Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Beulah Show and Black Women's Containment

In "Situation Comedy, Feminism, and Freud: Discourses of Gracie and Lucy", Patricia Mellencamp describes the ways that the sitcom (specifically I Love Lucy and the Allen  and Gracie Show) reestablishes women's containment place in the home at this particular historical moment. I know that pointing out identity absences is sort of the easy way out, and that this article is written at a time where pointing out racial identity isn't necessarily the first instance, but I do want to put out a reminder that black women's expectations was very different from white women's expectations as housewives.

One TV show that shows this role expectation is the The Beulah Show, which aired on ABC from 1950-1952. First starting as a radio show, It is often considered the first sitcom starring a Black American actress. The story tells of Beulah, who's a maid for the white family, the Hendersens. Usually, the Hendersen's get into some sort of trouble with wise Beulah somehow saving the day.

As Mellencamp points out, "Containment operated through laughter- a release which might have held women in their place, rather than "liberating" them in the way Freud says jokes liberate their tellers and auditors" (pg. 87). Just like the sitcom contained white women in the home, Beulah contained black women to other's home in their rightful place- that as a service to white people when needed, without threatening the racial hierarchy, and, more importantly, not threatening the white family model.

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