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How did World War II affect television?


The Feedback Loop

In order to stay on the good sides of both Washington and affluent Americans, advertisers had no reason to stray from their white, middle-class focus. At the same time, McCarthyism and the Cold War were activating panic across the country -- think about the bomb shelter trend, or schoolhouse "duck-and-cover" drills -- and most Americans just wanted to get back to the way they now remembered things being before the war.

Television both reflected and fed this rush to conformity, giving the grateful masses a shared experience of accepted social patterns. Many classic and familiar television forms -- like the sitcom and the soap opera -- arose in this environment, and they carry some earmarks of this desire for conformity and consumerism. Our desires created the programming -- to keep the advertisers happy -- and the programming, in turn, affected our desires.

But American unrest was provoked and documented by television, too. The civil rights movement wouldn't have come about in the way that it did without first the suppressive whitewashing of television and, later, newscasts detailing the means and reasons protesters were making their voices heard. Television created another feedback loop, in which the fight for civil rights created the news, and the news created the fight in turn.

In the end, the story is the same now as it has been since the birth of television in the years after the war: Television both makes the news and reports it. We learn about our society based on the stories, fictional and otherwise, that it brings us. The ways that we react to that information, as a society, dictate what television does next, and so on.

But the whole cycle -- which continues even now on cable channels, the Internet and an ever-growing variety of gadgets -- got its start in post-war America. Perhaps, having grown up with television, current generations will be more savvy about the images it's selling us.

For more great TV articles, check out the links on the next page.


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