Television: How It Divides Its Audience

Television: How It Divides It's Audience

Throughout history, American television has had an immense impact on its audience. The advancement of the television from the 1950s has become the prevalent form of technology within the home, where it divides social interaction between the families, creating a lack of socialization ( Kubey and Csikszentmihalyi, 108). Research has shown that watching television as a family allows the social interaction to become passive and one-dimensional (Kubey and Csikszentmihalyi, 108). In Lynn Spigel’s article entitled, Making Room For T.V., she expresses her ideologies of American television; namely the lack of socialization and interaction within the family (Spigel, 260). Although, she believed that the television had the ability to both unify and divide audiences, research studies on this subject show that the role of American television, in both past and present societies, creates a division within its audience, particularly within families (Spigel, 261). Not only does American television create a division within families, but also within society. There has been much research done on the impact of how families are portrayed on television with regard to their race.

American television has created a large separation and division within its audience through the portrayal of different family races. American television breaks family relationships, where social interaction is not as effective and strong as it may have been without the television. Television has taken over as the primary agent of socialization, dividing parents from their children. Television creates a lack of family relations, causing disengagement in socialization.

Television has the ability to portray families of different races in a particular way. Psychologist, Gordon Berry suggests, “frequent representations of Black, minority, and lower class life styles appear on television …” (Merritt and A. Stroman, 493). Greenberg and Atkin, two researchers, conducted a study that proved that there is a massive division between the White society and the Black society as a result of American television (Merrit and A. Stroman, 493). These two researchers conducted studies in which they chose three Black television shows such as “ What’s Happening”, and “Sanford and Son”, and “Good Times”(Merrit and A. Stroman, 493). These American television shows portray the ideology that Black families are isolated and less superior than the White community, Black audiences are less likely to have a dominant male figure within the family, where the mothers in Black families are the primary caregivers, thereby making all of the important decisions (Merrit and A. Stroman, 493). Additionally, these television programs are depicting two very different social settings. One race is deemed to be less superior, struggling to make a decent living, with a lack of male guidance in the family household, compared to the White community, who appear to be more elite, having a larger income and more tightly bonded family. For instance, the American show, “What’s Happening”, displays a Black middle-working class family, who struggle just to make ends meet. All the while, there is a lack of functional relationships within the family (Merrit and A. Stroman, 494). American television is able to determine and form new ideas and approaches as a mean to determine the type of family structure as well as what is deemed acceptable and suitable within society (Merrit and A. Stroman, 498). Moreover, by depicting two races on American television and classifying them with two completely different standards within the audience, this further divides the American television audience.

Although American television may be portrayed as having a positive effect on promoting family socialization, where it seemingly unifies the viewers; in turn, it actually divides family audiences. As soon as the television is turned on, there is an immediate division, as the viewers are solely concentrating on what is actually on, and consequently, there is no social interaction. “When the T.V set is on, it freezes everybody…everything that used to go on between people - the games, the arguments, the emotional scenes, out of which personality and ability develop - is stopped. So when you turn on the television, you turn off the process of making human beings human…” (Kubey and Csikszentmihalyi, 108). Although the family audience may be gathered in the same room, there is very little, if any, social interaction that occurs, due to the fact that the viewers are interested in merely what is happening on the television set (Kubey and Csikszentmihalyi, 108). It is suggested that while an audience is observing the television programs, only 21% of the time, these viewers are actually engaging in social interaction, acknowledging the others in the room (Kubey and Csikszentmihalyi, 110). It is clear from this statistic that multiple family ties are deteriorating because, although a specific type of audience gathers together to engage in a certain American television program, they are not socializing with one another.

Another study has been done to prove how American television is creating division and separation among family audiences. Frank and Greenberg divided American audiences into different viewer segments and observed their preference of television shows (Comstock and Scharrer, 83). These two researchers found that audiences are divided into preferences, which actually depict how viewers and family ties are separated and divided as a result of different opinions of the many diverse American television shows that are offered (Comstock and Scharrer, 83). Having so many television options creates a conflict, as not every person within that particular family or audience wishes to watch the exact same thing (Comstock and Scharrer, 83). This demonstrates immediate division, as the parents and children are being divided by the choice of television show they wish to watch and where to watch it. American television is powerful tool that divides audiences as well as families because everyone has a certain preference about the shows they like to watch. If not everyone cares to watch one particular show, then those specific people will either find another place to watch their preferred program or engage in a different activity. This results in a physical separation, simply by the fact that people are not staying together.

American television has replaced the primary agent of socialization, where children learn and understand rules within society. The main form of the primary agent of socialization within a family setting is often the parents and schools (Segalman and Himelson, 51). By enabling American television to enter the lives of families, it divides the relationship between both the children and their parents (Segalman and Himelson, 52). Having television in the household replaces the primary agent of socialization, where it weakens and separates the family’s influence on children’s behavior and actions (Segalman and Himelson, 52). For example, the majority of American television programmes incorporate a tremendous amount of violence and sex appeal (Comstock and Scharrer, 267). When young children observe this type of behavior, they too believe that it is acceptable, within society, to conduct themselves in such a manner (Comstock and Scharrer, 268). After a series of experiments have been conducted, two researchers, Bandura and Ross, support the idea that “behavior is a function of observation…” (Comstock and Scharrer, 275). Parents no longer have control of their children, teaching them values and morals as to what is socially acceptable compared to what is deemed inappropriate within society. Parents and guardians loose this figurative role in their child’s life as the American television is now implementing its own set of values and beliefs within society (Comstock and Scharrer, 275). Children no longer look to their parents as role models (Comstock and Scharrer, 276). American television has an immense impact on its audience, and especially in the lives of young children and adolescents (Comstock and Scharrer, 277).

American television has become the main focal point within the family as well as society. The television has a great ability to divide and separate society as well the different races. Many American shows such as “What’s Happening” and “Sanford and Son”, and “Good Times”, depicted this stereotypical view of how the Black family was and is still perceived (Merrit and A. Stroman, 493). As the studies have shown, the television is one of the key reasons families are so divided today, because there is limited interaction when families watch programmes together (Kubey and Csikszentmihalyi, 108). Moreover, various family members may have different preference in shows, enticing them to go into separate rooms to watch individually, or not watch the television at all (Comstock and Scharrer, 83). Lastly, American television has taken over as the primary agent of socialization within society and families, whereby it divides the relationship between parents and children, as the children rely heavily on the television programmes to teach them the social norms and acceptable behaviors within society (Segalman and Himelson, 52). American television has and still is creating a large division and separation among family audiences, as well as societal audiences. American television forces the audience to go their separate ways instead of unifying and bringing everyone together.

Works Cited
Comstock, George and Scharrer, Erica. Television: What’s On, Who’s Watching, and What It Means. San Diego, California: Academic Press, 1999.

Kubey, Robert and Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Television and The Quality of Life: How Viewing Shapes Everyday Experience. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 1990.

Merritt, Bishetta and A. Stroman, Carolyn. “Black Family Imagery and Interactions on Television.” Scholars Portal Search. Vol. 23, no.4. (June .1993).;2-&cookieSet=1

Segalman, Ralph and Himelson, Alfred. “ The Family: Past, Present, and Future.” Scholars Portal Search.Vol. 11, no.1. (March 1994).

Spigel, Lynn. “Making Room For T.V.” Communication In History: The Technology, Culture, Society. Ed. David Crowley, Paul Heyer. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc., 2007. 259-267.