Monday, January 30, 2017

Core Post #2 - Lipsitz / Spigel

As I was reading all four of the pieces for this week, I attempted to connect some of the authors' points to the specific episodes we watched in class last week. In light of that, I'd like to look at both Lipsitz and Spigel in relation to The Goldbergs, as I think there were clear nods to the consumerism of which Lipsitz speaks and to the domestic / public spheres of which Spigel speaks.

One of Lipsitz's key ideas is that 1950s sitcoms often projected the real-world economic insecurities of the burgeoning middle class onto fictional ethnic families, whose shows equated assimilation and Americanization with capitalist consumerism. He writes, "By collapsing the distinction between family as consumer unit and family as part of neighborhood, ethnic, and class networks, television programs in the early 1950s connected the most personal and intimate needs of individuals to commodity purchases" (Lipsitz 380). Lipsitz cites various episodes of The Goldbergs that feature discussions and actions around consumer goods, and the episode we watched last week certainly illustrates his point as well. In it, the hat is the commodity around which the narrative revolves and through which its themes are symbolized. 

As I recall, the episode begins with the family's decision to send a professional photograph to one of Molly's family members overseas. Molly's desire to wear a hat is a reflection of her desire to display her adoption of an American middle class (consumerist) lifestyle. Lipsitz notes that in one episode, Molly "vows to live above her means--which she describes as 'the American way'" (Lipsitz 378), and we can definitely see this idea at play here. However, it is not really Molly who expresses a desire to "live above her means," but rather her husband, Jake, who insists that she buy a new hat from his hat-making friend. I think that there's a definite tension in this particular episode between expressing ethnic identities and embracing American ways of life, and this tension plays out through Molly's rejection of the feathery hat (and general disapproval of the hat-maker). The hat-maker is a natural-born American; Molly is an immigrant. The hat-maker dresses expensively; Molly wears an apron. The hat-maker drinks Manhattans at lunch; Molly...doesn't usually, except when she does, and when she does, she gets a headache. When Molly says that she doesn't feel or look like herself in the feathery hat (and when her friends suggest the same thing), one could argue that the hat projects an American facade onto her that is incompatible with her ethnic identity. Surely, part of this rejection of the hat is rooted in Molly's belief that Jake is cheating on her with the hat-maker. Once this is resolved, the hat can be embraced. However, I think it's significant that the photographer asks Molly to take the hat off for the picture. It seems to give the episode a gray ending (perhaps grayer than the ones about which Lipsitz writes). Lipsitz says that on these shows, "ethnics attain a false unity through consumption of commodities" (Lipsitz 378), but here, Molly's "unity" with other consumers is ultimately superseded by a unity with her ethnic family, in which the commodity in question is abandoned. 

The drama with the hat-maker can also be linked to some of Spigel's points. She writes that the "replacement" of "going to the theater" with walking a few steps to the television set "ushered in a grave spatial problem, primarily stated as a woman's problem of spatial confinement in the home. The movie theater was not just a site of exhibition, it was also an arena in which the housewife was given access to social life in the public sphere" (Spigel 13). (Mellencamp also discusses the ways in which, during the postwar era, women moved away from their relatively public-facing lives during World War II to private suburban homes.) This point actually made me think of the references to the movie theater in the Goldbergs episode. Firstly, while the husband and kids exit the Goldberg home to go to the cinema, Molly stays behind. This is arguably symbolic of her inability to enter the social public sphere. (Moreover, when Molly does enter the public sphere to have lunch with Jake and the hat-maker, she is exceedingly uncomfortable and portrayed as a "fish out of water.") Secondly, I find it interesting that the title of the film--"Don't Trust Your Husband"--reflects Molly's anxiety around her husband's social interactions in the public sphere of which she is largely not a part. Finally, I do think it's noteworthy that this anxiety is resolved by bringing the hat-maker out of the public sphere and into the private sphere (the Goldberg home). Not only does this shift to the domestic realm enable Molly to return to her homebody equilibrium, it also inspires the hat-maker to return to her husband, displacing her from the public sphere back into the private one. I find this side of the ending to be less gray than the consumerism side, but it's still interesting to think about through the lens of Spigel's point.

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