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Television and the Civil Right Movement

Television studies

Tuesday 18 April 2017, by Maud Picart

Avant-propos : Cet essai est issu du cours Television studies suivi durant mon ERASMUS à l’université de Helsinki (semestre de printemps).

Autrice : Maud PICART


Throughout the forties, the television has spread all over the United States and it has reached lots of American homes at a huge rate as never as experienced before. In 1951, it made it to twenty millions homes and the number of sets sold kept increasing very quickly during the following years. This new medium gained more and more influence in the daily life until the point that an American spends four hours a day on average in front of the set . Consequently, the television has a proponent place in the production-process of the national imaginary with at its core the question of the representation of the society it broadcasts in. The world as depicted on the television screens mirrored the reality through the lens of economical and spectators’ expectations pressures. Indeed, broadcasting companies decided whether to release, or not, certain programs by anticipating what would better meet the expectations of the majority of the spectators. What is shown on the screen or not, and the way it is featured, reveals a lot concerning the society where programs are broadcasted. In the fifties, the African American community represented 10.1% out of the total population, making them the biggest American ethnic minority . Despite this important percentage, they were almost completely absent from the small screen. Concerning the way they were depicted, it evolved throughout the decades in line to racial climate and political and social changes. The media space also has been the ground of struggles along the political, economic and social battles led by the black community in order to reach an equal status to white Americans. These struggles occurred both at the level of the representation of the African American community in all TV programs and in term of the percentage of broadcasted programs featuring black people’s struggles and situations.

Consequently, we are going to see to what extend the Civil Rights Movement (1953 – 1968) has impacted on the representation of the African American community on the television screen.

In order to do so, we are going to analyse the pre-civil right movement way to feature black people and the media space they were occupied. Then, we will focus on the period in line with the emergence of the social and political movement and its onward consequences over TV programs.

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