Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

I Love Lucy

Investigate the impact that Lucille Ball had on 1950’s film and television during the 1950s. How much power did she really wield?

The Impact of Lucille Ball during the 1950’s, on television in particular, is vast. This essay will focus on the success of I Love Lucy and Desilu productions, the technical innovations that the show founded, and how (and hopefully why) Ball manipulated her public image. I will look particularly at Susan Carini’s article which examines the birth of I Love Lucy and Desilu, Ball’s “Red Scare” incident and how Ball and Desi Arnaz managed their public images in the midst of their turbulent marriage,

I Love Lucy debuted in October 1951 and was an immediate success. It spent four of its six prime-time seasons as the highest-rated series on television and when it ceased production as a weekly series in 1957, I Love Lucy was still the number one series in the country. To this day it is one of only a few to do so. Eisenhower’s presidential inauguration in January 1953 drew twenty-nine million viewers, but when Lucy gave birth to Little Ricky in an episode broadcast the next day forty-four million viewers (72% of all U.S. homes with TV) tuned in to I Love Lucy. While quite amusing, this statistic is scary. It not only shows the popularity of the show, but it is also evident that, in the eyes of the public, Lucy Ricardo’s influence was greater than the President of the United States. It will be interesting to see what television program (if any) rates higher during the next U.S. election or presidential inauguration.

When the I Love Lucy began, a contract was negotiated with CBS for Desilu to produce it. This meant that Ball had become the first woman to own her own film studio. CBS and the sponsor insisted that the program be broadcast live from New York but Ball and Arnaz wanted to stay in Hollywood to take advantage of the movie industry’s production facilities and to ensure the long-term value of their series by capturing it on film. The network finally agreed to the couple’s demands, but as a concession asked Ball and Arnaz to pay the additional cost of production and to accept a reduced fee for themselves. In exchange Desilu was given one-hundred percent ownership of the series – a provision that quickly turned Ball and Arnaz into the first millionaire television stars. Eventually Desilu bought out Ball’s former studio RKO leading it to become larger than both MGM and Fox.

When initially pitched the idea of I Love Lucy, CBS and prospective sponsors hesitated at the casting of Desi Arnaz, fearing that his Cuban accent and ethnic identity would alienate television viewers and in her article Susan Carini confirms this saying that ‘the racist requirements of the film industry in the 1940’s had seen to it that Arnaz was used…as a kind of salsa: he was a flavouring applied from time to time but never allowed the status of main taste.'(Carini, 2003, p.44) Thus when it came to I Love Lucy Arnaz was strict on the depiction of his character. Ball recalls at the shows first meeting that, ‘most of all Desi insisted on Ricky’s manhood. He refused to ever be a nincompoop husband.’ (Carini, 2003, p.48) Arnaz also rejected a script that would show him cheating on his income tax saying that it was something that he would never do. To have convinced CBS that a first generation Cuban-American bandleader should play her husband despite the studio’s misgivings attests to Ball’s power in the industry. And so, no matter how much Arnaz controlled his image, it was Ball who was seen as the “star” of the show and it is for this reason that Carini believes Arnaz started to focus on becoming the “consummate business man” and stabilizing his role behind the camera. This involved both Desilu productions and the technical aspects of filming. With the help of Karl Freund, Arnaz pioneered the 3-camera technique, with three cameras running simultaneously in front of a studio audience. This meant I Love Lucy was able to combine the energy of live performances with the visual quality of film. Although the technique was not generally used outside of Desilu until the 1970s, it is now widely used throughout the television industry. This combination ensured the show’s quality and longevity – I Love Lucy re-runs are still being broadcast today.

During the time I Love Lucy was being aired, Ball rarely commented to the press or public about her personal life but she would often provide information to Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper to give uninteresting inaccuracies about the marital bliss she and Arnaz were experiencing, with reports often situating Ball at home tending to her husband and children. Interestingly though, when on being asked how the show originated, Ball responded: ‘We decided that instead of divorce lawyers profiting from mistakes we’d profit from them.” (Gilbert and Sanders, 1993, p. 29) Apart from her interaction with Hopper, it seemed that Arnaz was in charge of their public relations. In the show that followed the break of the communist story Arnaz was teary eyed on set while defending Ball against the accusation. He spoke of his wife being “100 percent American” and, if we needed further clarification: “as American as the Brady Bunch.” Carini highlights that television had clearly succeeded here as a means of shaping public opinion and says that ‘No matter how large the Photostatted copy of Ball’s Communist registration card would be printed, the impact was nothing compared to that of Arnaz before a studio audience.’ (Carini, 2003, p. 57) This incident is also a good example of what Carini positions as Ball’s silence or ‘refusal of language’ outside the series, and says this to be the ‘province of a true clown’ (Carini, 2003, p. 46) thus linking Ball to other silent comic greats such as Charlie Chaplin and Harpo Marx (who actually appeared in one I Love Lucy episode).

The show often focuses on Lucy’s desire and scheming to enter the show business world with her husband. Hollywood writer Christopher Anderson states that ‘In episode after episode Lucy rebels against the confinements of domestic life for women, the dull routines of cooking and housework…the straightjacket of demure femininity. Her acts of rebellion…are meant to expose the absurd restrictions placed on women in a male-dominated society.’ (Anderson) Put like this, we can see Lucy as a subversive character. Yet the domestic role she subverts seems, in some ways, made possible due to her husband’s ethnicity and thus inferiority. I am not in anyway saying that Ball saw her husband and inferior because he was Cuban-American but instead that 1950’s American society accepted Lucy Ricardo’s “un-homely” antics because they perhaps saw her as superior to her husband. If, on the other hand, her onscreen husband had been someone like Cary Grant would Lucy have been able to undermine his authority in the same way?

In a series that corresponded roughly to their real lives, it is notable that Desi played a character very much like himself, while Ball had to suppress her professional identity as a performer and pretend to be a mere housewife.  Having said this, Carini believes in portraying certain images of themselves to the media and public, it is in fact Ball and Arnaz who are actually the ones living this gender conservatism, not their characters. She asserts that ‘In claiming their roles of unemotional business man and doting wife and mother, each partner gravitated toward a highly gendered discourse that seemed to confirm the cliché that dogs the Eisenhower era: that the male was the head of the household and that the female kept the hearth fires burning.'(Carini. 2003, p. 47) And when looking a Ball’s interaction with Hopper and the image she projected to the public through her it is clear that Carini’s point is a valid one. When not being completely guarded about her personal life, Ball portrayed this “domestic goddess” image to the media and in doing so was strategically distancing herself from the active business woman that she clearly was. Therefore, she was perhaps not subjected to quite as much politics of being a woman in a “man’s world”. It also meant that Ball did not distance any of her faithful viewers who only really knew her as Lucy Ricardo, not a business savvy woman who was making millions of dollars playing the goofy housewife.

Lucille Ball once said “I’m not funny. What I am is brave” and to be the first woman to own her own studio in Hollywood not only indicates that she had guts but also shows the level of power she had in the industry during the 1950’s. At head of Desilu productions Ball and Arnaz are responsible for television filming innovation that are still used and relevant today. As the engine that drove I Love Lucy, she created a show that pushed the boundaries of technical advancements, of social content, and popularity. American viewers felt that the birth of her onscreen child was of more interest to them than the beginning of a new political era. This, in some ways shows, that with the help of television as her medium Ball reached viewers that no political arena could.

References:

Anderson, Christopher, ‘I Love Lucy‘, 30 Nov 2007.  1 May 2008. <http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/I/htmlI/ilovelucy/ilovelucy.htm>

Carini, Susan M., 2003 ‘Love’s Labors Almost Lost: Managing Crisis during the Reign of I Love Lucy’ in Cinema Journal 43, no.1, Fall, p.44-62.

Gilbert, T, and Sanders, C S, 1993, Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Morrow, New York, p. 29. Quoted from a statement made in 1952.

Filmography:

I Love Lucy, CBS, 1951 – 1957.


Here are two of the most memorable I Love Lucy moments:

Questions:

  • Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz vs. Public personas vs. Lucy & Ricky Ricardo. Where does one end and another begin?

  • Investigate the impact that Lucille Ball had on 1950 film and television during the 1950s. How much power did she really wield? (Tutorial Question)

References:

Susan M. Carini (2003) ‘Love’s Labors Almost Lost: Managing Crisis During the Reign of I Love Lucy’ in Cinema Journal 43, no.1, Fall, p.44-62.

Anderson, Christopher. Hollywood TV: The Studio System in the Fifties. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1994.

http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/I/htmlI/ilovelucy/ilovelucy.htm

Advertisements

Shameless

Discuss issues of class and the culture industries.

GORTON ESTATE:

This is a photo i found on the Shameless Facebook page. Click on the picture and have a look – I’m on of 58,502 fans. The three yellow pins show the Gallagher’s house, the local pub and Cash’s convenience store.

Excerpts from an Interview with the cast of Season five:

(The website for the British Esquire magazine is still under construction so i have posted some of the more interesting and topic related bits of the interview)

Why do people like Frank?

DAVID THRELFALL (Frank Gallagher): It’s because he’s not threatening – not threatening to women and not threatening to men. It’s not that he’s asexual; he’s his own planet. People like him because he says things that they’d never dare say, no matter how much they’d want to. He doesn’t revert to therapy for his problems. He has a couple of E’s and a pint. It’s the old British way: have a drink and pull yourself together, none of this “Just give me a little space.”

Is Frank the Moral barometer for Shameless?

DT: He’s become the spokesperson for England. He sees himself as part of the old working class, and I think he feels that Tony Blair and all his lot, once they started dismantling Clause 4, they destroyed the working class. He speaks on behalf of those left behind. Nobody asks him to, but that’s the beauty of him. Sometimes he says something and you think, “Hang on, that makes sense.” Frank’s an intelligent man, its just that he took up drinking as a mission at the age of 24.

Are the Gallaghers a role model a role model for the British family?

DT: Someone once told me we were like the Simpsons on acid, but people can still relate to it, people from any class.

How difficult is it to play Frank?

DT: The first day of filming, I had to lay on a floor having pissed my pants and then get completely E’d off my brain, telling my daughter’s boyfriend that my ex-wife had gone to the corner shop, become a lesbian and buggered off. So I hit the ground running, really.

What is it like filming on the estate in Gorton?

CIARAN GRIFFITHS (Mickey Maguire): you have to film before the schools come out, otherwise you’re fucked.

SAMANTHA SIDDALL (Mandy Maguire): The people that live there say that Shameless is about them. I’ve heard that people get on the 205 bus to go and see the Shameless estate.

Unlike most portrayals of the police on British TV, the coppers are the outsiders in shameless, simply because everyone else is on the take…

WARREN DONNELLY (Stan Waterman): the big joke is that in Shameless, no one thinks twice about the police. If I storm into the pub to arrest someone or investigate something, nobody even looks up, they just carry on regardless. Until Carrie (Amanda Ryan) turns up that is.

 

How does class operate in Shameless, in comparison with Kath and Kim or Summer Heights High?

In an economical sense the class of the Gallagher family is obvious. The housing commission terrace that they live and Franks lack of employment indicate that they are a low income family. However it is not their level of wealth that is the focus of Shameless. As Felicity said in the lecture, it is the relationships between characters and their “internal composition” that is important – their local is in most respects just circumstantial.

In Kath and Kim or Summer Heights Highthere is a much more deliberate social focus or hierarchy. These shows perform certain types of class. A lot of the humor is based around their class (or lack of). Are Kath and Kim parodying a certain type of person or family or Australian suburbia in general signalled by continual references to things like Fountain Gate Shopping Center. I have never really watched much of the show and therefore don’t feel like i have a concrete opinion about how class is represented in it. I do think though that there is more to the show than making fun of Australian suburbia. Please feel free to let me know your thoughts.  

Summer Heights High’s three main characters represent three different socio-economic backgrounds. Jonah appears to be from a working class family, Mr G we assume is middle class and Ja’maie makes no effort to hide her upper class background, believing that she has been completely self-sacrificing by coming to a “fugly” school. Jonah and Ja’maie in particular seem to be performing a class stereotype. The character of Jonah reminds me a little of the show Bro Town if anyone has seen that. If not, have a quick look.

Clips:

*Kath and Kim go on a holiday but before they go Kath rings everyone in her address book (maybe slightly exaggerated) to tell them that she is going business class. Is this a non “classy” act? (0:35) See also in this clip Kim trying on bikinis and her references to Burbery.

*Prue and Trude at the Homewares shop. This is a clip comes from the skit show they did before Kath and Kim.

Ja’maie talking about World Vision. (2:05). Turning it into Australian idol. Even starving children in Africa can be made part of the culture industry.

Do we find these shows funny because we feel surperior to the characters, even if just on an intellectual level?

The article Dream World of Mass Culture looks at the work of Walter Benjamin. He would experiment by watching children play and wrote that children ‘are less intrigued by the performed world that adults have created than by its waste products.’ He also stated that ‘Children’s cognition had revolutionary power because it was tactile, and hence tied to action.’And that ‘Bourgeois socialization suppressed this activity: Parroting back the “correct” answer, looking without touching, solving problems “in the head”, sitting passively learning without optical clues – these acquired behaviours went against the child’s grain.’ (Buck-Morss, 1989, pp. 264-265) Like Felicity talked about in the lecture, the Gallagher children live in a non controlled environment and pretty much have the freedom to do what they want which adheres with Benjamin’s ideas of the revolutionary powers of a non bourgeois childhood. Benjamin also believed that it was only the children who were able to fully live out their childhood without any of the bourgeois style of trapping who really grow up. The Maguire siblings for example are tightly controlled by their parents and the boys in particular seem much less mature than the Gallagher sons, despite being older.

Culture Industry:

“The whole world is made to pass through the filter of the culture industry.”

In the introduction of the Adorno and Horkheimer essay the editor says it offers ‘a vision of a society that has lost its capacity to nourish true freedom and individuality’ (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1993, p. 29) and in regards to Shameless I think there are arguments for and against.

    Firstly, the show was taken up by Channel 4 which began in late 1982. Its aim was to be engagingly different and to cater for audiences previously neglected. Its first chief executive Jeremy Isaacs said that he hoped to see ‘more black Britons on our screen in programs of particular appeal to them…more programs made by women for women which men will watch…and more programs for youth viewers’( Docherty, Morrison and Tracy, 1988, p.5).

   In an interview with the Cast, David Threlfall (who plays Frank) says that people like Frank because ‘he says things that they’d never dare say, no matter how much they’d want to.’ (Whitehouse, 2007, p. 92) In his character don’t we then see the freedom and individuality Adorno and Horkheimer deemed completely lost?

Having said this, Adorno and Horkheimer’s goes on to say that ‘marked differentiations such as those of A and B films or of stories in magazines in different price ranges depend not so much on subject matter as on classifying, organizing, and labelling consumers. Something is provided for all so that none can escape…The public is catered for with a hierarchical range of products of varying quality…Everybody must behave (as if spontaneously) in accordance with his previously determined and indexed level, and choose the category of mass product tuned out for his type.’(Adorno & Horkheimer, 1993, pp. 32-33)

    Therefore the creation of this new “different” Channel could purely be seen as a way to make sure all types of audience are being tapped into.

    However non mainstream Shameless is (or appears to be) it is still a commodity. The creator Paul Abbot selling his tragic childhood memories 50 mins at a time.

    One of the characters mentioned in the interview that people were travelling on the particular bus that comes to the estate Shameless is filmed in just to see it. This reminded me of the tours of Neighbours Ramsey street.

      –    The show has a Facebook, Myspace, Bebo etc. page.

    On the Channel 4 website homepage there is a Shameless competition: “Fancy treating yourself to a year on the dole?” Even the experience of being poor is a commodity and can be sold.

What do you think?

More Clips:

*Shameless musical number – Karen and Mickey’s wedding. Next week we are looking at Buffy, a show which has also done a whole musical episode.

Take a look at the Channel 4 Shameless page. Links to all of the Facebook, Myspace pages etc but best of all…Win a year on the dole competition. Check it out. Even the experience of being poor can be turned into a comodity

Trailer for This Is England (further viewing for this week)

Bibliography:

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry: enlightenment as mass deception”, in The Cultural Studies Reader, ed. Simon During, London & New York, Routledge, 1993, 29-43.

Susan Buck-Morss (1989), The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project. Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England: The MIT Press, Chapter 8, 253-286, 455-466.

David Docherty, David E. Morrison, Michael Tracy, Keeping the Faith? Channel 4 and its Audience, John Libbey, London, 1988, p. 5.

David Whitehouse, “Estate of the Nation, Esquire Magazine, The National Magazine Company Limited, London, Vol. 17, No. 1, 2007, pp. 90 – 97.

 

 


Archives

Categories