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How did World War II affect television?


The American Whitewash & Rise of McCarthyism
Senator Joseph McCarthy is questioned by reporters in 1953. McCarthy was famous for his investigation into alleged communist subversion.
Senator Joseph McCarthy is questioned by reporters in 1953. McCarthy was famous for his investigation into alleged communist subversion.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

By 1960, three-quarters of American families owned at least one TV set. And just as owning a television had quickly become accepted and expected in such a short time, the U.S. was now being trained to aspire to images of the American Dream in entirely new ways.

The chaos of wartime was quickly replaced by a comforting conformity and, some might say, repression. Men and women, who had adapted to new employment and social standards during the war, rushed back to their prewar roles. Many women were pregnant. Things were normal and prosperous -- anything less was too close to the sad, ugly, too-recent days of the war.

But it wasn't just wish-fulfillment and war trauma that made programs about an idealized middle-class -- shows like "Bonanza" and "Leave It to Beaver" -- so ubiquitous. Advertisers themselves wanted programming to appeal to the broadest possible audience, which meant giving us visions of a happy, comfortable life free of danger or fear. By excluding diversity and sticking close to conventional images of gender and family, they could be sure to keep eyes on TV screens while helping keep the fires of consumerism burning strong.

When the Republican Party won the Senate in 1952, a man named Joseph McCarthy rose to power -- and his complex relationship with the television not only set the national temperament, but created a precedent for media blame that continues to this day. McCarthy, of course, was consumed with fear and hatred for communism in all its forms, seeking to root out communists and sympathizers in Washington, Hollywood, New York and other major urban centers.

The problem was, the Russians had been U.S. allies in the recent war, and television had done its part to trumpet their successes. In looking for an enemy to fight after the war, McCarthy played upon the fears and paranoia of a post-war society to locate that new enemy in our hometowns, our neighbors' houses and even our families. In the Cold War, all that Russian praise looked very suspicious indeed, and Hollywood was subjected to a long and ugly witch-hunt that had an impact on careers and the film and television industries permanently.


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