Married With Children

Married With Children (1987-1997) in many ways resembles a similar sitcom framework to All in the Family. The show works very hard to use comedy to expose the shocking reality of poverty and dispel television’s myth of happy families, but in the process it reproduces very normalized scripts of femininity and masculinity. Brunson and Caughie argue that the image of femininity that is depicted by Married With Children represents a male view of women’s experience. [1] This is likely largely due to the writers of the show recognizing that Married With Children had managed to capture the attention of male television viewers, something that became less and less common as the sitcom evolved. [2]

 

This clip sets up the characters as they will remain for the rest of the series. Peggy is a lazy housewife. Al is a hardworking shoe salesman. Bud is the smart one, and Kelly is a tramp.

The show was created as one of the early shows for the emerging FOX network. FOX was invented in an attempt to capture the MTV generation and wasn’t afraid to push, even cross the boundaries of acceptable morality. [3]  FOX was also extremely interested in capturing the demographic of young, black television viewers, and Married With Children was successful in doing this. This is interesting, as Clarence Lusane notes, considering the characters were essentially characterizations of “white trash.” In direct contrast to The Cosby Show, which was the most popular show on television at the time of Married With Children’s inception, which depicted an upper class life, void of any real drama, or problems, Married With Children exposed the harsh realities of poverty and working class life. The bubbly, upward-mobility of the Huxtables is subverted by the dysfunction and self-destruction evident in the Bundy household. [4] In fact, the original title of the show was “Not the Cosbys.” Lusane also suggests that the verbal sparring that is the staple of interaction in Married with Children was modeled after many of the black comedies that executive producer Michael Moye worked on in the 1970s, but that in the culture of television and network hierarchies, it would have been impossible to produce a show featuring black characters with the same class-consciousness that the Bundy family evoked. [5]

The main character of the show, Al Bundy, is depicted as the hard-working, hard-done-by working class man, and something of an anti-hero. He began working in a shoe store as a part time summer job in high school, but after an injury meant he could no longer play football he became stuck in the shoe-salesman job as his full-time career. Al is frequently nostalgic about his football-glory days, and constantly reflects on how his life might have been different if he had not been “trapped” into marrying Peggy straight out of high school. This is a particularly important articulation of the historical and social context of the 1980s when an economic downturn meant that unskilled labour jobs were at a minimum and the market depended on a workforce that could afford to buy consumer goods, such as the shoes that Al works so hard to sell. [6]

The interplay between the Bundy family and their next-door neighbour, Marcy and her husband(s) is especially interesting because of the way Marcy is constructed as a feminist. She is portrayed as dominant over her first husband Steve, and her quasi-feminist statements are frequently discounted and undermined by Al and Peggy. Marcy and Steve frequently lord their wealth and job security over the Bundys, and blame the difference between the two families on their  lack of work ethic. However, in later episodes, Marcy re-marries to a younger man, Jefferson, who is content to live off of Marcy’s income. [7] Jefferson and Al become quick friends, and form an all-men’s group called “NOMAAM” (National Organization of Men Against Amazonian Manhood Masterhood) to protest against feminism. Marcy loses what little credibility she had as a feminist, and with it any potential she has to present resistance to normative gender roles.

[1] Brunsdon, Chartlotte and John Caughie, eds. 1997. Feminist Television: A Reader. New York, NY: Oxford University Press Inc.

[2] Lusane, Clarence. 1999. “Assessing the Disconnect between Black & White Television Audiences: The Race, Class and Gender Politics of Married… With Children.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 27(1):12-20.

[3] Lusane, Clarence. 1999. “Assessing the Disconnect between Black & White Television Audiences: The Race, Class and Gender Politics of Married… With Children.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 27(1):12-20.

[4] Lusane, Clarence. 1999. “Assessing the Disconnect between Black & White Television Audiences: The Race, Class and Gender Politics of Married… With Children.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 27(1):12-20.

[5] Lusane, Clarence. 1999. “Assessing the Disconnect between Black & White Television Audiences: The Race, Class and Gender Politics of Married… With Children.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 27(1):12-20.

[6] Lusane, Clarence. 1999. “Assessing the Disconnect between Black & White Television Audiences: The Race, Class and Gender Politics of Married… With Children.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 27(1):12-20.

[7] Lusane, Clarence. 1999. “Assessing the Disconnect between Black & White Television Audiences: The Race, Class and Gender Politics of Married… With Children.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 27(1):12-20.

11 responses to “Married With Children

  1. Mike

    it’s men against amazonian masterhood, not manhood.

  2. You are about to receive a lot of traffic.

    • Academic Pointillism

      Hehe… yup, right before you posted this I said “I said ‘that’s weird… that thing I wrote six years ago is getting a weird amount of ‘likes’ on WordPress. I think I must be on Reddit…”

      FWIW, this has been a way better experience than when my last feminist paper was on the front page of Digg!

  3. National Organization of Men Against Amazonian *Masterhood*

  4. bob

    “NOMAAM” is actually (National Organization of Men Against Amazonian Masterhood)

  5. Mike

    I disagree with your assessments of Al and Bud. They are not portrayed as superior to Peggy and Kelly. Al is a caricature of the “angry white guy,” and the audience sees him as a bumbling couch potato. Hence, angry white guys are bumbling couch potatoes. Bud has more book smarts than Kelly, but he’s growing up to be just like Al. You’ve missed the satire that cuts in EVERY direction, not just against women and feminism.

    • Academic Pointillism

      Hi Mike,

      I encourage you to check out some of the more in-depth deconstructions of masculinity that are in the masculinity section of the site. This paper is primarily about exactly your point… thanks for sharing!

  6. I know the political climate has shifted since the 1990s, but Marcy D’arcy being a feminist environmentalist who was also a Republican who thought NEA money could be better spent “jailing the homeless” always seemed weird.

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