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Fame Is the Highest Value on Preteen TV Shows

A 2011 paper by a team of psychologists at UCLA analyzed the values of characters in popular television shows for the past four decades. They evaluated TV shows that were popular among a preteen audience—Andy Griffith and The Lucy Show (from the 1960s); Laverne & Shirley and Happy Days (from the 1970s); and American Idol and Hannah Montana (from the past decade).

The researchers observed the following shifts in values:

  • The number one value of recent popular TV shows for preteens was "fame." In contrast, from 1967-1997, the number one value was "community feeling, or being part of a group."
  • In 2007, "community feeling" had dropped to eleventh place.
  • In 2007, the number two value from 1997—"benevolence or being kind to others and helping them"—had fallen from second to thirteenth.
  • The value of "tradition," which was ranked fourth in 1997, had dropped to fifteenth place in the 2007 study.

One of the researchers said, "I was shocked, especially by the dramatic changes in the last 10 years. I thought fame would be important but did not expect this drastic an increase or such a dramatic decrease in other values, such as community feeling. If you believe that television reflects the culture, as I do, then American culture has changed drastically."

Although Disney shows like Hannah Montana and Jonas L.A. may be fun and entertaining, the not-so-subtle message is clear: if you want your life to count, then find ways to be famous. As another member of the research team said, "The rise of fame in preteen television may be one influence in the documented rise of narcissism in our culture …. Preteens are at an age when they want to be popular, just like the famous teenagers they see on TV and the Internet."

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