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“Make Room for TV” | Media and Architecture 2012

“Make Room for TV”

Lynn Spigel’s book, “Make Room for TV” is a cultural history of American television in the recent years following World War II (Spigel 1). Television grew over the course of single decade, becoming part of everyone’s daily life. By 1960, it is estimated that 90 percent of American households head at least one receiver (Spigel 1). In Spigel’s book, she examines the role magazines, advertisements, newspapers, radio, film and television played in contributing to the rise of television; in addition to contributing to the television’s status as domestic entertainment. In 1954, McCall’s magazine coined the term “togetherness”. The years following WWII there was an emphasis on family unity (Spigel 37). It is said the television would bring the family closer. The term “family room” was coined in the post war period; it revealed the importance attached to organizing space at home around the ideals of the family (Spigel 39). Despite the television’s ability to bring a family closer together, there still was an “unfamiliar aspect” which created a sense of anxiety (Spigel 45). The idea of “technology out of control” was constantly repeated as the language of horror and science fiction (Spigel 47). The television set was often regarded as monster like, which wrecked havoc on the family. Television had a threatening aspect, in addition to bringing a family closer together. The magazines attempted to associate the television with nature, by placing plants and floral arrangements on or around it (Spigel 50). In addition to the physicality of the set being threatening, the content itself came into question. Children were singled out as victims of the new device (Spigel 50-51). Better Homes and Garden complained that the medium’s “synthetic entertainment” produced a child who was “glued to the television” (Spigel 50-51). Television critics also complained about the appearance of “bumbling fathers on the new family sitcoms” (Spigel 60). However, the ideal viewer was the housewife (Spigel 75). Television introduced itself to the housewife not only by repeating daytime radio formulas, but also creating a distinct product tailored to what the industry assumed were the television audience’s specific needs and desires, according to Spigel (Spigel 80). The type of programing, schedules and promotional materials were devised by the networks and were based upon ideal images of female viewers (Spigel 86). The television, being a new medium of communication at the time following WWII like the computer in 2012 has been idealized and has also been a source of anxiety. Much of the discourse around the computer has been in regards to mind control. Advertisers have avidly aimed at targeting selected audiences through browser histories. However, the television brought people together physically and the computer brings people together virtually.

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