Some deep thoughts (maybe) on the modern family…

It's the Beaver's fault. Everything always is. (Photo: By ABC Television (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

OK, technically, my deep thoughts aren’t really on the modern family. More like they’re slightly inspired by the Modern Family. As in the television show. Or to be even more precise, they’re inspired by the thoughts on a new blog, Naomusings, in which my writer friend Naomi muses on mainstream media and related topics. (Yes, I stole that directly from her tagline. If she says it so well, why would I try to say it better?)

But to quote Sophia Petrillo (does that count as a media reference?), I digress.  Today her thoughts had to do with lower-case modern family and its reflection in the upper-case Modern Family. As in the television show. I have to admit, I’ve never watched the show (although I’m now a bit curious). Now, her thoughts are well worth reading, so go check them out when you’re done here, but in the meantime, she made a particular comment that caught my attention.

“Since the onset of TV families, it’s always been very much the norm for families to have lots of stuff. “

To Naomi, this is a situation that advertisers have encouraged. In the process, television has reshaped our notion of what makes us middle class – and maybe not in a good way. We’ve become consumer monsters, needing more and more just to stay even.

And with that, I started thinking. I sometimes like being the contrary sort, so I couldn’t wait to poke holes in her theory. Oh, not the part about how advertisers are evil beings that just want to encourage us to buy things we don’t need, like extra super large bags of peanut butter M&Ms, or can’t use, like one-size-fits-all-stretchy-anythings. (To be fair, she didn’t say advertisers are evil. I added that.) And not the part about our consumerism, because you can’t argue with the sight of people squished into one-size-fits-all-stretchy pants & t-shirts happily grazing out of 5 pound monsters bag of chocolatey goodness while they try to decide between the 800 inch and the 967 inch TVs at the local warehouse club.

No, I mean the part about how much stuff TV families have. (Obviously, if she’s wrong about that, she’s wrong about how it’s affected our consumer habits, right?) I had no doubt that it would be easy-peasy to list at least a dozen or more shows right off the top of my head that would prove her wrong. So, there’s…

The Waltons.

OK, I exaggerate, but maybe not all that much. And to be really fair, The Waltons shouldn’t be considered anyway, because it’s a period piece. A drama revolving around family life during the Depression is about as relevant to modern consumer habits as a Ken Burns documentary. No, to be considered, the show would have to be contemporary (or to have been contemporary).

I bet you can already guess the result. Yeah, families-without-a-lot-of-stuff shows were harder to come up with than you might think. I started with the golden oldies. Hey, Andy Griffith, not too bad an example. Of course, the Taylors still had a pretty nice house, a telephone (still something not universally seen at the time) and a television. And unless it was part of the story line where someone learns a life lesson, you never saw Opie or Aunt Bea doing without something they wanted.

Ozzie and Harriet? Leave it to Beaver? Father Knows Best? The Donna Reed Show? We may wax nostalgic and think of these shows as a showing us a simpler time, but those families weren’t typical then. Shoot, they wouldn’t be typical now. There’s no telling what Ozzie did (really, in 14 seasons they never said), but Jim Anderson managed an insurance company, Ward Cleaver was an accountant, and Alex Stone was a pediatrician. Very white collar, and upper middle class at the very least.

Sure, I can think of some TV families with a lot less stuff. The Evans family on Good Times lived in the projects (although I’m willing to bet their set didn’t look much like the real thing). Archie and Edith Bunker lived paycheck to paycheck, and just about the only shopping we ever saw Edith do was at the corner grocery. I thought about adding their neighbors, the Jeffersons, but realized they were movin’ on up to the east side, and with the deluxe apartment in the sky, well, they definitely don’t fit on my list.

I know there are others, but I have to admit, they’re hard to think of. Looked at objectively, most of the TV families I can think of were extremely comfortable, at the very least. They have gadgets and gizmos and goodies, they wear nice clothes and have new shoes. The women are nicely made up, their hair and nails are done, they wear accessories that match their outfits (hey, I’m a girl, we notice these things). They have the labor saving devices in the the appropriate rooms, if they don’t have someone to do the labor for them (just how much did the Bradys pay Alice, anyway?). And somewhere along the way, the rest of us get the idea that these are ‘typical’ families.

I think I have to concede the point to Naomi. Now go read HER musings.

2 thoughts on “Some deep thoughts (maybe) on the modern family…

  1. Naomi says:

    Well, thanks for the shoutout!

    There are exceptions to the typical well-off TV family, but they are exceptions. Roseanne is a pretty notable one. The thing is, this isn’t just an ideological observation — it’s deliberate. From the 1950s through to today, advertisers have directly influenced TV script writers to have more stuff. Sometimes this is done through direct product placement, but more often, advertisers just want to create an environment where consuming is the norm. This started with shows like The Goldbergs in the 1950s, which was initially about a Jewish working class immigrant family. As the show progressed, the Goldbergs moved out to the burbs and started buying things on credit. Advertisers encouraged that.

    It’s interesting that other TV dogma norms are breaking down somewhat. In the 1970s, we started having working women on TV. In the 1980s, we got the Cosbys (who, incidentally, Bill Cosby initially conceptualized as a working class family, but the network said no). Today, we have gay characters and families. But the wealthy-people norm isn’t going anywhere. That, and the mega-attractive women norm.

    • The Chick says:

      But even on shows with the not-so-well-off family, there often seems to be an emphasis on stuff – all the stuff they don’t have but want and are trying to get. So I suppose in a way, it’s still a way for advertisers to try to convince us that we really need whatever it is they’re pushing.

      Sometimes I think it was better back in the day when shows had a single sponsor. Sure, it was in your face, but at least you knew that’s what it was.

      Don’t get me started on the mega-attractive (and slender, even the ‘fat’ friend is never really fat) women….

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