In 1976, soap opera satire Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (MH, MH) debuted and reached an estimated 55 million households. Produced by Norman Lear, the central storyline developed during the first season involved the mental breakdown of Mary Hartman (Louise Lasser), a typical consumer housewife who Lear claimed metaphorically represented the United States. Portraying a discontent housewife with mental illness as a proxy for the nation reflects how ubiquitous popular psychology became in explaining American anxieties over the transformations of the family and politics. An analysis of tape-recorded writers meetings reveals that the show’s creators pulled from contemporary books, theories, and discussions about women’s sexuality to interrogate how media, popular psychology, and consumerism contributed to the decade’s malaise. Letters written to the show also indicate that viewers picked up on this intended message after watching MH, MH and began to question their authenticity as individuals. “America’s nervous breakdown,” therefore, stemmed from everyday people realizing the cold war consensus, which connected consumerism with national strength, had been upended. Historians have focused on the political causes of American fears in the 1970s. This article considers how popular culture presented conflicting ideologies concerning women’s roles and also triggered anxieties among ordinary people.
Flach, Kate L.. "“America’s Nervous Breakdown”: Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, Popular Psychology, and the Demise of the Housewife in the 1970s." Journal of 20th Century Media History 1, 1 (2023): 3-29. https://mds.marshall.edu/j20thcenturymediahistory/vol1/iss1/2