Research @VIU: The Messages in the Medium

October 17, 2018 - 9:30am

Every year, faculty and students at VIU go out into communities to participate in research that is having significant impacts on the region as well as giving students important experiential learning opportunities. Here are a few projects they engaged in this year. Project three of five.

Historians can tell a lot about how people were thinking, feeling and living during a certain time period by examining what they were reading, writing and, starting in the last century, watching on television. 

VIU History Professors Dr. Katharine Rollwagen and Dr. Cheryl Warsh are investigating the role 1950s television programs for American children played in reinforcing Cold War ideologies. 

“Television was a new medium and lots of producers were experimenting with different types of programming,” says Rollwagen. “In the context of the Cold War, TV was a powerful medium for messages about things like democracy, capitalism and the Soviet menace. Being able to prevent the spread of communism was something children were told they should participate in – not in explicit ways, but in more subtle ways.” 

To do their research, Rollwagen and Warsh each spent time in the film and television archives at UCLA in Los Angeles. Looking at programs like Captain Midnight, about a Korean Air Force veteran dedicated to fighting crime and advancing international diplomacy, Rollwagen and Walsh are documenting anti-communist, patriotic messages about fighting for American values. 

The researchers are also looking at what the shows convey to young watchers about gender roles. There are few female characters and those that are present are portrayed as helpless and have strictly domestic roles. 

Rollwagen, a firm believer in the power of historical context to help societies react to contemporary events in a more reflective way, says the research she and Warsh are conducting not only examines what it was like growing up in that time period, but also contributes to the wider discussion about how media influences children. 

“What we’d like to be able to add to that discussion is a little bit of historical insight into the fact that these discussions keep happening,” she says. 

Rollwagen and Warsh are co-writing an article summarizing their findings.

*This article originally appeared in the Fall 2018 edition of VIU Magazine. Check out more stories on the VIU Magazine webpage.

Tags: History | Research | VIU Magazine

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