Hierarchies of Masculinity

The hegemonic image of masculinity that all other forms of masculinity are measured against is white, middle class, heterosexual masculinity. [1] It is the failure to live up to this image that becomes the source of ridicule for many of the male characters encountered in the six television shows discussed in this paper. Darrin in Bewitched succeeds in fulfilling this image, as do most of the white, male characters in Desperate Housewives. However Ricky’s accent in I Love Lucy, and Al and Archie’s class position become the butt of many jokes for the audience. For the most part, the hierarchy functions in the way it renders othered characters invisible, and excludes their stories from being heard, or being the dominant narrative. [2] There are few representations of racialized characters in any of these programs, and even fewer homosexual characters, leaving racialized and homosexual viewers to construct their identities between the lines of normalized scripts. 

 

Ricky’s accent in the show is actually Desi Arnaz’s real accent, and was not concocted as a joke, but built into the script because of Arnaz’s difficulty in pronouncing certain English words. [3] In fact his accent was one of the key concerns that CBS originally gave for Desi’s ability to play the part of Lucy’s husband, despite the fact that Lucille and Desi already had a highly successful vaudeville act. [4] It is also noted by Patricia Mellencamp that Ricky was often the foil for Lucy’s slapstick antics, and that perhaps the fact that she challenged her prescribed role without too much question from the audience might have been because racism allowed the audience to view Ricky as inferior to, for example, Fred whose wife does not rebel to the same extent as Lucy. [5] In fact, the actor who played Fred frequently found himself being offered drinks by men who appreciated they way his character told off Ethel. [6] 

 

There are several tactics used by the television producers to construct working-class men as less valuable than middle-class white-collar workers. The first is the way in which both Al and Archie are portrayed as “dumb, inarticulate, and mindlessly loyal to old-fashioned values.” [7] They are buffoons, and although not unlovable, they are certainly not portrayed as role models for masculinity. [8] Archie makes frequent malapropisms when he speaks, often to the point of obscuring what he is intending to say. [9] Al is also portrayed as mentally inferior, especially in comparison to his middle-class neighbours. Both characters are also portrayed as sexually stunted. Al is portrayed as unwilling, or unable, to satsify his wife, despite her frequent attempts to seduce him. [10] Archie shown to resist sexuality, with Edith once “trying to remember” Gloria’s inception, with the implication being that that was the last time she and Archie had been sexual together. Archie is also seen to be uncomfortable when Edith proposes they return to the hotel where they stayed during their Honeymoon. [11] 

 

The characters also employ this hierarchy against other men, such as Al’s consistent desire to construct himself as heterosexual, while simultaneously implying that other men who do not display the same rampant heteronormativity are “queer” or “fags.” Al passes this along to his son Bud, who is constantly attempting to construct himself as virile even when this is as far from the truth for himself as it is for his father. Archie’s constant diatribes against anyone “lower” on the hierarchy than himself, namely racialized and homosexual men, can be seen as a method of maintaining this hierarchy in the face of increasing civil rights movements in the 1970s. When Archie finds out that Mike and Gloria are having an effeminate friend over for lunch, Archie hits the roof at the idea of having a “strange little birdie” in his house and takes refuge in his local pub. His world view is contested when one of his long-time friends, who is strong and athletic and doesn’t fit his mental image of a ‘fag,’ admits to being homosexual while simultaneously beating him at an arm wrestle. Archie ultimately discounts what his friend has told him, but the intention is clearly to plant a seed of doubt in viewers minds about what a homosexual “looks like.” However, the fact that he ultimately brushes off the idea leaves space for viewers to see Archie’s friend as the exception, not the rule and does not fundamentally challenge any underlying homophobia expressed by Archie earlier in the episode. 

 

 

[1] Kimmel, Michael S. 2004. “Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity.” Pp. 182- 199 in Feminism & Masculinities, edited by Peter F. Murphy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

[2] Craig, Steven, ed. 1992. Men, Masculinity and the Media. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

[3] Andrews, Bart. 1976. Lucy & Ricky & Fred & Ethel: The Story of I Love Lucy. New York, NY: E.P. Dutton & Co, Inc.

[4] Andrews, Bart. 1976. Lucy & Ricky & Fred & Ethel: The Story of I Love Lucy. New York, NY: E.P. Dutton & Co, Inc.

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

[6] Andrews, Bart. 1976. Lucy & Ricky & Fred & Ethel: The Story of I Love Lucy. New York, NY: E.P. Dutton & Co, Inc.

[7] Ehrenreich, Barbara. 1995. “The Silenced majority: Why the Average Working Person Has Disappeared from American Media and Culture.” Pp. 40-42 in Gender, race and class in media: A text-reader, edited by Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

[8] Butsch, Richard. 1995. “Ralph, Fred, Archie and Homer: Why Television Keeps Recreating the White Male Working-Class Buffoon.” Pp. 403-411 in Gender, race and class in media: A text-reader, edited by Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

[9] Adler, Richard P, ed. 1979. All in the Family: A Critical Appraisal. New York, NY: Praeger.

[10] 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] Adler, Richard P, ed. 1979. All in the Family: A Critical Appraisal. New York, NY: Praeger.

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