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Jason Fraser Instructor Shirnyan English 101 October 1, 2009

The Decline in the Traditional Family

Today are children are faced with popular culture shaping a new social norm that they will be forced to accept and will inevitably embrace as a healthy option for they are confronted at every corner with a “happy” divorced family in the movies, TV shows, commercials, ads, songs, and billboards. Since the 1950s the average everyday elementary run of the mill “traditional” family has changed into what is being referred to as the happy divorced family in the all the movies, TV shows, commercials etc. due to many factors that have contributed to this transformation of the traditional family into the happy divorced family. Senator Rick Santorum author of “It Takes a Family;Conservatism and the Common Good” attributes this to the liberal economic policies he feels have undermined the basic structures of the “traditional” family. However Stephanie Coontz, marriage and family scholar disagree with this and feels that if ever there was such a “traditional” family it was the seventeenth century family and this would be in comparison to the European families of earlier In the 1950s the traditional family was portrayed as the all-white middle class family where the father was the working nine to five proverbial breadwinner, the wife, the stay at home

mother of two to three, attending to the household chores. These families included the Cleavers and the Nelsons. They were of course not the typical family of the 50s. The 1960s,although a very radical decade in comparison to the 1950s it did not reflect it in the TV shows whereas the 1970s began to include TV shows that were not as clean and wholesome as its predecessors such as Norman Lears All In The Family featuring Archie Bunker who was a ornery bigot. The show dealt with issues that hit more close to home like divorce, alcoholism, menopause, infidelity and more real life that would have been considered a little to extreme for TV in the 1950s. But what really was significant in regards to the decline in the traditional family was the show Laverne and Shirley which was a show about liberated women. In the 80s and 90s the TV shows still portrayed the traditional family but still becoming slightly more realistic thus more raw Roseanne for instance was a show dealing with controversial subjects such as teenage sex. Who’s The Boss was a show that deviated from the “traditional” family role in which working professional single mother a boy hosted a single father of a girl who played the role of what normally would be referred to as the housewife but in this plot it was his job. Even in the real world this situation is an uncommon situation. Then in 1998 a sitcom called Will & Grace. Will is a gay lawyer and Grace is a straight interior designer. Also in the cast is Jack, Will's flamboyant gay friend. This was a major step in TV showing alternative lifestyles and casting it in a positive light. Frasier the popular spin off from cheers featured both Frasier and his brother Niles are both happily divorced. In the show Friends the character Ross is a happily divorced father whose ex-wife and lesbian partner are raising his son which just goes to show that TV is deviating from the traditional family structure and portraying alternative lifestyles and family structures, such as happily divorced families and in a positive way so that it becomes acceptable to our children who are young and impressionable for television viewing is a major activity and influence on children and adolescents.

Advertisers in the 1950s have used the Father as a sacred icon as a durable All-American character in commercials for instance in 1950 a commercial for Lionel toy trains showed a father and son bonding while the narrator said “One of the best ways men get to know each other”. Then in 1962 State Mutual of America commercial in which a dad was showing his son how to line up his toy soldiers when the narrarator said “Some fathers make good generals too”. Then recently a commercial for Verizon DSL shows a family room where kids are doing homework, Then dad looks over his daughters shoulder while she is at the computer and you would think that the next step was for him to explain the math problem as good ole dad would have back in the time of the commercials before mentioned, but no, unfortunately for the little girl dad is an idiot, and stares at the math problem mouth agape like a moron helpless while his daughter goes to work on the problem and in comes mom saying “leave her alone”. It just goes to show that marketers are exploiting the erosion of the family structure mutating roles and reflecting real life whre one could see that although it was clear they were a traditional family it was showing strength in the females which normally would have played a subservient role but now gave power to them thus enabling them to be happily divorced. For it is common marketing wisdom that advertising which play on emotions get the job done as well as inspire. As I have explained how the decline of the “traditional” family has been revealed in the mainstream media it wasn’t the cause merely the effect. The transformation of the traditional family could be greatly attributed to the modernization of society because technology has greatly increased the conditions of life from the 1950s. The 1950s was a time of certainty, when democracy, business, education, and religion were good and getting better however they were also a trying time of postwar economic downturn resulting in high inflation, constant fear of nuclear war resulting in backyard bomb shelters but the traditional family stood strong, it was the Golden Age of Traditional family, the decade it was dominant. In the 1960s is when we began to

see a decline in the traditional family for the three decade low fertility rate became evident, woman’s desired family size dropped, divorce became rampant during this decade due to the woman’s liberation front and more women were becoming employed and more financially independent so when the idea of divorce came up it seemed more feasible. In the 70s the trend continued especially with the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the first two trimesters of pregnancy. This began to stabilize a little in the 1980s and drop in the 90s fort he divorce rate per 1,000 people was 4.1 in 1995, down from 4.7 in 1990 and 5.0 in 1985. Now in the year 2000 it started to become evident that feminism played a major role in the decline of the traditional family unit. For in the industrial age long working hours were unaccommodating for a woman, but as I mentioned earlier the modernization of today has made it more comfortable for the woman to earn a wage, but it was the sexual revolution that helped females recognize they did not have to lean on a man and be confined to a traditional family and thus entered the working force taking full advantage of the federal governments equal education and equal opportunity programs making her free to pursue a career and support a comfortable lifestyle and this I think supersedes all other contributing factors. So as I have pointed out Rick Santorum”s declaration of popular cultures portrayal of painting a happy picture of the happy divorced is apparent although not the cause, just like feminism and Tv commercials, inspiring and emboldening to all ages due to the bombardment on our psyche via multi-media. Stephanie Coontz is a family and marriage scholar author of “What We Really Miss About the 50s” is of a far different opinion of Rick Santorum’s regarding the role the media plays. She believed that the sitcoms of the 1950s were just advertisements exhibited to Americans of that time to informing them what a proper family structure was and the correct role of a man, a woman and obedient children and all else not showcased, such as all the real world problems and fears were to be disregarded for it didn’t fall into the happy loving working dad,

housewife raising kids ideal family role that was expected of them and portrayed as the only way to be happy. I feel just as she had a much different opinion on that subject she would oppose all of his views. I would think she question his credibility in regards to the traditional family ask if has even read the history of the American Family. She would ask him just what he meant by “traditional” family and when did it come into existence, and who or what entity dictates the structure and values of a traditional family. She would then co on to criticize him that despite knowing little about the history of the American Family he still continues to speak as an authority on the matter but failing miserably with fake nostalgia and his extreme right wing ideology. She would continue at an escalating pace to the point of beratement chastising him for his pathetic attempt to identify and describe the traditional values in jeopardy and a worse characterization of virtue. Stephanie Coontz would tell him his books are con to its readers. That his version of a happy family is a father and a mother in a fairy tale commitment until death and have children. That he is ignorant in condemning the title of family to same sex single, parents and happily divorced as well as saying they could not be happy in addition to not meeting the criteria of being a family. How his view of men and women having natures is ridiculous for nature is nature and the freedom to choose against the natural law is not really freedom at all. His poor knowledge of the traditional American family which he tries to link to the founding fathers of our nation would serve only to bring Stephanie Coontz to refute him on that for in seventeenth century Colonial America, marriage was primarily a business arrangement that required parental approval. It seldom originated from love. The family was an agricultural work unit in which the father dominated. Children were thought to be sinful and depraved by nature. After the age of two, it was the father's responsibility to break the willfulness of his children. She would continue with her superior knowledge in this matter informing him that in

addition the parents who became too soft in rearing their children, the young teenage children would be sent to live and work with other families. She would say that the “traditional” family was of the seventeenth century and that it was in comparison to European families of earlier. Going on to say that the late eighteenth century and its economic changes undermined the leverage of fathers, marriage became more intimate and children "were increasingly viewed as special creatures with unique needs." Less a place of work than in the seventeenth century, the home became a place of privacy and shelter from the competitive economic pressures of the outside world. By the early nineteenth century child raising manuals ceased being directed at fathers. And women who until the mid eighteenth century were widely viewed to be sexual deviants, over emotional and physically and intellectually inferior and less, they were seen as better equipped by nature to provide the nurturing that children now required by nature and would then ask him if that was the traditional family he was referring to So as you can see I concur with Senator Rick Santorum in his assertions that the popular culture via mass media is guilty of its painting the proverbial picture of the “happy divorced” and happy alternative lifestyles and family structures but feel it is not done deceitfully for there are happy people in these structures that deviate from the “traditional” family to which no one can agree to what makes up this traditional family unit. Regardless whether shows and advertising exploit this it is what is major active element in today’s society and not because of it. It is a result of a great many of factors socio-economic, legal, religious or a lack thereof and is an evolution whether viewed as good or bad. It would take years of dedicated research of seasoned psychologists, sociologists and cultural anthropologists to ascertain whether the children faced with the media painting this picture causes them to merely just accept it and embrace it or because of this portrayal changed in order to fit this criteria as what Stephanie Coontz felt the networks were trying to do with the 1950 TV shows and as we could see that, if it were indeed

the case, at best a short lived failure. As history has shown us is that social structures evolve and yet have maintained morally upright while devious evil ones and everything in between so as individuals, parents, friends etc. it is up to us to keep hold of our morals values and standards and try to instill them in those whom we can given our position in society regardless of what is going on or social consequences.