American Pop Culture Essay

Pages: 10 (2689 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Business - Advertising

Television and American Pop Culture

Background and History of Television in America:

Before the introduction of the television into American culture in the decade following the end of World War II, the AM radio typically performed the same function in the homes of most Americans that was, for the most part, taken over by television for the rest of the 20th century. Commercial advertisers were quick to exploit the potential of television to communicate messages intended to stimulate consumer interest in their products.

Very shortly, they learned to target specific segments of the television audience by scheduling advertisements to run on programs with a known (or expected) demographic. Soap operas represented a daytime program format copied by all three of the original television broadcasting companies as a mechanism of boosting consumer interest in laundry detergent. To this day, soap operas still dominate American the same time slots in network television for the same basic purpose.

Television was equally suitable for political campaigning and in some respects, John F. Kennedy's defeat of Richard M. Nixon in the presidential election of that year was partly attributed to their televised debate. Millions of Americans would learn of Kennedy's assassination in 1963 from televised newscasts, and watch Nixon's presidency crumble ten years later. By that time, the Vietnam War had become the first warfare ever broadcast on live television and the television all but completely replaced the radio in the lives of Americans

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Most Americans born in the second half of the 20th century were probably avid watchers of whatever mainstream "hit" television programs were popular during their childhood. The first generations of television-watching children recall watching the Little Rascals, Howdy Doody, and the Mousketeers as their parents watched Lawrence Welk, Ed Sullivan, and I Love Lucy; the whole family may have shared programs like the Little Rascal or $64,000 Question. Fifty years later, sitcoms, reality game shows, and dramatic series continue to occupy a predominant place in American social culture.

Essay on American Pop Culture Assignment

In the 1990s, the popularity of the Seinfeld series introduced the concept of the "water cooler show," a reference to the frequency with which people collected around break areas to discuss the previous night's episode.

Television as an Advertising Medium:

The early evolution of public broadcast television advertising roughly coincided with numerous landmarks of psychological studies being conducted by some of history's most renowned psychologist and sociologists. At the same time that Stanley Milgram, Phillip Zimbardo, and others were demonstrating how susceptible human beings are to suggestion, positive associations, and the need for social approval, television advertising was exploiting some of those same principles in more and more sophisticated ways. Television significantly increased the exposure of politicians, movie stars, and other celebrities of the day and played no small role in the immediate national infatuation with the Beatles that began with television coverage of their arrival in New York City in connection with their 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. The Beatles and the countercultural Hippie movement that followed shortly thereafter may have been the first major revolution in popular culture inspired by television. Even before, television had already accounted for numerous minor social fads ranging from Hula Hoops to contemporary dance rituals.

Weekday afternoon and especially weekend morning programming soon became a highly competitive avenue for marketing toys, breakfast cereals, and candy to school- aged children who are even more susceptible to the power of suggestion and other elements of advertising psychology than adults. In fact, much of the current situation of high rates of overweight and obesity among American children is thought to be linked to the successful television advertisement of fast food chains.

The Basis of the Suggestive Power of Television: In principle, the power of television advertising lies in the relative ease with which natural tendencies to follow social trends can be manipulated deliberately. For example, product manufacturers began publicizing artificially created associations between consumer products and nationally recognized personalities held in high public esteem. By doing so, they hoped to capitalize on their popularity and the idea that it would inspire consumers to identify with brands associated with their popular heroes.

Professional athletes were enlisted to market everything from coffee makers and shaving cream to motor oil to predominantly adult male audiences and baking products to women.

Sexual themes and imagery had proved to be some of the most effective advertising gimmicks long before the invention of television, but television provided an entirely new way of exploiting that avenue to its full potential. Men's products almost always relied on attractive female models as well as on the implied suggestion that use of the sponsor's brand of shaving cream or deodorant would make men in the viewing audience more sexually appealing to beautiful women. Throughout the age of afternoon television game shows during the 1960s and 1970s, glamorous female models spiced up shows like the Price is Right to capture the attention of male viewers even if they were comparatively less interested in the show itself. That phenomenon persists today, frequently in the form of female newscasters who look like movie stars crossing and uncrossing their legs throughout the program.

The incredible power of television and the way that Americans identify with public figures and high-profile celebrities is demonstrated again and again. After the first appearance of Alaska governor Sarah Palin in a televised vice presidential debate, news reports indicated that the model of eyeglasses worn by Palin immediately sold out across the country, despite their wide availability beforehand.

Even more illustratively, after more than a decade of somewhat quiet retirement, O.J. Simpson burst into the headlines in 1994 in connection with murdering his ex-wife.

In the weeks after the entire nation watched endless replays of the infamous low-speed vehicle pursuit captured and broadcast live on television, Ford dealers were sold out of white Ford Bronco 4x4 trucks and pet store across the country reported that customers were simply asking for "O.J. dogs" after seeing his ex-wife's white husky at the crime scene.

During the criminal trial that ensued, testimony concerning bloody footprints left at the crime scene introduced America to Bruno Magli shoes, an expensive Italian men's shoe manufacturer. Despite the fact that previous annual sales of that particular model of shoe had numbered in the few dozen, their publicizing on television accounted for the immediate order for thousands of the specific model O.J. wore at the crime scene and in photographs introduced as evidence at trial - a trial that was also televised live, daily.

Public Policy-Based Legislative Control:

For the first two decades of television advertising, virtually regulation applied specifically to advertising, with the exception of the prohibition against subliminal advertising using product pictures or slogans flashed on the screen too quickly to be perceived consciously but absorbed unconsciously. Until the 1970s, tobacco and liquor companies dominated much of the advertising on televised sports and nighttime entertainment. Growing public concern with the medical consequences associated with smoking and the dangers associated with alcoholism and underage consumption eventually resulted in legislation banning tobacco and liquor advertisements on television and also prohibiting the depiction of alcohol consumption in advertisements for beer and wine.

Critics of the ethics of using television and celebrity spokesmen to advertise consumer products have often raised the issue that doing so is substantially similar to the type of subliminal advertising that is prohibited.

Specifically, as the cases involving Sarah Palin and O.J. Simpson demonstrate, human psychology is so vulnerable to manipulation of social behavior that hiring iconic athletes to promote everything from Acuras to Wii units is pure exploitation. In many ways, they may be right: advertisers pay celebrities millions of dollars just to appear in a 15 or 30-second television commercial precisely because their association with the product is known to be able to produce many times their cost in increased sales revenue.

Generally, it is safe to say that the vast majority of celebrity spokespeople never used most of the products they recommend to their fans before they were approached by the sponsors. Whereas the Federal Communications Commission rigidly enforces censorship rules pertaining to off-color language and nudity, it has not undertaken to examine the ethical principles that very well may contradict the use of television advertising in many of the directions in which it has evolved.

Technological Evolution - Television Recording, Cable Television, and Digitization:

From the earliest days of widely available broadcast television in the 1950s through the 1970s, the television viewer had very few choices of programming. The three major television networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC competed mainly against each other, with several local channels doing the same in most markets. In the 1980s, the major networks faced the first two of the threats to their continued monopoly of the potential television viewing audience: namely, cable television and video cassette recorders (VHS).

In the early 1980s, cable television became widely available and affordable to average Americans. Immediately, this increased their ability to choose from several dozen or more channels instead of the few programs broadcast on public television.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "American Pop Culture" Essay in a Bibliography:

APA Style

American Pop Culture.  (2008, October 21).  Retrieved October 29, 2020, from

MLA Format

"American Pop Culture."  21 October 2008.  Web.  29 October 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"American Pop Culture."  October 21, 2008.  Accessed October 29, 2020.