Tuesday, February 3, 2015

CORE RESPONSE 3: Lucy against Patriarchy

Lauren Tyler

Mellencamp discusses Lucy’s constant rallies against the domestic housewife role and subsequent failures to break free of her wifely duties and branch out into showbiz. She explains that Lucy’s failed forays into show business are accepted because the show inevitably “keeps her happily in her confined, sit-com place” (90). She further explains that it’s curious that audiences rarely noticed Lucy’s attempts to escape patriarchy and that it suggests that “comedy is a powerful and unexamined weapon of subjugation” (90). It is fascinating to me that Father Knows Best and I Love Lucy aired simultaneously. When we watched Father Knows Best in class, it was laden with misogynistic undertones as well as archaic values. However, Lucy has and will probably always be my all time favorite female comedic character. Lucille Ball was an actress who came to play. She didn’t care about embarrassing herself, or looking less than perfect. I’ve never really seen her as anything but feminist. She portrayed a female character that proved that women could be just as funny, if not funnier, than men when it came to both comedy and physical comedy. She paved the way for women such as Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Mary Tyler Moore, etc, to be able to headline their own comedic shows. However, something I had never considered was Ricky’s role in making Lucy’s daily shenanigans palatable for a mainstream audience. 

Growing up, I thought it was amazing to see a loving couple of differing ethnic backgrounds in a loving, committed relationship. Mellencamp explains that part of Ricky’s allure to a mainstream audience is that he doesn’t have a full command of the English language. While this was used for jokes whenever Lucy had some “splainin” to do, I never fully considered its weight until I read this article. 

Mellencamp writes that Ricky’s “representation as the Latin lover/bandleader/crooner and slapstick foil for Lucy’s pies in the face suggests that Lucy’s resistance to patriarchy might be more palatable because it is mediated by a racism which views Ricky as inferior.” (90). As a die hard Lucy lover, I’ve never considered the implications of Ricky being a constant victim of Lucy’s crazy. I wonder if Desi Arnaz had been white, if the show would have ended up being Leave it to Beaver or Father Knows Best. While Alice Kramden was allowed to disagree and go up against Ralph in The Honeymooners, he also made jokes about spousal abuse to mitigate her disagreements with him. Furthermore, while there have been episodes where Ricky chases Lucy around the house, and how he’s had enough of her showbiz scheming, Lucy is the driving force behind I Love Lucy

In The Honeymooners, Ralph Kramden is the half of the couple who engages in hijinks, while his wife merely disapproves of them. The gender roles are reversed in I Love Lucy, as Ricky is the disapprover of Lucy’s constant crazy schemes. If Ricky weren’t a tall, dark, Cuban bandleader, would the show have achieved the same amount of success? This article left me with a lot of questions. The most pressing of which was whether or not the audience would have noticed Lucy’s constant battles against patriarchy if her husband had looked like the people sitting around their living rooms watching her on TV. When I think of the struggles minorities face in terms of sitcom representation today, especially in terms of rallying against stereotypes (the magical Negro, angry black woman, fiery Latina, the diner owner in "2 Broke Girls," etc), I'd have to say that I'm really not sure how mainstream audiences of that time would have reacted to Lucy's husband being white. In my opinion, Ricky brought his own charm to the show, which is why I still watch marathons of it today. In my case, Ricky being Cuban has no bearing on how I view the show, so I disagree with Mellencamp on that point. Does anyone else agree or disagree? 

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