first black president of the US. However, in present days, some controversy topics are still quite sensitive to TV industry. For instance, despite the stonewall riot happened in 1969 represented a fight back from gay and lesbian people, homosexual issue is still not accepted by many people nowadays, and there are not many TV programs that advocate gay rights.
The Associate Press. (2009, February 11). TV Guide Names Top 50 Shows. CBS News. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/04/26/entertainment/main507388.shtml
Stark, S. (1997). Glued to the Set: the 60 television shows and event that made us who we are today. New York: Bell Publishing.
mtwini09. (2011, January 9). Bewitched: Divided He Falls 2.31 [Video File]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BH-Ov0jhgs0
Napikoski, L. (n.d.). The Feminism of “Bewitched”: Finding the Feminism in 1960s Sitcoms. About.com. Retrieved November 20, 2012, from http://womenshistory.about.com/od/feminismandpopculture/a/Feminism-Bewitched-Sitcoms.htm
Morreale, J. (2003). Critiquing The Sitcom. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press.
2nicks. (2010, February 8). Julia Starring Diahann Carrollin in I’m Dreaming Of A Black Christmas 1968 Part 3 Of 3 [Video File]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7u71TFLjJQ