Skip to comments.Desperate Housewives, Adult Escapism
Posted on 05/01/2005 9:16:13 PM PDT by KevinNuPac
Desperate Housewives, Adult Escapism
By Kevin Fobbs
May 2, 2005
First Lady, Laura Bush, speaking before the White House Correspondents Dinner this past weekend, elevated a highly popular nighttime television soap opera Desperate Housewives to another level of popularity, when she humorously referred to it in her remarks.
She said if those desperate housewives who make up the fictional make up of the neighborhood portrayed on Desperate Housewives think their desperate housewives.... well she really is a desperate housewife.
When you think about it, this hit television show offers many of the same creature comforts that its 1960's counterpart offered for its nighttime viewers in terms of Peyton Place. It was a way for its largely female audience to escape some of the trying family matters of the day, be it in a neighborhood in Brooklyn or a farm in Iowa, or an apartment in Chicago.
So is the show a statement of the times we are in or is it a reflection of what viewers want to take a relaxing viewing vacation from?
Peyton Place offered escape for the America of the 1960s, with the simmering of the Vietnam War which for many families who had loved ones either serving or preparing to be drafted. The assassination of President Kennedy, the heightened communist tensions in Eastern Europe made our daily life very insecure and uncertain. Americans felt a heightened awareness of a threat at home...remember the bomb shelters as well as an increasing assault on our values. In the mid sixties the new young adults were emerging and asking America to re-define just who we were. They lead protests and it often became front and center discussions at the dinner table every evening in homes across our nation.
Television was exposing with civil rights marches throughout the south, college protests on campuses, and in the homes across America...perhaps, just perhaps women could do more than cook, clean, bake and shop...and this type was a simmering discontent which was now moving from the back burner to the front burner in America.
So as nightly television news exposed a darker underbelly of society's ills...America sought, and especially the keepers of the hearth and home, women, specifically mothers...were looking for a different type of nighttime viewing. It had to be something that could give them momentary respite.
Peyton Place emerged as that show and that answer women viewers were looking for. Its actors became instant celebrities. It was a show, which was talked about by mothers with other mothers over the back yard fence, or at the PTA meetings, or sometimes after church services. The show allowed viewers to escape into this fictional world where imaginary high drama, deceit, failed marriages, illicit affairs, and conniving backstabbers could elicit the sort of quiet viewing pleasure that its viewers sought and felt. The audience somehow identified emotionally with the weekly justice meted out to the characters, which were being allowed to morph into in their minds.
Even though it was vicarious pleasure, it satisfied a real emotional need which viewers needed weekly in their lives. Desperate Housewives accomplishes the same purpose. Its viewers have recently made it the number one TiVo recording pick, in the must see TV for the week.
One has to wonder whether Peyton Place then, or will Desperate Housewives now, foreshadow a breakdown of our family values. Does either represent for its viewers a societal precursor showcasing what is in the heart of darkness behind millions of closed doors in homes across America? For instance in the decade following Peyton Place there was a literal eruption in the breakdown of the family, an escalation of divorce and a spiraling out of control in the abandonment of family values and a steady increase in Acid Rock, dangerous musical lyrics which served as genesis point for the Gangster Rap of the eighties.
Perhaps both shows allow the viewers to look at their own lives, their own marriages, their own dreams and their own life goals and determine for themselves that this psychological warfare of exaggerated out of control no rules apply behavior depicted in the two popular television nighttime soaps, makes their lives, their families, their non-conversational mates seem ...well quite normal and perhaps even more desirable.
But fantasy is oftentimes the magic of what television provides viewers. Fairy tales are the stuff of which childhoods are fashioned around. So seeing it portrayed on the small screen in the privacy of the home is a great treat... sort of a continuation of a fairy tale of sorts because it has some of the major ingredients. In a fantasy you have to suspend the rules of reality. In a fantasy...you have to allow yourself to be spirited away in your mind to a place where you are allowed to become part of the central protagonist's life...sharing in the trials...sharing in the emotional eruptions...and sharing in the rush of fulfillment it brings at the end of every chapter or every story.
In this case it is the satisfaction it may bring the viewer at the end of every weekly episode.
Like Peyton Place, Desperate Housewives does emerge on the American scene at a time of conflict in America and also at a time of war and certainly at a time when there is great uneasiness in our nation. The Vietnam War was confined to a small country situated in East Asia. The War on Terror is front and center...in every town, on every street and affects every home in America.
There is a changing of the guard in America as it was during the 1960s. The men and women who had gone through a World War or in some cases two World Wars, had settled down and created families and focused on the normalcy which winning the war for Freedom had brought Americans at the end of World War II. Traditional family values was the menu for the nation in the subsequent years to follow.
Along came Peyton Place, and it offered America's viewers a different menu of America and its traditional values than television shows like "Father's Knows Best", The Donna Reed Show", Leave It To Beaver", and a host of others offered America's families.
Peyton Place like Desperate Housewives addressed a tug of war of sorts between the changing values, which were just beginning to percolate to the surface of public discussion. Peyton Place began to creep into the mindset of young teen female viewers and new young adult women who had serious questions about the other side of the traditional values of the time. These were hidden, like adultery, divorce, family crisis, raising a family... etc...Were these values which were swimming in the under current being ignored or reflected in the adult nighttime soap?
The new Peyton Place, i.e.. Desperate Housewives seems to serve a similar type of purpose. What it is doing is bringing to the surface for many, again housewives who seem drawn to watch the Sunday night eye-candy, the contemporary challenges of our day. These challenges are many and in many cases are clearly defining the line in the sifting sands of our nation's culture.
Their children, once safe outside the home in their backyard have to now be watched to make certain sexual predators will not kidnap their children from their home or even inside their home. These mothers, whose parents were quite trusting of the Sesame Street viewing and educational family values provided two generations of young children, must now worry about parental controls on their television sets, and being notified in advance of public television shows which will highlight not whether or not a father is in the home, but having to be prepared to fight the political correctness of having your child see two mommies or two daddies in the home be justified in a cartoon on Sesame Street.
The Peyton Place mother of the 1960s and early seventies only had to worry about the Safety Patrol kid on the corner near their child's neighborhood school would be alert and making certain their child would gets safely across the street. Today, many Desperate Housewives viewing mothers have to be worried about whether or not their child will be safe in the classroom from the teacher, the security guard, the counselor or the coach.
So in many cases, Desperate Housewives is exactly what the doctor ordered for some, it is truly an avenue to navigate an escape from the lives and the routine, which produce the sameness of a predictable Swiss timepiece. The values that the women reflect who are the residents of the neighborhood in this ABC nighttime soap works well as an escape vehicle for many. After all the characters are ready made to try anything, do anything, and sleep with anyone, because the values which America's women have to deal with during the week either in their jobs, in their families, or in their relationships may have some hint of realness which is acted out by the these make believe Desperate Housewives. Their acting is the seasoning that salad croutons provide.
Salad croutons are part of the salads' flavoring. As an ingredient in a salad, it is not necessarily an ingredient you may notice outright. Yet it is there to provide you a little bit of crunchiness. It is there to furnish your palate a little bit of flavor, but it is still only a very small part of the body of the salad.
The croutons in the everyday life of many of the viewers of both Desperate Housewives and of its fore runner Peyton Place may have small bits and pieces of emotional croutons in their own relationships, which may give them a little bit of hidden flavor and perhaps...ie. satisfy and adult version of a childhood fantasy; which although sub-consciously buried, is still, somewhere in the mix of the mental salad that part of their Sunday night soap viewing.
Is this eye-candy bad for the relationships of the millions of viewers? I guess one only has to look to the millions of survivors of Peyton Place to ask if any real temporary or permanent harm was done to the women who watched. Did their families suffer, did the children of the viewers grow up mal-adjusted, unfit to be responsible and take on the role of responsible adulthood? Probably not.
Well, I guess it will be left to the pontificators and the pundits of history to write if we will see any real affect of a television show, like a melt down in values, a disarmament of youth or young adult responsibility, or an un-paralleled growth in liberal policies which occurred in the late sixties and early seventies.
A television show did not precipitate American society's move to make divorce easier so that you didn't have to go down to Tijuana, Mexico to get a quickie divorce. A television show can not be held responsible for the relaxing of academic performance standards which made it easier for the dumbing down of America's students and for the wholesale infiltration of harmful musical lyrics into the lives and bedrooms of young which emphasized a culture of violence, of hate, of immorality, and promoted "anything goes" in relationships.
A television show was not responsible for the countless anti-government slogans displayed in high school classrooms and on college campuses of the late sixties and early seventies. I don't think one could reasonably blame a television show for that societal value shift.... But one has to wonder was that television show an open window of the soul of our nation.
Oh, but that was the sixties and the early seventies... and that was the era of Peyton Place. It was either a guilty pleasure or a reflection of America's warts.
In the end...after all, Peyton Place and Desperate Housewives are only television shows. They are fine as a target of good humor as Laura Bush was able to use it for this weekend. ...It is a great timeout chill pill for America's viewers...so enjoy the adult fantasy.
Kevin Fobbs is President of National Urban Policy Action Council (NuPac), a non-partisan civic and citizen-action organization that focuses on taking the politics out of policy to secure urban America's future one neighborhood, one city, and one person at a time. View NuPac on the web at www.nupac.info. Kevin Fobbs is also Outreach Communications Vice Chairman of the Michigan Republican Party and daily host of The Kevin Fobbs Show on News Talk WDTK - 1400 AM in Detroit as well as co-founder of the Jackson, MI-based American Conservative Values Television Network. Listen to The Kevin Fobbs Show at www.wdtkam.com. daily3-4 PM, On-line and call-in nationwide to make your opinion count toll-free at 800-923-WDTK(9385).
I remember Peyton Place, really, really racy show for the time. Now, it would be considered tame.
I remember Peyton Place used to be on Pat Robertson's Family Channel.
I wonder how the freepers who condemed desperate housewives reacted to the news that the (republican) first lady watches it?
I'm getting a headache just reading that sentence. (Not just because "their" should be "they're")
Drudge has a link to an article--Laura doesn't actually watch it, she was making a joke.
(Denny Crane: "Sometimes you can only look for answers from God and failing that... and Fox News".)
You betcha. It's exactly what the sponsors want. Single households require that many more goods. Who cares if the society ends up poorer in the long run? This is about next quarter's sales after all.
Laura's supposedly never seen it, and I don't believe she has, but Jenna and Barbara have, and gifted her with a set of CDs from the show.
Too obvious - like saying "water is wet" or "British people speak English". :-)
That's what the Spike channel is for. :) I rarely watch TV but found that channel fascinating, and not just for the obvious reasons. The things you can do with some tool and two mobile homes you want to destroy!
Then again, maybe it's me. I tend to like fantasy and Sci Fi stuff, like Charmed, Lost, and Smallville, or suspense/action like 24. I have never liked soap operas.
What real men like soap operas?
But, as I said, I don't really like Soaps. I watched them for a short time, way back when I was in High School, but not since then.
It was meant as a joke. Reports say she has never actually watched it. I doubt she has the time.
You might be surprised...
Actually she does not watch it, but the daughters do. The comedic speech was written for her.