The media has been credited with spreading numerous ideologies that have shaped the definition of life both in the United States and beyond. This means that the media in one way or another is a reflection of the societal norms as perceived and believed by the people. While some people would argue that the media shapes the thoughts of the people, it is evidently arguable that the society is reflected upon by the media. The media has to be able to sell and to do this; they must appeal to the audience by being relevant in whatever they do.

Television Illustrating Family

The fact that the media industry has grown in leaps and bounds over the decades implies that they have so far been doing the right thing. This only ascertains that the media is a reflection of the society such that whatever ideas are prevailing in the media must be the ideas that prevail within a given society. Over the years, the American media has undergone a number of changes with regards to their presentation of the family. Initially, families comprised of loving parents and obedient children. The father figures back then may have been, in some cases, unorthodox so to speak, but they loved and provided for their families to the best of their abilities. The mothers, on the other hand, were always the loving and caring kind, with unlimited patience and enough good advice to go around. Today, however, the typical family as represented in the American media is flawed with all sorts of challenges. Most programs even go ahead to show broken homes with divorced parents and fights about child support and custody among other things.

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The question thus stands is whether it is the society that has changed or simply the media has adapted a different perspective on the concept of the family. This paper will argue that the society has changed and that today’s families are not like those that our parents were brought up in. The media thus simply reflects on what the society has become, and the evident changes with regards to how families are presented can actually be traced back to the real life settings in today’s families. This paper will be based on a number of secondary sources on how the media has been representing families over the past couple of decades.

The Media as a Reflection of the Society

In “The Changing Face of the American Family”, Tim Stanley explores the phases that the American media has taken the definition of family. At first, the family as shown in The Cosby Show was a situation in which the father was the head of the family and had to remain unchallenged by the rest of the members. In this show, the media clearly stepped out of the societal norm of love and acceptance regardless of the actions or circumstances into a zone where the father knew best and was thus always right. While it could be argued that the media instilled this type of parenting in the American population, it would be insincere to say that the attitude came from the media. It was a strict form of parenting that did exist but was considered traditional since the media was showing more of liberal methods of parenting and definitions of the family as a shelter of love and acceptance. The family in this 1984 sitcom is a loving family headed by a working father who wants the best for his family (Stanley 9). This is in more ways than one a perfect family, where everyone lives by the rules, and in the end, they are all happy.

“When Is Mommy Coming Home? A Content Analysis of Spillover in Parenthood” by Barbara Prince considers the effects of modern day parenting on the children and on the parents as well. In the article, the author cites that as children watch more TV and parents spend more time at work, the life as shown in the media is becoming more realistic than not. The study uses the TV series Parenthood to prove this fact, with the help of real research on working parents and their families. In this study, it is established that the story in Parenthood actually happens in the lives of the American people today. This simply means that while parents are out working, the children have to be entertained with stories that they can actually relate to. The media thus plays to the experiences of their audiences just so they can make profits and get good ratings. Basically, the media in this case is useful in mirroring the society and giving the people a version of the truth as they know it (Prince 32). Parenthood is a TV series that shows just how parents live their lives, trying to balance work and family and often failing at one if not both. This show presents a modern day family where parenting is inadequate in all senses of the word.

“A Modern Family: The Performance of “Family” and Familialism in Contemporary Television Series” by Jennifer M. Fogel speaks of a devotion to protect the conservative image of the family even when the definition does not work so well in real life. The media is seen to bring out the undertones of conservativeness, unconditional love and comfort within the nuclear family as well as some kind of restricted mannerism that indicates an inclination towards perfection. While this author argues that the media today represents the consciousness of the society with regards to how people would like a family to be, she also contends to the idea that the TV shows often bend towards reality by giving the story as it should be (Fogel). This could possibly be because the shows need to appeal to the audience by being relevant to their experiences, and they should be able to somehow relate to the actors. This article argues that while the families in today’s media are mostly flawed with too much drama and conflicts, they have some subconscious undertones of the old-time families. This may be a way of showing that even in the changing face of the social construction of a family, the initial foundations of unconditional love, comfort and some level of conservativeness remain intact, even if only with a light touch.

In Beneath Family Role Portrayals: An Additional Measure of Communication Influence Using Time Series Analyses of Turn at Talk on a Popular Television Program by James Honeycutt, Lynn Wellman and Mary Larson, the authors contend that the TV programs are used to teach families about communication among other things. The authors argue that while these programs have to be appealing and relevant to the audience, if they are to get good ratings, they are often used in such a way that they are also informative and educative to the audience by applying a lot of relevant techniques. This function of the media is found in the fact that families spend more time watching TV than having actual conversations, and thus it is important for them to find some useful lessons in the media. This article brings out the possibility that the media shapes the lives of the people, but it can also be understood to imply that the media is tailored to suit the needs of the audience (Honeycutt, Lynn and Larson 54). In a case where the media is used to teach communication to the families, it must have been that the families have been found wanting in the way that they communicate with each other. This would imply that the needs of the family are established before the media is used to meet these needs. In this way, the needs of the society shape the actions of the media.

All these articles and studies agree to the idea that the media is only a reflection of the society with regards to what people believe, or want to believe. The media thrives on the ability to make sales and impress the audience, and it is thus compelled to be relevant to the audience in whatever subject they choose to pursue. In one way or another, the media is defined by the society such that whatever is seen in the media and accepted by the masses is a true reflection of what the society considers as normal and right. The thoughts and opinions reflected in the American TV shows are thus a representation of the attitudes of people with regards to the subject in question.

Family in the Media

In the past, the family was defined as a haven of perfection. It was all about keeping up appearances, obeying the elders and basically playing by the rules. The children were expected to do right by their parents while parents were always right. Generally, the society created a notion that family equaled perfection, and it is no wonder that it was considered as a pivotal aspect in defining individuals. In one way or another, the family was a great place to be, and every member of the society was groomed to be a part of this once they became adults. Rather than striving to attain happiness, people lived to start families and be ‘perfect’ as families had come to be defined (Neuhaus 770). Perfection was the key aspect, and no one wanted to be left out.
At the same time, however, people had to deal with other pressures including working and being parents. As a result, these pressures, especially amongst the working families, may have contributed to the change in the family configuration. Gradually, families became conflicting with numerous flaws and kinks that tainted the notion of perfection and thus the ideal family crumbled to pieces.

As the idea of perfection was swept away by the constraints of modern living along with the need to adopt modernist attitudes, the family was strained with family ties being put to the test and often crumbling under extreme pressures. The masses stopped associating families with perfection and rather began to accept the challenges that were experienced in daily living. This is what the new definition of a family became: a unit that has flaws and challenges but often stuck together at the end of it, all due to understanding and loyalty. This new definition was thus embraced and propagated by the media too as it suited all the different circumstances that families had to go through. There were instances of betrayal by family, conflicting loyalties, forgiveness and sometimes lifelong rifts that became irreconcilable. These experiences eventually dictated the definition of a normal family in the American society.

Initially, family shows were those like The Cosby Show, with perfect families where the father was a good provider struggling to make ends meet, the mother a homemaker with a social life and the children all trying to be rebellious and yet respectful and obedient to their parents. However, as this situation changed, the shows also changed. From the perfect families, TV shows started embracing the changes in reality too by presenting families that in any way could not be considered perfect. There came shows such as My Wife and Kids, The War at Home, The Modern Family among others. All these shows present an image that can be considered more realistic based on the family setting today. While often sticking to the concept of a nuclear family, these shows bring out the conflicts in both the nuclear and extended settings. In The War at Home, the nuclear family has numerous challenges, and the children are in their teenage years. Then there is a younger aunt who adds on to the drama and conflicts in the story (Kosovski and Smith 854). Generally, the story revolves around the drama that a normal family goes through, implying that normalcy in a family setting is all about being true to oneself and often communicating in such a way that one is transparent and yet accommodating of the other members.

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Considering the media as a mirror of the society, it can be stated that the image of a family as portrayed in the media today is a result of the social constructs on the family as developed gradually over the years. The more parents became drawn away from their families in search of financial stability and successful career paths, the more the fabric of the family unit as defined by the society became torn and in some cases irreparable (Brancato 55). In addition, for some reason, there came a time when the number of children born out of wedlock, often to unwed mothers, spiked. These single-parent families further contributed to the questioning of the definition of a family. As different opinions on the subject surfaced, more and more changes became evident with regards to the social norms. People started seeing the family in a more realistic light where the parents may not always be present, they would not always be on good terms, and the children would not always be as obedient. These became the norms of family life as defined by the society, implying that the even the moral fabric was changing and that it was okay for parents to have differences and for children to stand up for themselves from time to time.

The media as we know it today is a means through which the society speaks out, expressing the various opinions and attitudes towards a variety of issues. In an ideal world, the media is an exact reflection of the people and their thoughts and beliefs. The world may be far from ideal today, but the media remains steadfast in its role as a mirror of society. Even with the manipulation of the corporate sector, the media still has to conform to the ideals of the society in order to get good ratings and sell their brands. This is why most media houses strive to air programs that are relevant and informative to their audiences without being boring. The entertainment is fused with education and realistic representation with the purpose of reflecting what the society would consider as acceptable. Initially, the family was a picture-perfect setting, but there came too much pressure with modernization and globalization that changed this picture. People thus needed to see programs that reflected the real family settings and spoke to their situations. Their experiences needed to be reflected by the media houses, and these houses saw the need and met it. It is for this reason that the TV shows also had to change and embrace a more realistic outlook that is both modernist and constructionist with regards to the norms and values as dictated by the society.

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