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Children's Television, 1950s

Postwar children were the first generation raised with the new medium of television, and it became a primary force in their upbringing. Television taught children powerful lessons: conformity, respect for social authority, and above all the importance of consumption. Television was a magic mirror on the world that both reflected and distorted reality, transmitting misleading images of ideal family life to millions of children. What children saw was not the world around them, but a world without social conflict, poverty, or diversity, in which nearly everyone lived a white, middle-class life.

Many hosts of children's programs, especially on local television, wore uniforms. This emphasized their authority in the world and suggested that children should respect and obey them. Virtually all of these hosts were men; women were often limited to portraying teachers and storytellers.

Television's most famous man in uniform was Captain Kangaroo. Played by Bob Keeshan, the Captain taught children to listen to their parents and remember their manners, to play "follow the leader," and to obey the rules. From its creation in 1955, Captain Kangaroo became one of the most beloved and influential children's television programs. Visiting his Treasure House was a daily ritual for millions of American children. Although his uniform represented no particular occupation or service, the Captain was a figure of benevolent authority to his audience.


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