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Television: Then and Now

Adan Barrera

Early TV emphasized civility and strong moral values, while today's programs often push boundaries with crude characters and edgy storylines. Does this reflect or shape our social environment?

Can you imagine a world where fathers are proper role models to their children and teach them important life lessons? Or a community in which neighbors appreciate each other in spite of their differences and rather than finding ways to humiliate other people because of their problems, everyone comes together to find a solution? There was once a world like this, where television and mainstream media broadcasted virtuous values and respectable male role models.​Television in the past embodied essential qualities such as strong male role models as fathers or husbands, honesty, kindness, respect, loyalty, tolerance, equal rights for women, and virtue grounded in religious traditions.

Strong male role models were common during the dawn of television programming. One particular program in the late 1950s was “The Rifleman,” which was a Western TV show that featured a rancher who raised his son as a widowed parent. Many of the plots involved the relationship between the father Lucas McCain, portrayed by Chuck Connors, and his son Mark McCain, portrayed by Johnny Crawford, in which Lucas guards his son's virtue and safety.

​The focus of “The Rifleman” is completely opposite of so many current portrayals such as that of a 2013 episode of “The Goldbergs,” which features a lazy father named Murray Goldberg, portrayed by Jeff Garlin, who looks for any excuse to be less involved with his family.​Contrary to popular belief, kindness and tolerance were not invented during the new millennium but were actually common themes of “The Andy Griffith Show.” The show's namesake played Sheriff Andy Taylor who, rather than carrying a gun, used kindness as his primary weapon. His tactics were adopted by his son Opie, portrayed by Ron Howard, who in one episode saved money to buy a backpack for a little girl because she was poor.​Honesty was another indispensable value taught in the older programs.

Often, honesty became the refuge of a character facing consequences for poor decisions. In “The Andy Griffith Show,” Sheriff Taylor faced public criticism for parking in front of a fire hydrant, but Opie chose to tell his father that he and his friends pushed the patrol car in front of a fire hydrant despite realizing he would face eventual punishment.

On the other hand, in another episode of “The Goldbergs,” two adolescent siblings sneaked away to a party without parental permission, but they were only found out because the party was broken up by police and the two characters were arrested. If television programming reflects the culture from which it comes, the culture of America in the 1950s and 1960s shows its respect for the elderly, loyalty, tolerance, and women's rights much differently than today's culture that seems to take every human interaction as an opportunity to get cheap laughs through ridicule.

Even religious practices are upheld as both “The Rifleman” and “The Andy Griffith Show” regularly showed activities such as church attendances and giving thanks before meals, as illustrations of the foundation for the characters in these productions.

Civility and decency certainly seemed to be hallmarks of early television programs. Writers of current programs, on the other hand, have exploited the freedom of expression to develop programs that feature crude characters, dysfunctional families, and generally indecent storylines. Is it unreasonable to wonder if those programs contribute to the social environment that is too often similar to the programs?

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