Like most people my age, and more than a few in the generations prior, my life has had one pretty formative outside influence on it: television.
Television is great. Even when it's terrible, and it frequently is terrible, it's great.
Aside from the entertainment and aside from the escapism, television does something wonderful. It captures the time. And not just through nostalgia. Watching shows through the years, one can see how things have changed--fashion, writing, acting, social and political policies.
It's easy to think of the family as something that never changes, but a quick look through the history of television proves that wrong. The core unit may seem the same, but families evolve, just like the rest of society.
I mean, the Cleavers definitely aren't the Conners. And the Conners aren't the Dunphies or Pritchetts.
Though the television time capsule makes it easy to see how the family as a unit has changed in the fifty-plus years that TV's been around to document, there's one member of the family that's gone through something of a more visible change than the rest.
There was an episode in season seven of Roseanne where sitcom moms of the past paid a visit to the set of Roseanne to scold her for the way she was portraying motherhood. Apart from being pretty funny (I mean, the mom from Lassie laments being told that "June" was too long to be on a title card--and by "laments," I mean "calls the people who told her that 'those bastards'"), this episode is a pretty cool look at how TV moms have changed through time.
Moms changing on TV isn't an isolated event. TV writers are products of their times, so the changes in the worlds of our favorite television characters are reflections of the changes in our society at large.
Over the next several posts, I'm going to take a closer look at moms in television--how they reflect the thinking and politics of their time and what reactions and lessons can be gleaned from them in the present. I'm going to look at the different types of mothers and family situations that television has captured over the years--like June Cleaver and her idealized family, Roseanne and the Conners, Murphy Brown and Lorelai Gilmore as representations of single mothers. And even surrogate mothers like Phoebe from Friends.
It's gonna be an interesting ride; I hope you'll stop by.
Coming Saturday: June Cleaver and the "traditional family."