Television and Suspicious Fascination
In literature as in other areas of modern discourse, the relationship between television and identity is ambiguous. This ambiguity reflects America’s suspicious fascination with technology and the mass media. Since the initiation of regular network broadcasting in the mid-1940’s, television has been presented in literature as determining and undermining individual identity. Sometimes literature simply reflects the integral role that television plays in mainstream American culture. John Updike’s quartet of Rabbit novels, for example, illustrates the passage of time by depicting the initiation of three American generations into the television culture. In Rabbit, Run (1960), Updike’s hero Harry Angstrom studies The Mickey Mouse Club with a religious awe. Years later, in Rabbit at Rest (1990), he watches in fascination as his granddaughter demonstrates her mastery of the remote control. Even ethnic identity is drawn into mainstream television culture. A recurrent image in Oscar Hijuelos’ The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (1989) is the appearance of the novel’s two Cuban protagonists on an episode of I Love Lucy.
Television creates a communal myth, a reassuring way of understanding the world. Through television, each person participates in a larger cultural identity. Partaking of America means partaking of television, which is why the presentation of the American Dream of happy home and family is so...
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