Monday, January 30, 2017

Core Post 1: Week 4

While reading the four articles assigned this week, Modleski and Mellencamp were the two pieces which brought the most questions to my mind when read together. The viewership between daytime television and nighttime television, and how they interact with women viewership and containment is what intrigues me. Modeleski explains that daytime television, including soap operas, game shows and the like, are meant to "keep her from desiring a focused existence by involving her in the pleasures of a fragmented life” (Modleski 71, italics my own). If Modeleski argues that “the formal properties of daytime television thus accord closely with the rhythms of women's work in the home,” which make 'repetition, interruption and distraction pleasurable' because “viewers reception itself often takes place in a state of distraction,” (Modleski 73) there seems to be an easy lead to this being a form of containment by keeping women from paying attention to the state of affairs of their own life. If they are focused on " a world in which characters deal only with the ‘large’ problems of human existence: crime, love, death and dying," then they are not being directly confronted with the unfairness of their life (Modleski 72). I would argue that daytime television, which only needs to create a form of containment by distracting a female audience, is a form of containment via fragmented stories and distraction, while the primetime television that Mellencamp breaks down, is a different form of containment via dual interpretation because a male audience has been added into the viewership.

Let’s compare this to nighttime television shows, like “I Love Lucy” which aired Mondays from 9 to 9:30 PM Eastern time, and “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show” which aired Thursdays (and then Mondays) at 8 pm. During these times, the husband of the house was usually home and probably in control of the remote. Although these shows have "idiosyncratic powerful female stars, usually in their late thirties or forties” (Mellencamp 81), Mellencamp argues that they are still under great control of their husbands in some way. For Gracie, even though she “ always wins in the narrative, which thereby validates her story” (Mellencamp 85), “the truth of male vision verifying Gracie’s words is endlessly repeated both in the series and in this program” (85), therefor only giving her power if a man is around to support it. Additionally, “throughout each program, Gracie is blatantly dominated not only by George’s looks at the camera and direct monologues to the audience, but also by his view of the program from the TV set in his den, and by his figure matted or superimposed over the background action as his voice-over comments on marriage, Gracie, her relatives, movies stars show business and the story” ( Mellencamp 85).

Mellencamp cannot resolve the dilemma of “the contradiction of the program and the double bind of the female spectator and comedian--women as both subject and object of the comedy, rather than the mere objects that they are in the Freudian paradigm of jokes” (87) but I see it as a way of using humor and comic pleasure to allow for dual interpretation which keeps the status quo of the world to continue. If we bring Newcomb and Hirsch into the conversation, the concept that  “individuals and groups are, for many reasons, involved in making their own meanings from the television text” (Newcomb and Hirsch 569) would allow for both man and wife watching the show to enjoy it together which also getting very different things from it.

A housewife viewer of the show can be entertained by and live vicariously through the comedic and rebellious housewife who often wins the narrative in some way, via being right like Gracie or going against her husband’s wishes and ruining his work, like Lucy. Maybe these small acts of power, while always leaving Gracie the butt of the joke (like in the episode we watched when Gracie decides to close her banking account without realizing her husband was going to force her to do so anyways) or while forcing Lucy back, “often gratefully to domesticity" (Mellencamp 88), give housewife viewers a form of contentment by the way a woman can harness the power in the relationship. As Mellencamp states “humor might have been woman's weapon and tactic of survival, ensuring sanity, the triumph of the ego, and pleasure; after all, “Gracie and Lucy were narcissistically rebellious, refusing “to be hurt” (94). 

Alternatively, the husband sitting beside his wife may view the shows as a man baby-sitting his rebellious child/wife. We see this through other codes of the show other than pure narrative: “George is center-frame in the mise-en-scene and by the moving camera; he is taller than all the other characters; and he has access to the audience via his direct looks at the camera. He nods knowingly, with sidelong collusive glances at us (or perhaps at eternal husbands everywhere) ( Mellencamp 85). This husband, watching the show next to his wife, is not seeing the power plays of the wife, but of the childish behavior that is in the end reprimanded or joked about to the audience in a fatherly manner. And although the women of the films get the most laughs, like in the episode of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show we watched last week, George gets the last laugh. While George is often the straight man, “inevitably, like the male leads in most situation comedies, he got the final and controlling look or laugh. Containment operated through laughter--a release which might have held women to their place, rather than “liberating” them in the way Freud says jokes liberate their tellers and auditors” ( Mellencamp 87). Through this situation, a woman can be pacified by her interpretation of the program, yet contained by her husband’s alternative interpretation and the fact that the show still revolves around a wife who by the end of the episode is happily still stuck being a housewife.

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