TV Shows and Real Life

TV shows are probably the primary source of entertainment for the

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average American. Most of them run from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. with reruns starting

at 5 p.m. We watch them because they give us something to do, a way to relax,

something to help pass the time. We all watch different shows, some people like

"Married...with Children", some are repulsed with it, but like to watch "Home

Improvement", what draws particular crowds to certain shows? How do these shows

portray the average American, or do they portray average Americans at all?

These are questions many writers have attempted to answer, at least one column

in almost every newspaper is dedicated to this topic. I think the people like

to see shows that portray them, or what they'd like to be.

"Married...with Children" runs on Fox 29 on Mondays at 8:30 p.m., it has

been on air for a long time, and has passed its 200th episode last season. The

main characters of the show is women's shoe salesman Al Bundy, his wife Peg,

dorky son Bud, and slutty daughter Kelly. Al loves to watch TV, bowl with his

buddies, drink and go to the "nudy bar". Marcie and Jefferson, are the Bundy's

neighbors and also take an active part in the show. Most shows consist of Al

going somewhere or doing something and everyone else making fun of him when he

fails miserably. Al is someone you can hardly call a father to his kids, he's

doesn't take care of them and he does absolutely nothing father-like for them or

with them. Al is constantly complaining about his marriage, he says that if he

was sober that night, none of this would have happened. He calls his children

accidents and the only good memory he has, is of him being a great high school

football player, which he would take to the next level had all his dreams not

been crushed by Peg. The only living thing Al really likes on the show is his

dog, Buck, to which he can relate as they are both dirty and nasty. Every show

it is the same kind of thing, over and over again. Peg is trying to convince Al

to have sex, Al blames Peg for his failure in life, Kelly is screwing some guy

in the back seat of a car, and Bud is looking at "nudy magazines". Last Monday,

the 27, Al decided to join the Army Reserve in order to escape his family. John

Ozersky writes in his article entitled "TV's Anti-Families: Married...With

Malaise", "These shows portray a downfall of Dad, but no rise of Mom. By

presenting unhappy families to viewers, the viewers tend to feel better about

themselves, on the contrary, the viewer's expectations in their own lives

decrease as a result of this. By making our problems "all right by comparison",

the series trivializes them, rather than taking them seriously. The

dysfunctional TV family aids advertisers in their perennial quest for

credibility by creating a supersaturated atmosphere of irony, which atrophies

our ability to believe in anything" (Ozersky 215). But the reason people watch

the show is simple, it portrays our worst fears in a way we can laugh at them,

and who wouldn't want to laugh at their fear, an "in your face, I'm not as bad

as you" kind of laugh. My dad wouldn't let me watch this show until I was 14

years-old, because he thought it would give me the wrong idea about real family

life.

Another show about family life is "Home Improvement". It portrays a

traditional family, Tim and Jill are a married couple and they have three kids

of different ages. Tim and Jill always argue about something, if it isn't about

what Tim did, or about what Jill did, it's about what their kids did. The kids

are also constantly fighting, the two bigger brothers always picking on the

smaller one. It is a funny and entertaining version of the upper-middle class

family. The role of the father in this show is clear, he is manly, he grunts,

he works with power tools, and he can't stand when someone besides him has the

power. This is shown in the episode when Jill opens her own checking account,

Tim is upset, he can't control where the money goes any more, even though it

isn't his money, he'd like to have control over it. So by the end of the

episode, Jill gives in, a portrayal of female weakness and man's superiority,

and the account is joined. The episode is filled with funny jokes, one-line

comebacks and other funny stuff which keeps the show on top of the rating charts.

No one notices the subtle messages the show is sending, "men have the power",

"women have to do what they are told". Of course no one notices these messages

unless you take the show apart piece by piece and compare different episodes,

but they are there. People watch this show because it brings up common everyday

issues that we, ourselves have to deal with, and settles them in ways that are

funny.

"Married...with Children" and "Home Improvement" may seem to have

nothing in common on first glance, but if examined closer we find that they are

in fact alike. Both shows joke around about family life, portray the father and

mother as each having their own roles in the house that never cross, and both

shows deal with common everyday issues. "Married...with Children" is a

caricature of an everyday family. They make fun of not only themselves, but of

normal families as well, when such are mentioned on the show. "Home

Improvement" although being the more realistic of the two shows, also makes fun

of family life as I know it. We always see Tim working on his Hot Rod, or else

installing a new gadget in the house and Jill cooking or cleaning the house.

That is not how life is in my family, or for that matter any family that I know.

My mom cooks most of the time, just because she's better at it than my dad, but

my dad is always cleaning the house, their roles aren't as divided as Tim and

Jill's seem to be. And the kids on either of the shows never clean anything, or

do anything around the house, when in every family I know, the kids always help

with the cleaning, and I am not talking about cleaning their own rooms, I mean

actual dusting and vacuuming of the house, doing the dishes, mowing the lawn as

well as performing other household chores. The one thing that both shows

portray very well is the problems that each of the families face, this is one

thing that almost everyone can relate to. The Bundy's constant lack of money,

their focus on the division of female and male roles, and the problems of the

kids always disrespecting their parents. The Taylor's also focus on the

division of female and male roles, as well a the division of power between Tim

and Jill, but the money problem and the kids disrespecting their parents are

issues that rarely come up on this show as the Taylors are higher in class,

manners and standards than the Bundys.

Personally, I like both these shows and watch them whenever I have the

time, that is why I chose to examine them. The apparent division in power and

gender roles on both these shows was something new even to me, I never noticed

it before, or may be just didn't give it much thought. The thing that amazed me

the most is how alike these shows are. When I watch TV I never think to compare

any two shows, especially not these two, I just try to have a pleasant viewing

experience and may be get a couple of good laughs. Taking the shows apart and

examining them like this has only cleared up my mind, now whenever I watch TV, I

tend to think, "What is this show really trying to say?"

MATERIALS READ

Brubach, Holly. "Rock and Roll Vaudeville". St. Martin's Press, Signs of Life,

1994.

Faludi, Susan. "Teen Angels and Tart-Tongued Witches". St. Martin's Press, Signs

of Life, 1994.

Kirn, Walter. "Twentysomethings". St. Martin's Press, Signs of Life, 1994.

Ozersky, John. "TV's Anti-Families: Married...with Malaise" St. Martin's Press,

Signs of Life, 1994.

SHOWS VIEWED

Six "Tool Time" episodes viewed for paper. Two of them in class. Others on own

time, including one new episode and five reruns.

Four episodes of "Married...with Children". Saw one new episode, and three

reruns.