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Born in the USA: a story of money and angels

  • Frances Gray
Chapter
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Part of the Women in Society book series

Abstract

I teach at a university. I bring up a child on my own. The builders have made a mess of my kitchen. Last week the freezer spontaneously defrosted. One of my best friends is pregnant. None of this is of any interest to the reader. It is, however, the stuff of which situation comedy is made. Sitcom, like its cousin soap opera, is a uniquely televisual form with a uniquely televisual role. While other programmes seek to provide a (not always transparent) window on the public world which we view from our domestic space, sitcom brings the private space into the private space. Sitcom is about people like us: personal mistakes and problems overcome in our everyday interaction with others. If it portrays people different from us — with, say, jobs in public life, or from the past — the point will still be to elicit the laughter of recognition: we understand the feelings of the MP who panics because she is late for a debate, the cringing courtier who gets the wrong gift for Elizabeth I. Sitcom is a leveller: everyone’s laughably human, when you get to know them. And you will get to know them; a successful sitcom will run for years, and subsequently reappear with the status of a ‘comedy classic’ on both TV and video. It may well attract better viewing figures this time around; familiarity is part of its attraction. A well-loved sitcom slips into our lives as so many of its protagonists did in the nineteen fifties, crying, ‘Honey, I’m home!’

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Notes

  1. 1.
    See Gaye Tuchman, ‘The Symbolic Annihilation of Women by the Mass Media’ in G. Tuchman, A. Daniels and J. Benet (eds), Hearth and Home: Images of Women in the Mass Media (OUP: 1978) pp. 11–13.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Quoted in M. Edmondson and D. Rounds, From Mary Noble to Mary Hartman: the Complete Soap Opera Book (Stein and Day: 1973) p. 33.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Bart Andrews, The I Love Lucy Book (Doubleday: 1973) p. 33. This quotation and subsequent citations of titles and transmission dates for I Love Lucy are taken from this book.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Todd Gitlin, Inside Prime Time (Pantheon: 1983) p. 72.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Erica Jong, Parachutes and Kisses (NAL: 1984) p. 17.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    This process is entertainingly documented in Julie D’Acci, ‘The Case of Cagney and Lacey’, in H. Bath and G. Dyer (eds), Boxed in: Women and Television (Pandora: 1987).Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    S. Bathrick, ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show: Women at Home and at Work’, in J. Feuer, P. Kerr and T. Vahimagi (eds), MTM: Quality Television, (BFI: 1984) p. 99.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Quoted in B. Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (Penguin: 1976) p. 53–4.Google Scholar
  9. 17.
    P. Mellencamp, ‘Situation Comedy, Feminism and Freud: Discourses of Gracie and Lucy’ in T. Modleski (ed.), Studies in Entertainment (University of Indiana Press: 1986).Google Scholar
  10. 19.
    George Burns, Gracie: A Love Story (Hodder & Stoughton: 1989) pp. 44–5.Google Scholar
  11. 25.
    Tom Carson, ‘The Even Couple’, The Village Voice, 8 May 1983.Google Scholar
  12. 38.
    Pat Dowell, ‘Ladies Night’, American Film, Jan/Feb 1985, p. 47.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Frances Gray 1994

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  • Frances Gray

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