A Culture in Common

We hear a lot today about how divided we Americans are on matters of culture. In mainstream media discussions, these divisions are often lumped under the heading of "the culture wars." In many such discussions, race and ethnicity are considered one of the

key fissures in the culture and one of the hottest battles in the war.

This is a half-truth that is, in fact, worse than a lie. It is certainly true that Americans today are divided on myriad cultural questions ranging from the public exercise of religion to the public display of sex. But America's cultural divisions are not necessarily drawn along the lines of race.

For instance, a couple of months back a series of stories appeared on newspaper front pages noting the chasm between black and white TV viewing habits. For instance, Seinfeld (NBC) is the most popular situation comedy among white viewers. It has virtually no black audience. In black America, Fox's Living Single is the most popular show of any genre, but it ranks low on the overall viewer ratings because of its small white viewership.

This was a significant story for what it told us about the increasing fragmentation of the television audience. But there is an equally significant untold story between the lines of the one that was printed. That story is about the rise of the Fox Network itself.

The meteoric rise of the fourth network was made possible by the consolidation of the black audience with the youth market and the neglected blue-collar white viewers. Lowball appeals to various pieces of this coalition can be seen in Fox's black-oriented sitcoms like the aforementioned Living Single and Martin; the Generation X soap operas Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210; and such blue-collar slob comedies as Married With Children and Herman's Head.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1995
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