“Of Frasier’s Women” (A 50-second read about my conspiracy theory.)

November 4, 2012
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With this blog entry, and through the lens of the hilarious and iconic TV show Frasier, I begin an exploration of the question below:

Do we believe that there is a conspiracy to manipulate the great power of popular culture to desensitize the public and to teach us to glorify some over others?

The way in which women are featured on the Emmy-winning television show raises questions about a lack of respect for women in the public discourse.  On the show, there is a long-line of girlfriends who are portrayed as never being quite good enough for the main character.  The regular female characters hardly fare better.  Specifically:

  • A woman portrayed as an irresponsible sex-aholic who unintentionally ends up a single mom.  (Roz.)
  • A domestic aide who is not-so-secretly objectified and lusted-after by one of the male leads.  Her intellectual incapacity is regularly mocked; even her very name, Daphne, reminds one of the word daft.
  • The wealthy, powerful wife (then ex-wife) of a male lead.  Her lack of beauty is made known only through the malicious comments of the other characters’ dialogue.  She is never seen and is never given voice.  (Maris.)
  • And, of course, Lilith.  The lead’s ex-wife, a mean, heartless, Satan-of-a-woman.  Indeed the name “Lilith” comes from Jewish folklore, a female demon who tries to kill newborn children.

In all honesty, I write this partially in jest, but it does AGAIN beg the question: do we believe that there is a conspiracy to manipulate the great power of popular culture to desensitize the public and to teach us to glorify some over others?  

Or is it all just good fun?

While these aren’t really new questions (i.e. Paulo Freire’s “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and countless others), I do think that it’s useful to engage the question through the vernacular of modern-ish television, and of an evolution (or a devolution) in thinking.  Please comment below with your insights and thoughts.

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6 Responses to “Of Frasier’s Women” (A 50-second read about my conspiracy theory.)

  1. Barbara Breen
    November 5, 2012 at 5:52 am

    Nathaniel: As a woman, I feel ashamed now that I laughed along at those stereotypical portrayals when I watched that show on TV. The answer to your question is yes. Pop culture wants to tell us what to do, how to act, who is good or bad, who is to be scorned, who is to be ignored. Fast forward from Frazier to today. TV still mocks women (Housewives of wherever, Honey Boo Boo), tells us how to be and what to wear (constant makeovers on daytime TV, insisting on highest high heels and skinny bodies), still insists we put beauty over brains (every TV newswoman is a Barbie doll), still ignores people of color (every major program is almost all white). I guess the good news is that the watching public is smart and knows these are cartoonish characterizations, but I worry about our young people, who are just forming their ideas about society and our responsibilities and roles within it. Thanks for the reminder of how things were…and maybe still are. Barbara

    • November 5, 2012 at 9:29 am

      Barbara, Thank you for engaging with this. I appreciate your thoughts. I do wonder about the intersection (if there is one) between the cartoon and the cognitive. Am still thinking. Cheers, –N

  2. SUZY
    November 26, 2012 at 10:56 am

    Thanks again… for challenging my thinking., This is a great way to package and stimulate thought process on a subject like this.

  3. SUZY
    November 26, 2012 at 10:58 am

    THANKS AGAIN…for stimulating thinking in a different way. A great way to package a subject like this and to provide an avenue to think it through.

  4. December 2, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    I have been intending to respond to this post for a couple of weeks now, and kept forgetting. I have a background in literary theory, a Master’s of English Literature and have closely studied these tropes in television and popular culture. I have also laughed many times at episodes of Frasier, and while from a certain point-of-view I can see how these characters might be perceived as extreme negative stereotypes. However, presenting them this way also robs them of the nuances of each of these female characters. Daphne may sound like “daft” but I would assume it is more of a reference to Greek mythology and Apollo’s desperate chasing of the goddess. While Frasier often made comments about Roz’s promiscuity, I’m not sure that modern society would always have viewed her that way. Maris frankly had more references to being controlling I think rather than ugly, and Lilith on more occasions was not presented as entirely cold. In the beginning, perhaps, but eventually presented as a passionate person at least on occasion. We also have to view them in the context of the men, for there were times over the course of the show where the more blue collar father was presented as more savvy and street smart than his highly educated boys. And even Daphne at times was presented as not dumb, but instead a foil to the pretentiousness of Frasier and Niles.

    So in many ways Frasier did represent a clash of cultures, but not necessarily a pointed attack on women.

    A greater attack on valuing others to me would be shows like those featuring the Kardashians or Jersey Shore, giving celebrity value to people who haven’t done anything to warrant it.

    Shows like Honey Boo-Boo, I believe, are modern day circus freak shows. It is not nice, politically correct, or socially acceptable anymore to go to circus freak shows that put people on display, so the freak show in my opinion has morphed into the voyeurism of Honey Boo-Boo style television shows where people can watch and feel themselves superior to someone else, put-down, and help themselves feel more “normal” by comparison to the “freaks” on these programs. And I believe that is where the real desensitizing comes about, much more so than a comedy or satirical scripted show.

    • December 2, 2012 at 6:51 pm

      Sara: I really like your thoughtful and thorough unpacking of this. I think we can be too quick to assign political labels. I appreciate your underscoring of the nuances. Keep writing. –N

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Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

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