cover image Watching America: What Television Tells Us about Our Lives

Watching America: What Television Tells Us about Our Lives

S. Robert Lichter. Prentice Hall, $24.95 (322pp) ISBN 978-0-13-026824-2

In this detailed survey of dozens of prime-time TV shows, from 1950s family sitcoms to sultry 1990s miniseries, the authors emphasize television's reformist and edifying capacities, while downplaying its role as an agent of conformity and social control. Nevertheless, they do an inpressive job of dismantling the illusions perpetrated in prime-time shows, where close-knit families have deep ties, where bosses are compassionately involved with employees' personal problems, and where office or factory workers are vastly outnumbered by wealthy professionals and executives. The Lichters, who head the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., and Rothman, director of Smith College's Center for the Study of Social and Political Change, interpret prime-time as an amalgam of private fantasy and public commentary. Their main thesis, that TV preaches ``a kind of Porsche populism'' reflecting the socially liberal sensibility of Los Angeles and New York City, rather than middle-American values, is debatable. (June)