This talk reconsiders the role of television entertainment in American political life in the 1970s and beyond. Focusing on the situation comedy All in the Family (CBS, 1971-1979), the talk looks at a turn to politics in entertainment and a turn to entertainment in politics. In the 1970s, fictive characters, including Archie Bunker (played by Carroll O’Connor) and Edith Bunker (Jean Stapleton) of All in the Family but also Hawkeye Pierce (played by Alan Alda) of MAS*H and Mary Richards (played by Mary Tyler Moore) of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, became political icons. Produced by Norman Lear, All in the Family is recognized as a watershed moment in television history. And yet, Oscar Winberg argues, the show did not just change television, it transformed American politics. Recognizing the popularity of television, politicians learned how to use (and abuse) television entertainment to win votes, to fundraise, to promote their agenda, and to push for legislation. Television entertainment in the 1970s thereby remade political life in its image, paving the way for our current moment of mediated showbiz politics.
Oscar Winberg holds a Ph.D. in History from Åbo Akademi University. He is working on a political history of television entertainment in the 1970s United States. His work focuses on mass media in modern political history and has appeared in PS: Political Science & Politics, European Journal of American Studies, and Finsk Tidskrift. He is a columnist for Hufvudstadsbladet and has written for venues such as Made by History at the Washington Post, Vasabladet, and the public broadcasting corporation in Finland.