Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Final Post!

My first post relevant to my topic of Gender and Desperate Housewives was post 3 in which I explained to the reader what generated my interest in this topic and why I thought it would be an accurate site of analysis of popular culture. I clearly stated that I was a fan of the show and didn’t analyze the traits of gender, race, class, or sexuality in the characters until I started this project. This was the first shift in my topic when I had to push aside my perceptions of the show as a viewer of entertainment and begin taking into account the inequalities produced through the reinforcement of prevailing societal values and norms. When I began analyzing the messages conveyed by the characters I quickly became aware of the hegemonic norms being reinforced through the show.

There is little diversity in the all of the characters race, class, and sexuality. The main characters are all straight, middle to upper class Caucasian women in their late 30’s, early 40’s. There is the exception of the Latino, ex-model, Gabrielle however her ethnicity and background as a Latino never truly surfaces on the show, in that she never embraces her diversity or uses it in the context of the show. The only indication that she is in fact from a Latino descent is the accent in her husbands’ voice when he pronounces her name. As I also mentioned in post 3, the Applewhite’s consisting of a mother and her two sons were the only African American family to EVER appear on the show! They failed to return the next season because one of the sons was a murderous rapist who was shot and the other who was mentally ill was blamed for his brothers’ murder. Bree’s son came out as the only gay character that holds a prominent position throughout the series. However Bree abandons him after she can no longer put up with his malicious attitude and finds him in bed with her boyfriend (her alcohol counselor).

Being a teenage, middle class, female who watched Desperate Housewives as a source of entertainment on Sunday nights, these examples of hegemonic values and norms portrayed by the show were invisible to me until I began watching through the lens of normative popular culture with gender inequalities in mind. I was so entertained and transfixed to the plot turns and deception amongst the characters that these subliminal messages were so implicit to me. Maybe if I was an African American teenage girl from a low class family I would’ve been aware from the first couple of episodes of the social norms produced by the show. To me these norms were disseminated on the covert level but that probably isn’t the case for viewers with race, sexuality, and class, opposite to the prevalent and hegemonic characteristics of the characters on the show. If you’re a viewer looking for support in hegemonic norms through the context of a TV show, Desperate Housewives is the place to find it.

The next shift in my topic is when I related gender, class, race, and sexuality to motherhood and the emphasis on idealistic families in Desperate Housewives. Every female character on Desperate Housewives struggles with the attempt of obtaining that perfect, idealistic picture of a family throughout the series. This struggle is intentionally portrayed to serve as a source of comfort to the audience of mothers who are also trying to achieve idealistic families, although it’s impossible. The producers could make the show resemble idealistic families but then no one would want to watch it because no one can relate to having an idealistic family. People find comfort in knowing that they aren’t the only ones struggling and they find satisfaction in seeing that other people also have problems and that some are more extreme then their own, even if its only on TV. Hegemonic norms are being reproduced through this depiction. Stay at home moms and women in general are being reassured through this series that the idealistic family is also unattainable to beautiful women living in beautiful houses on TV.

I think that Desperate Housewives gives a very empowering representation of motherhood. However this representation is sometimes concealed by the scandals and drama unfolding by the women. There is an obvious bond between the mothers and their children apparent to the viewer when the show strays away from the murders and the lies and reinforces the hegemonic motherly role most women and mothers can identify with. The role of women as a primary caregiver is a perfect example of “Hegemony that requires ideological assertion becomes self-evident cultural assumptions” (Lull). In our culture, it is an assumption that the female takes on the loving, and caring role in a child’s life. The only time a character was portrayed as a “bad mother” was when Bree deserted her son. However Bree isn’t portrayed as having the most stable state of mind either. I think mothers and women in general can associate with this bond whether they think of their own mother or their own children. Behind all of the drama displayed in the show and the chaos in their own lives, female viewers can associate with this emotional bond between mother and child.

I also found that the show did in some ways disrupt prevailing norms, for example through the most obvious and bold display of its name, Desperate Housewives. I don’t think any woman wants the word “desperate” as a title which is why it draws my attention. Many overwhelmed and underappreciated mothers and wives may in fact feel desperate at some points in their lives. They may feel desperate for help, attention, appreciation, love, and respect, which is why I think so many women have found this show compelling. It takes four everyday women living on a picture perfect street and transforms them into sexy, mischievous, and desirable females who like the viewer, has problems too. Desperate Housewives empowers women who may feel that their young days have passed and that they are now at the mercy of their husband and children. It demonstrates strength in women and serves as an outlet to exhausted mothers.

The messages conveyed by the characters in the show became very clear to me through my analysis and the feedback I received throughout the semester. I understand my topic differently in that although the show might empower women it also reinforces stereotypical norms. Using gender as the primary source of analysis as well as race, class, and sexuality and relating them not only to the way the characters are portrayed but also to the portrayal of motherhood and families, really helped my understanding of the topic.

Lull, James. “Hegemony”. Dines, Gail. Gender, Race, and Class in Media, 62.