Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Iconic Lucy

I always thought that the show I Love Lucy was really quite unique to all the other Leave it to Beavers and Father Knows Bests. Why? Because the show was about Lucy! It wasn't about Ricky or the husband or the father or the man. It was about a woman!

The feminist theory can look at Lucy in two ways. The first is that Lucy is a concoction of a male led media world in which a woman must be clumsy and funny in order to have her own show. The common phrase that sums up about every episode is "Lucy gets into a mess." Her scheming womanly ways always get the best of her and her plan is always a disaster ("she should have left it to a man"). She fills the same female character that appears in every TV show at that time: a housewife that does her best to run the family and lets the husband have the last word. In this first clip, Ricky's boss even states it's expected that he "wears the trousers."

But, a more optimistic and, I think, appealing look at Lucy, and her show, is that Lucy plays the revolutionary woman humorously and with class. I say this because deep down I wish I was Lucy. I wish I had the courage to make my way through a man's world of television and have the guts to have a sense of humor about what it meant to be a woman at that time. I think Lucy is very progressive because of this. Lucy takes those everyday "roles" of being the housewife and mother by creating more real and human-nature filled situations (even taking it so far as to appear pregnant on the show--a big no-no at the time). I specifically like these two clips because I think they are very common to a family and also because they can be symbolic of the way women are treated, even today. For example, in the first clip, Lucy is forced to go on a schedule that Ricky created for her to follow. I think it's worth noting that he devises this not because Lucy needs to be put in her womanly place, but because he wants to impress his boss with this new plan he thought up for work. However, Ricky exploits the control and scheduling of Lucy's time. But Lucy actually fights back and puts him in his own place. Another thing that I thought was interesting was that Lucy also got Ethel and the boss' wife in on the vengeful plot. The second clip, although hilarious, can really be looked at as a metaphor for how women should be concerned with self image; Lucy presents this in an extremely witty manner. Lucy goes on a diet and is satirically given a single celery rib for dinner while the men eat a hearty meal of steak and potatoes. Ethel even snatches a potato from Lucy's fork, showing how women (not just men) have standards for other women to abide by. In the end, Lucy ends up replacing the dog under the table, licking the hand of the master, as an attempt to get food. It almost seems like she has sunk as low as the dog to gain approval for what and how much she eats. I thought it was an extremely sobering take on self image, especially since Lucy is wearing pants (something rarely seen on TV at the time) in that clip and it seems like Lucille Ball goes out of her way to pretty herself down by styling her hair and make-up in a somewhat chaotic manner throughout the run of the show.

Something else key to the show is a postcolonial look at Ricky. Desi Arnaz is Cuban and I always think it's interesting how "American" he is depicted, despite the obvious heavy accent. Rarely is his culture brought into the show. There are no Cuban-looking props or sets on the show and it really doesn't give much breathing room for ethnicity and cultural pride. But something to note is that the show still had a male character who was portrayed just as American and strong as Dick Van Dyke and Andy Griffith in the show. In fact, I think the show is incredibly progressive because it has a strong female character paired with an equally strong Cuban character. After all, they didn't have to have Desi Arnaz. They could have chosen a character without an accent to make him more American seeming. But what I think can be looked at as a glimmering moment of hope for American culture is how millions of people love the show without even a thought in regards to the accent, the obviously Spanish last name "Ricardo," as well as the even more obvious "mixed" marriage.


  1. You're absolutely right that Lucy was a trailblazer on television. I think this is the show that first put a couple in the same bed, but don't quote me on that. I've never particularly enjoyed watching Lucy, but I can respect the pants and the progressive nature of its star.

  2. I really enjoyed the first clip that you've posted. The solidarity of the women against the "schedule" was fantastic. The boss' wife was really interesting because I'm not sure that she even knew the whole story of why Lucy was fighting back about it. She just jumped right in when Lucy asked and helped out. I was a little disturbed, though, that the boss that it was a great way to run a business. I don't have the exact quote, but I believe he referred to the style as being similar to ordering slaves around (?). Even though this is true for some businesses, I don't think it's a particularly great way to be a manager.

    I was also disturbed by the second clip and it's portrayal of Lucy on a diet. Diets are not necessarily a bad thing; they can be really good for one's health depending on the situation and method. They can also be incredibly unhealthy, which is what this one is. A celery stick for dinner? She might as well drink half a glass of water and call it good! I noticed that Ethel seemed to be the only one enforcing the diet on Lucy. The guys just ignored her. Both are pretty bad. Isn't it interesting that Ethel, a heavier and older woman is not the one on the diet?

  3. I find it quite interesting how they do look at the typical stereotypes of men being the bread winners and women being stereotyped as housewives busily cooking dinner, and awaiting their husband's return, but when you look at Lucy, you do see a strong female. I thought you made a good point about their "mixed" marriage. Back then I am sure that was scandalous to show on television. This clip really made me think of Archie Bunker on All in the Family. That show, too, pushed the boundaries of society on race, class, etc.