The Portrayal Heterosexuals In Sitcoms From the 1950s-Present Day


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How The Portrayal Of Heterosexuals Through Sitcoms Influenced The Audience

I chose to display heterosexuals on the Timeline Project by how the term has been shaped, defined, and influenced in America starting from the 1950s through present day. Personally, I felt the most beneficial way to understand how the term heterosexual evolved over the years was through a genre of comedy television shows centered on a fixed set of characters who were carried over from episode to episode. Television had a special way of painting a specific picture that always caught the audience’s eye and skewed ones image of what the norm was in regards to a persons sexual preference. Further, sitcoms have always linked ones sexual passion to stereotyping ones gender. Women have been depicted in a way that they have only been attracted to men and vise versa. By the same token, majority of Americans have been raised on the fact that starting at a young age girls were suppose to be “girly” and “feminine” meaning they played with dolls, wore dresses, were emotional, and had crushes on boys. In contrast, males have been brought up in a way that they must be “masculine” and “powerful,” which meant they played competitive sports, were strong, had to be financially successful, and were attracted to girls since they were young. These stereotypes have been strongly implemented due to the fact this was how genders were portrayed on television and were always tied into young children growing up, falling in love with someone of the opposite gender, and raised by a family whose children would follow the same path as their parents. Americans were not able to see through the lens of sitcoms that identifying as anything else besides heterosexual was acceptable in society and felt they had to follow the sexual caste system that was implemented in preceding years.

Since American life in the 1950s, television has both reflected and nurtured cultural mores and values that have held up a mirror to society. The relationship between social attitudes and television has been reciprocal. I felt it was important to begin my timeline based on heterosexuals in the 1950s because this was when I was able to learn through watching sitcoms that television shows started to portray the conservative values of the idealized American life. The shows focused on White middle-class families with traditional nuclear roles and implied that most domestic problems could be solved relatively quickly and always ended with a strong moral lesson. Then, during a period of optimism and prosperity, families and lifestyles illustrated in domestic comedies were able to tackle controversial issues. This flourished and sitcoms brought the realities of real-world events into people’s living rooms. As a viewer, it was extremely intriguing because myself along with others were able to connect to similar experiences that the television stars were facing. As society began to change, so did television shows in order to reflect the social attitudes that had formed overtime, such as divorce and parenting tactics. In addition to changing family dynamics on sitcoms, shows developed a political awareness that reflected audiences’ growing appetite for social and political commentary. Sitcoms featured a new take on modern family life, with mothers starting to work outside of the home and fathers helping out with housework and parental duties.

Television has not only reflected cultural values but has influenced them. Many viewers have been led to believe certain opinions because of sitcoms and made people less open to opposing political viewpoints. The importance of sitcoms has altered individual’s perception on what the American Dream has been. Television has ingrained in the viewers mind that the goal in life was to fall in love with someone of the opposite gender in order to have a family and reach the ultimate destiny, happiness. Throughout the decades, sitcoms have expanded their audience because they have kept up with real life problems and have shaped the characters based on present day beliefs, such as social, religious, and political matters. Statistically speaking, odds were that the couple one would see on comedy television was more often than not a heterosexual white couple, and an even higher percentage of characters were straight. It has been important to note that sitcoms have defined the word “couple” as any two characters of the opposite gender who kissed, went on a date, had sex, were married, or engaged in a sexual relationship. When depicting traditional heterosexual couples, these power dynamics have been straightforward. Gender roles have been enforced or subverted therefore, the audience was use to seeing heterosexual couples that function with a variety of power dynamics. The portrayal of both females and males has formed many to believe, including myself that gender roles have served as a culturally constructed power dynamic within society.

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