Ann B. Davis never changed your sheets, cooked you lunch or straightened up your messy closet.
Yet social media is full of tributes today for the actress best known as Alice the housekeeper on The Brady Bunch.
The sense of loss is palpable. People identified with her stoic but lovable character. It doesn’t matter that Alice existed only on the small screen, or that the show left the air roughly 40 years ago. She came into our living rooms then … and now in reruns … and she made an impression.
Is it any wonder that pop culture matters in 2014 when smart phones and tablets allow us to bring shows like The Brady Bunch everywhere we go?
Consider last year’s passing of James Avery, best known for playing the kindly uncle on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Social media lit up with viewers who felt Avery’s loss even if he never was a part of their family.
Now, remember the impact of celebrities singing the praises of Sen. Barack Obama during the runup to the 2008 presidential election, or the fact that sites like Funny or Die dedicated itself to protecting the president’s flailing health care reform.
Did it matter that Obama’s resume was wafer-thin in 2008, or that ObamaCare was so riddled with problems the president has spent as much time delaying its impact as trumpeting its alleged benefits?
Popular culture can bring a smile to our face through a charming sitcom, an avuncular character or a story line that makes our real-world problems fade for 23-plus minutes. The same cultural wave can influence hearts and minds if the entertainment industry rallies behind a particular cause.
Just ask Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who says his show Modern Family helped America accept the notion of same sex marriage. And consider how frequently today’s TV shows disparage conservatives by linking them with villainous characters. What impact might that have on the body politic?
There’s nothing wrong with mourning the loss of a character actor who brought joy into our lives. It simply should be noted just how much a single character or entertainment meme can influence us.