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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Stuck on the same channel


Photograph of an old TV.

“Honey, I’m home!”. That phrase paints a picture to anyone who hears it. It brings to mind a nice house filmed in black and white, where a man in a suit begins to loosen his tie. Leaving the outside world behind, he can finally relax. On the other side of the screen, television audiences in the mid-twentieth century found themselves in a similar situation. Outside of their door lurked an entire world’s worth of evils and injustices, but for the next half an hour, that didn’t matter. It was time to laugh.

Nowadays, just about every joke in every one of these shows would have a difficult time getting any laughs. One might say that it’s because they were too tame or obviously rehearsed, but the simple answer is that things just change. Everything about sitcoms has changed since those days. 

However, their memory still lingers on in our collective consciousness. Catchphrases like “Honey, I’m home” have not been forgotten, but have been kept alive. The show ”WandaVision” has gone to impressive lengths to make their recreations of past sitcoms look authentic. With this level of commitment being put into a recreation of classic sitcoms, there must still be some appeal to modern audiences. There must be more to them than memorable catchphrases and suits.

While it’s hard to laugh at the old sitcom jokes anymore, there is something else to classic TV that has stayed intact for the past (roughly) seventy years: that “home” the fictional character was coming home to felt … secure. People rarely faced major threats to their worldview in a sitcom. There was hardly ever an existential crisis in a half-hour show. If someone did face a tough problem, then they were certain to work it out before the end-credits rolled and the show’s theme played. Audiences in the fifties watched the news to find out what was wrong with the world. They watched sitcoms to forget about them.

Nobody can deny that we are living through some very … interesting times. There seems to be something of historical significance happening every other week. Even the most apolitical of us have been forced to face some ugly truths. All of us have our own personal escapes, whether it be baking bread or playing an instrument, but everybody knows that laughter is the best medicine. Modern comedies are great, and certainly (by modern standards) funnier than classic television, but there is one thing that they don’t have: modern sitcoms reflect life in a much more realistic way. Old TV husbands were almost certain never to lose their job. That isn’t reality for much of the audience: then  or now. The characters on modern TV however, are more likely to find themselves struggling to pay their rent. They feel much less secure. Where an old sitcom might never mention societal fears of ‘the bomb’ or the Cold War, a new one will try and joke about its modern day equivalent. This certainly has its own value, but humor under pressure still carries with it that pressure. Sometimes you just want to forget.
So, if you ever find yourself watching some blurry figures talking in monophonic audio while standing front of some old fashioned furniture, ask yourself why you are doing so. What crystal-clear news alert just showed up on your twenty-first century phone? What is the past presenting you that the present isn’t? Or better yet, don’t ask yourself. Just feel at home for half an hour.