Twisty blames the patriarchy for I Love Lucy, everybody's all-time favorite TVshow:
That’s right. One of the worst things about having chosen a career in patriarchy-blaming is that I can no longer stand “I Love Lucy.” Every so often I try, because it’s Lucille Ball for chrissake, the extent of whose awesome genius cannot, I don’t even need to tell you, be overstated. But it only takes about two minutes for me to start fantasizing about Lucy breaking Ricky Ricardo’s eye socket with a bat.
The problem is, of course, Ricky Ricardo's fascistic control over his wife. She wants to be in show business so she can rub elbows with people like William Holden; he wants her to have dinner on the table when he gets home and allow him to make every decision governing her life.
Pandagon chimes-in likewise:
"Lucy" is a funny show, but I can't relax and enjoy it for exactly this reason. Which absolutely kills me--I get into serious "on one hand, on the other hand" thinking when I've watched it. Like on one hand,...I enjoy the fact that the premise of the show is that Lucy feels stifled being a housewife, and again, it creates a wry smile from me that here we are 60 years later and we still have the NY Times running articles about how being a housewife is just the funnest thing ever. On the other hand, what Twisty said.
The show that always got to me was not Lucy. It was Bewitched. I still marvel at what a perfect pig Darren Stevens was. Darren's wife, Samantha, had an amazing talent: She's a witch and can make just about anything happen with a twitch of her nose. Darren's whole goal in life was making sure that she didn't use that talent, all so he could stay an anonymous butt-licker in the advertising business. The advertising business!
Of course, cruising through those old shows and finding patriarchy to blame is easy. More difficult is the issue of cultural context. Is a work of art -- I'm assuming that television qualifies as art -- to be shunned because it was produced when what is unacceptable today was acceptable? For example: Huck Finn and the N-Word. Or, for another example, I Love Lucy.
Twisty is an excellent partriarchy blamer and just about my favorite writer, at the moment. (Don't worry; it'll wear off. For now, read her food stuff.) But I'm going to risk her genitalia-shrinking scorn by standing up for Lucy, because Lucy, in context, wasn't that bad. In fact, in context, I Love Lucy broke new ground against the patriarchy, and Twisty should appreciate that even if she can't stand to watch the show.
Before Lucy, all women on television were Samanth Stevens, posessors of a magnificent talent that must -- at all costs -- be suppressed. Before Lucy, women were not shown pregnant and preganancy was not discussed. In fact, the word "pregnant" was formally banned by network censors. Women were "expecting" or "in a family way" or -- my personal favorite -- "eating for two."
Lucy Riccardo, on the other hand, was pregnant. She waddled. She suffered in the heat. She expanded before America's scandalized eyes. And, eventually, she gave birth and brought home a real, squealing baby. It was the first time network television admitted that there was something worth doing that women could do better than men. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz fought hard for that little bit of realism, albeit in santized form, and when they won women took a little step forward into the mainstream.
The relationship between Lucy and Ricky was also controversial. He was, after all, a Cuban. Admirable white women did not decide to marry Cubans. Before the show was green-lighted, network execs had meeting after meeting on whether Americans were "ready" for a mixed marriage. When the show went on the air, CBS fielded a lot of angry calls and letters, many using the word "spic" to describe Desi. By endearing themselves to the public as a couple, Lucy and Desi opened the door a crack toward allowing women to marry who they wanted, no matter who that might be. I mean, so long as it was a man.
On the business side, the company that Desi assembled around his incredibly talented wife became a model of artist-controlled media production. DesiLu invented three-camera-to-film production, which is one of the reasons Lucy is in reruns and other very funny shows of the period are not. Standards of production on comedies then were low. Most other sitcoms were performed live in front of three video cameras, and if they were recorded at all they were kinescoped. (Videotape did not exist.) A kinescope is a film of a TV monitor. As you can imagine, the quality was extremely low and the perceived utility even lower. Not many shows bothered to kinescope more than a few episodes.
When Desi announced that he wanted to use film in all three cameras and then edit the show after, like a movie, the network balked. Film is much, much more expensive than video, and television conventional wisdom was that filming was not worth it because no one would want to watch a comedy twice. Desi and Lucy believed otherwise, and in order to preserve the value of their own work they took the hit on the added production cost. In doing that, DesiLu invented the modern, multi-billion dollar, off-net syndication market.
DesiLu's insistence on preserving the shows saved Lucy as a timeless phenomenon. Without Desi's taking on the powers-that-be when the powers-that-be had, in television, virtually unlimted power, Lucy's work would be lost.
If you're incredibly cynical, you can cast Desi as a parasite benefiting from his wife's magnificent comic gift. Lucy, certainly, never saw him that way, but you can if you want. But it is because of Desi's willingness to think long-term rather than short -- something atypical of parasitic behavior -- that Lucy exists in visible form today. Everyone knows -- and most love -- Lucille Ball, while others equally talented and far more comedically innovative (Ernie Kovacs, for example) are almost forgotten because their shows no longer exist.
So, Twisty, you can dislike Lucy if you want to. But remember the context. Remember how far up the field Lucy and Desi pushed the cause of women being full participants in and contributors to society. What they accomplished was admirable even if the show, seen through today's eyes, isn't.