Medium Cool is a weekly series related to popular culture, mostly film, TV, and books, with some music and games thrown in. We hope it’s a welcome break from the anger, hate, and idiocy we see almost daily from the other side in the political sphere.
Arguments welcomed, opinions respected, fools un-suffered. We’re here every Sunday at 7 pm.
Let’s talk about television in the 1970s – sitcoms in particular – and the impact they had in shaping our views on the social and political issues of the day. Before cable TV and streaming, everyone pretty much watched the same shows, but even before that, the content and tone of sitcoms changed dramatically in the 1970s.
But don’t take my word for it, here’s Dennis Tredy, a professor of American Literature at the Sorbonne, explaining it in very academic-sounding language:
When looking back at the popular American situation comedies of the 1970’s, one notices a vast network of programs aimed at framing social discourse and at helping America come to term with its own, changing image. This was done through a restaging of the political and social ills of the generation as comedic teleplays, thereby using laughter as a vehicle towards social awareness and unwitting change or personal growth, and by recycling popular (and unpopular) clichés and stereotypes (the bigot, the racist, the bleeding-heart liberal, the closed-minded conservative, the touchy feminist, etc.) so as to undermine them while appearing to reinforce them.
So many examples instantly come to mind!
Race and class? Jeffersons, Good Times. Welcome Back Kotter.
Feminism? Mary Tyler Moore Show. Maude – in one episode Maude had an abortion.
How about The Bob Newhart Show, which helped lessen the stigma surrounding mental health and therapy. Not to mention race, the line with “Whitey, sit!” is funniest episodes of the show! (Hmm, not sure whether that was the first show or the later one.)
Single parenting? Alice, The Courtship of Eddy’s Father.
Homophobia? The record isn’t so good here. But episodes from shows of the era addressed the issue, including All in the Family, (several times), Soap.