HOW DID THE SHOW ALTER THE DEPICTION OF THE AMERICAN FAMILY IN POPULAR CULTURE? IS THERE A DIRECT LINE BETWEENAN AMERICAN FAMILY ANDROSEANNEANDTHE SIMPSONS? This can be overdrawn. All of the shows you mention are part of the evolution of situation comedies (sitcoms). As in the history of any art form — whether literature, film, etc. — each generation of creators builds on, and critiques, work that came before. The key predecessor of the shows you mention is not An American Family but Married . . . with Children, which appeared in 1987 and was a critique of the whole sitcom genre going back decades — from The Cosby Show back through Father Knows Best to a whole series of shows in the early 1950s.
That said, there is a point to be made about where An American Family stands not in the history of television — where its role is minor — but in the history of American life in the 1970s. The women's movement was nearing the height of its influence in the early 1970s, and its iconoclastic saying "the personal is political" posited a new way of thinking about the domestic sphere. What Americans had been taught to think of as "private," especially sex, sexuality, and women's expected domestic roles, were suddenly recast as political. Freeing women from the burden of those roles was a feminist project.
An American Family is not feminist. It's voyeuristic. That difference is important. What happened in the 1970s and afterward in American culture is that the latter overran the former: voyeurism overran feminism. What began as a political effort to uncover the hidden politics of domesticity in order to free women became a society-wide fascination with intimate domestic turmoil. One is political, the other is apolitical. An American Family did not spark that cultural transformation, but it is evidence of it.
THE CREATORS OF "AMERICAN FAMILY" HAVE SUGGESTED IT'S FOLLY TO THINK OF THEIR DOCUMENTARY AS THE BIRTH OF REALITY TELEVISION. BUT CAN THEY WHOLLY DISOWNJERSEY SHORE? The creators' point is straightforward. If we gave birth to reality television, they say, why did it take 25 years? That's a long gestation. And they're right. No one in 1973 watched An American Family and ran out to create Real World or Big Brother or any of the other reality show precursors to today's fare. Those shows emerged from a distinct tradition. An American Family is a rich, unique historical artifact more than it is the announcement of a new television genre.
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