Robert Hanke

Analyse an example of one of the programme types on the unit in order to show how its characters / participants and other representations relate to questions of ideology. Example should be a single episode broadcast after 3 February 2003. max 1260 words. Author: Paul Cook Deadline: 09. 05. 2003 MANCHILD This essay will describe how the recently created television sitcom Manchild has redefined the stereotype of the middle-aged man and reflects current masculine reaction to the propagation of feminist ideology throughout western society.

It will also relate the characters, participants and other representations in the programme exampled to these ideological and cultural changes. The essay will argue that the television genre known as Sitcom or Situation Comedy has since the 1960s, continuously reflected through humorous drama, the serious underlying and in some respects unacknowledged difficulties of gender discourse that adults have generally failed to recognise, confront or deal with in open debate. As Cath Fletcher put it in her thesis on Feminism in February 2000, describing recent changes to some certain British television programmes as …..the most striking examples of anti-feminist backlash. [1]

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Using primary source research in the form of a questionnaire completed by individual members of three group viewing sessions [Appendix A], the argument will be dealt with in three sections; the historical evidence of a feminist agenda in past sitcoms, how the episode of Manchild analysed (broadcasted at 10pm on BBC2, 11th March 2003) reflects the accumulated effect of hegemonic masculinity on contemporary male behaviour and the backlash to that ideology.

Historical evidence is plentiful due to the proliferation of British made television sitcoms that reflected the ideological and social changes happening to western culture in the early 1960s [NOTE (a)]. By the mid 60s new and hitherto unacceptable behaviour by women was beginning to be acted out in programmes like The Rag Trade [NOTE (b)]. Perhaps the most significant sitcom of that decade was Till Death Us Do Part which played out the total breakdown of hitherto accepted, traditional family values [NOTE (c)].

Prior to these programmes, sitcoms on British Television were in their attitude to sex and gender..seemed to be stuck in the 1950s pre-persmissiveness and pre-feminism [2] Feminism has its recognized roots in the 19th century campaigns for the emancipation of women and the sacrifices of the suffragettes movement in the early 20th century.

In the 1960s however, feminism, also referred to as the womens’ movement, turned the most significant corner in it’s progression with the widespread availability of the contraceptive pill. Never before in human history had women been given such a degree of sexual emancipation. This changed totally the potential behaviour, responsibilities and roles that women would now able to play in society.

It replaced, for them, their hitherto subservient position in a male dominated society with one of at least equality, even potential usurpacion of the dominant power. This positive discrimination against the characterization of the male role in much of popular television over the past four decades was spread over the whole range of modern drama including ‘Soaps’ with their almost daily diet of melodrama showing women as central to the family and the community while at the same time stereotyping men as unworthy, ineffective, untrustworthy, uncaring, and incapable of civilized behaviour unless they have a good woman behind them.

The abundant stream of new television sitcoms continued to portray men in roles of ever diminishing masculinity and ever increasing subservience to female characters while the females, almost without exception, are typified as superior in behaviour and intellect in contrast to the males who are characterized as increasingly less important, even superfluous. NOTES a) sitcoms like On the Buses and The Likely Lads reflected the more extreme aspects of male chauvinism predominant post war society. (b) a female shop steward controlled and directed her rather weak male boss in every episode.

(c) the father of a working class family was constantly confronted and humiliated by his erstwhile compliant wife, his disrespectful teenage daughter, and his son-in-law, a left-wing feminist. The 1970s saw an enormous increase in the relative number of new sitcoms produced [Appendix B] reflecting the latest ideologically accepted role of women in society, such as in Robin’s Nest and Birds of a Feather [NOTE (d)], Our House and The Larkins [NOTE(e)], George and Mildred, Terry and June and Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em [NOTE(f)].

By the 1980s and 90s young males were shown as uncouth, insensitive and stupid in The Young Ones, Bottom and Men Behaving Badly and middle aged men as inadequate, leering, dishonest and frightened of women in Only Fools and Horses, The New Statesman and Rab C Nesbitt. At the same time womens’ roles were further enhanced in sitcoms like The Darling Buds of May, Butterflies, The Liver Birds and Absolutely Fabulous. Robert Hanke describes how some recent American sitcoms in their representation of men play off the stereotypes of conventional masculinity in order to describe how these texts work to reiterate hegemonic masculinity [3].

This is a feminist ideal that, by it’s very combination is both unstable and unsustainable. The effect of it’s collapse has manifested itself over recent years through, inter alia; middle aged mens’ high rates of divorce [4], their increased purchases of sports cars, wearing of designer clothes and augmented male membership of health clubs. Consider then what the ideological reason was for producing Manchild, in the second year of the new millennium.

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