Sunday, February 27, 2011

Melancholy, Merit, and Merchandise

Shows such as The Biggest Loser, Supernanny, and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition aren't new to American television. In the 1950s, when television was popping up in more Americans' homes, shows like Queen for a Day and Strike It Rich were featured on all major news networks. The reality shows of today and shows of the '50s both have the same type theme, to help contestants get out of whatever difficult situation they may be in. The 1950s shows were meant to help those who needed assistance, mostly financial.

This clip is from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. The crew meets the family they will be helping.

These types of shows used emotional stories to relate to the viewer. After WWII, America decided it was time to go back to family values and traditions. The family was the central part of American life. With such stories, like the ones used in Queen for a Day, the viewers could relate one way or another. Even if viewers were never in that situation, they could hear a tragic story and want to go out and buy a merchandise to prevent themselves from getting into that same predicament. In 1964, George Katona named America a “mass consumption society,” meaning the economy depended on the purchases of goods.

This clip is from the 1950s TV show Queen for a Day. The contestant is telling the audience about her difficult situation for her and her family.

The article goes on to describe how many of these shows were aired during the day, when most housewives watched TV. Women who didn’t work and stayed at home were the main target for these types of show. Many appliances and home products were used to appeal to these women.

With the introduction of social programs, such as Medicare and welfare benefits, popular shows that helped out contestants quickly diminished. Since many programs were put into place to help struggling Americans, it seemed as if these types of television shows were becoming less and less popular with viewers.


1. Why do you think shows like Supernanny and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition emerged on the television scene in the mid 2000s?

2. How do you think products and prizes displayed in these types of shows have changed? How is Extreme Makeover: Home Edition different from Queen for a Day in how they mention name brand products?

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