Television is arguably the single most influential artistic means of the 20th century. It is all encompassing, bordering on invasive, but it almost uniformly loved. There are two televisions for every three people in America, and even where this excess does not exist televisions are generally accessible. Television has helped take down dictators, revealed corruption, amused children and captivated audiences; people can be found for hours on end lost in the meditative trance that TV promotes, or screaming at their televisions when their football team loses an important game, something they would have no way of seeing otherwise. It is hard to calculate how much effect television has on us, but the effect, even for those who are rare viewers, is undeniable.
TV acts as a double edged sword in our society; it is both a mirror of our current values and a subtle teacher, slowly influencing our thoughts and opinions in all aspects of life. Equality is one of the more traceable aspects and TV has unintentionally chronicled the evolution of women’s place in society, the workplace and the family. Each generation of producers, actors and writers has pushed the envelope farther and shown more risqué things, just like women have done in daily life. Once upon a wonder it was unimaginable for a pregnant women to be shown on TV, but Lucille Ball eventually helped us move past that taboo. The Flinstones showed the first images of a man and wife in bed, and once that was finished another taboo popped up. Each one was dashed away with a few episodes of controversy as women went through being able to then hold jobs on TV, being main roles and finally becoming leaders and role models. This, as all things do, has come at a price, with modern television women almost always either living in the extreme of positive role models or over-sexualized weaklings and uptight dominatrixes. We will discuss a few of the former women in this article, the women who have fought against small-mindedness and have been people that we can admire. We will discuss a few of the women that helped topple the taboos, and a few who are still showing their stuff, ones that you should be watching now.
One of the first notable shows, “I Love Lucy”, was created by and starred the immortal Lucille Ball. The show allowed Ball to both continue her acting career, while simultaneously have a family, as her husband played one of the male roles. “I Love Lucy” was one of the first shows to center its story around a woman, a hard working house wife. Lucille Ball also made history by helping to create an innovative 3 camera technique, which is still commonly used in modern shows. Ball is one of the first of the great TV actresses and her legacy continues today.
Murphy Brown is a show that held great influence in my own youth. While I didn’t understand the importance of what was happening in the show, nor did I know anything of the political controversy that the show inspired, I did notice the powerful presence which was portrayed by the character the show is named after. Murphy Brown was witty, smart, and hardworking. She was shown as a character with a heart-wrenching flaw, she was a recovering alcoholic, but who had overcome her demons and became stronger for it. Murphy Brown’s main controversy was her desire to be a single working mother. This choice even spurred comment for the current vice-presidential candidate Dan Quayle, who commented that the show ignored the importance of fathers. The show powered on, and helped make the argument that women are not needy creatures.
These are just two of the multitude of shows that have helped form and been influenced by women’s rights in the past 70 years, but let’s discuss a few shows that you should be watching now. Like right now. Instead of reading this. even.
30 Rock is one of my favorites. The show stars (and was created by) Tina Fey as the strange and sad at love, but cool in all of the right ways, Liz Lemon. As the Head Writer of TGS (The Girlie Show) Lemon shows, time and again, that women have the stuff to lead. She works hard, she’s passionate and caring, she’s a good friend and, best of all, the woman will can cause spleen rupturing laughter. She looks for love, but is never desperate to find it, she is ambitious, but not ruthless, and did I mention that she’s hilarious?
Miranda is the quintessential British show (according to my limited Canadian perspective) starred by the quintessential British comedian. Miranda Hart is fully aware of what society would call her faults, and she isn’t afraid to make fun of them in her self-titled comedy. She is clumsy and large and socially awkard, but what shines through more than these alleged flaws is her enchanting quirkiness and luminescent wit. In the show Miranda opens a joke shop, despite the risks, and represents the value of doing what you love, rather than what you’re told.
Parks and Recreation is my favorite show on TV right now. It is filled to the brim with quality characters, and their zany leader, Leslie Knope, continuously proves her unending wonderfulness. The mockumentary chronicles her progress through the world of small town American politics, from departmental worker, to mayor, and mayhaps someday to female president. She is a powerful woman, passionate and unstoppable, who does what is right even at the risk of her own happiness. She works hard to fix her town’s obesity problem, deals with her lackluster boss and makes me laugh even more than our good friend Liz Lemon.
Role-models can be found everywhere; television is a fantastic place to both relax and be inspired. If you gain nothing else from this post go and watch Parks and Recreation. Not the first season, you can google right past that, start with season 2. Make sure you’re loaded up on snacks, find a comfy spot and prepare not to leave the couch for the rest of the day.
By Matthew Ariss