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Role of Television in 1950's America

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Prompt: How did television affect American culture and politics in the 1950s?

The Start of Social Media

Five years after the end of World War II, the 1950s brought an era of economic prosperity, changed some cultural norms, and provided people with fast and easy access to news, entertainment, and other things. However, the introduction of the tv wasn’t all that great. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, tv programs, which were often funded by the government, spread propaganda about the various political events. Television swept the nation during the 1950s, with the number of sets increasing from one million in 1949 to fifty million in 1959, which lead to Senator John F. Kennedy saying that it “drastically altered the nature of our political campaigns, conventions, constituents, candidates, and costs.” in 1959. It would end up influencing every American citizen that was alive to see the program.

The arrival of the television provided access to instantaneous information and news to the public, the government took to spreading propaganda about Communism and and the Cold War tensions to the public through these channels. Just like after WWI, the American government was afraid of Communism spreading across the world; this caused the first Red Scare. Following WWII, this former Red Scare was elevated to the point of people literally being afraid of Russians, or as they were known as at the time, Soviets. The American fear of Communism and the development of the atomic bomb is what started the Cold War with the USSR. Ever since the US dropped the first atomic bomb on Nagasaki, countries around the world saw what America could do to their enemies, and started developing their own bombs. One country in particular caused Americans to fear for their lives. Seeing this, certain politicians exploited this fear by airing certain propagandic commercials that would end up causing the kids of that time to hate Russians/Soviets.

Aside from targeting kids to hate the Soviets, the television helped establish a new cultural phenomena such as social media and entertainment. Networks such as NBS, CBS, and ABC were all started during this time. The 1950’s saw the creation of iconic tv sitcoms such as “I Love Lucy”, “The Honeymooners”, “The Adventures of Superman” and the predecessor to all modern day talk shows, “The Ed Sullivan Show”. With the invention of these shows, the way that people went about their daily lives changed. It used to be that the men would work in factories, women would stay at home, while the kids were at school, then they would all come home, have dinner, and read a book/ listen to a radio program and go to bed. Thanks to the TV, there was daytime tv and evening tv, or otherwise known as the tv that kids watched before bed/ after coming home; the tv that the dad watched late at night; and the tv that the mom watched upon coming home. AKA: cartoons, soap operas, the news, the late shows, and sitcoms for the whole family. Families would spend their nights huddled together at the tv instead of being out socializing, as they used to do before the tv came. It also led to the Hollywood’s Golden Age. Being an actor/ actress became a respectable profession and people actually started to look up to those stars. Famous people like Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley, Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, John Wayne, and many others were all active during that time. TV went from being just a pastime to being the core of American life. However, the tv was not just used for fun and games, it was also used as an aid for politics.

1952 was the first presidential campaign that was mostly commercial and electronic. Presidential candidates Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson used the power of the television to get votes and sway voters their way. Eisenhower had a commercial for himself that was catchy and convinced most people to vote for him. Stevenson had one too, but it was not as catchy. Aside from being an aid for presidential campaigns, it was also an aid in spreading politics in the form of the news. It was also great for spreading malicious rumors about various things and convincing people about different things. Towards the end of the 50s and into the 60s, the tv was so widespread that almost every household had at least one. The famous debate of Nixon vs Kennedy was televised and to this day remains one of the most important political events of American history.

Since this was the decade of the Cold War, tv was also used to spread propaganda that convinced the people that Soviets were bad and that they wanted to get rid of America. If people thought the Red Scare was bad after World War I, this was even worse. During the space race, both countries developed their own atomic weapons and were testing them in relatively open air. This led to the widespread fear that everyone was going to die and eventually forced the American government to start airing the infamous “Duck and Cover” commercials. The kids who watched these became so brainwashed that they were called the “duck and cover” generation. These were the very same kids that hated the Russians and thought that there would be a WWIII. However, thanks to the tv, this propaganda spread faster than wildfire, and the government had an easy way to control what the public saw and how they reacted.

The emergence of the television affected American culture in the 1950s by providing people with instantaneous access to news, entertainment, and other things. In terms of politics, oftentimes the tv was used as an aid to spread propaganda, whether as anti-Soviet, Cold War, or as help for presidential campaigns. The first ever televised debate was Nixon vs Kennedy. It is still remembered today. It’s reach was so far that it influenced an entire generation of kids known as the “duck and cover” generation. In terms of family life and culture, it brought people together to watch various events and tv shows. Even the news was broadcasted 24/7 on the tv. The impact of tv is still evident today, if it wasn’t for the success of shows like “I Love Lucy” or “As the World Turns,” there would be no shows like “the Good Wife”, “Suits”, or “House” today. If it wasn’t for the original three networks ABC, NBC, & CBS, there would be no FOX, USA, or MTV today. Everything that we need to know today can be found on the tv.

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