Friday, May 2, 2014

King of Queens or Queen of Queens?


Quite possibly my favorite show of all time is the King of Queens.  I have been watching this show since I was in 7th grade and it is without a doubt my guilty pleasure.  I remember it being on at 10 p.m. every day and it was the very last thing I watched before going to bed.  Yes, it is just another American sitcom with low production and mediocre writing, but the show is hilarious.  Doug (Kevin James) and Carrie (Leah Remini) Heffernan are a very comical married couple that fight and bicker all the time, but in the end love each other and understand one another.  The fights are never that extreme, but are more light hearted with sarcasm and jokes thrown in.  One thing I never really noticed back then because of my age, but have realized as I have progressed throughout my academic career was the stereotypical portrayals and resisting of gender norms that were happening. Doug embodies the stereotypical juvenile masculine figure while Carrie exemplifies the motherly figure in her domestic sphere as well as the career woman in the workplace at the same time.

In mid to late 1990s and early 2000s, we saw a huge spike in the changing of gender portrayals on TV.  Men were being turned into these bumbling idiots while the women were being portrayed as smart and more successful.  This became especially popular for the married couples on American sitcoms.  Shows starting pitting fatter less attractive males with skinny attractive intellectual women.  Case in point, Doug and Carrie.  Doug is this gluttonous large man who loves to eat, watch TV, play video games, and hang out with his others “loser” friends.  Carrie cleans up after Doug, fixes his messes, and guides him through his not-so-hard life.  This frames Carrie as the successful wife who is all the nurturer.  Since Doug and Carrie have no kids, Carrie’s responsibilities include working AND being a motherly figure to the immature nature of Doug. This allows Carrie to fulfill her duty in the workplace, but it also says she has a duty still at home.  Carrie is the primary nurturer for the family, in that she takes care of Doug not the other way around. Her role is to keep the family in tact by solving Doug’s screw-ups, but also has outside employment which shows her superiority.  Carrie both embodies a woman in the domestic sphere and in the workplace.  This communicates to viewers that women can excel into the workforce, but still, always in some respect, fill the domestic motherly space too.  It’s not free liberation of the woman from the domestic sphere, but only half that.  This shows Carrie fitting into her place or reinforcing her stereotypical gender role of the woman in the home, but at the same time resisting her motherly duties by being a successful employee at a Law firm.   

This brings me to my next point.  While Carrie is put into this successful woman in the workplace, she does not have the same superiority in this space as she does in the domestic setting.  Yes, she works for a law firm, but she is merely a secretary.  Her bosses throughout the series are all men.  Reinforcing older ideals of women in the workplace from the 1960s and 1970s as temps or secretaries like the women in Mad Men.  This is not to say she isn’t dominant because of this, the show just makes her seem less dominant in the workplace setting.  Nonetheless, she is still successful when compared to her hefty truck driving husband.  Sure Carrie is just a secretary, but she gets to dress up in nice fancy clothes every day and work in comfortable office in downtown Manhattan while Doug delivers packages to people in a truck all day long.  Doug fits into this unintelligent and less successful husband by being a truck driver.  Let’s face it, there is nothing appealing about a plump man delivering packages in a pea-green uniform worn 5 days a week unless you’re into the 80s high thighed dad shorts, then I say to you, to each their own.  But, this is why I love Doug.  He embraces his job and takes pride in delivering packages.  Carrie is embarrassed by Doug’s career choice at times and even tries to get him to euphemistically change his title from truck driver to working for the international courier service when introducing himself around Carrie.  Doug remains content in taking pride in his work which in itself is a masculine quality. 
With shows like According to Jim, Still Standing, and King of Queens we are able to see the men fitting this bumbling idiotic stereotype on television.  Timothy Havens, a professor at Iowa (who rocks, take one of his classes!), talks about this concept of ‘juvenile masculinity’.  It is exactly how it sounds.  Adult men who have lost this breadwinner ethic and their dominant masculinity and now fit into an immature style of masculinity.  The ideals of masculinity are not as brawn and brute as they once were and the shows I have listed above are proof that the masculine ideal of what it means to be masculine has changed completely over the past few decades.  Havens says, “The lead characters in guy-coms share fairly inconsistent gender traits.  They work in occupations that demand physical rather than intellectual acumen, a fact often underscored by their fatness.  They are self-centered, irresponsible, and casually sexist, prone to disrupting domestic harmony with their stubbornness.  They are, in a word, juvenile.”  This concept IS Doug Heffernan.  He works a blue collar truck driving job and disrupts the domestic harmony of his and Carrie’s relationship through his irresponsible nature.  In one scene, Doug’s company, IPS, is on the verge of strike.  So what does Doug do?  He decides to ditch his old, beaten down car and buy a brand new Jeep Cherokee behind Carrie’s back without her knowing.  Can you guess what happens next? YEP! His company goes on strike as he is purchasing the new Jeep that he cannot afford.  This scene shows exactly why Doug is incapable of making the big decisions in the family.  Doug’s scatterbrained ability to be persuaded into buying the new car by the salesmen demonstrates his incompetence and childlike ways of handling such a situation.  Doug simply is not fit to be a responsible adult which is why Carrie intervenes and makes him take it back reiterating that they cannot afford a new car on her salary alone now and that he needs to leave the big boy decisions to her.  Doug never comprehends what is right and wrong in the show, but that is why I love his character so much and it’s what makes him so damn funny. The fact that Doug is on strike and not getting paid shows exactly how dependent he is on Carrie because her income is the only income coming in now and supporting the family.(GO TO 5:35-8:40)


The King of Queens doesn’t just put Doug into this juvenile role, but it also places inferiority on Arthur Spooner (Jerry Stiller), Carrie’s dad, who lives in their basement.  Arthur is such a fun-loving character with entertainingly loud outbursts.  This shows that this old man, who grew up under breadwinner ethics, most likely, is dependent upon his own daughter to take him and provide for him.  So not only does Carrie have to put up with the juvenile personality of Doug, now she has to take care of her own dad.  Now audiences get a double dose of juvenile masculinity because Doug and Arthur both depend on Carrie and are incapable of being mature adults.  While most of this may show immaturity on the men’s part, the show still puts Carrie into the stereotypical motherly role. (GO TO 12:57)


This kind of juvenile masculinity has been portrayed so much over the last couple decades that this kind of behavior for married men seems normal which has reinforced the stereotype further as well.  Men on television are constantly been depicted as pizza eating, beer drinking, poker playing bros while women now go to work, come home, nurture, and fix their husbands mistakes.  This is problematic for shaping the reality of marriage against what is portrayed on television.  Men are performing their masculinity through consumption and mistakes, but are embracing it to some extent.  All this being said, if you haven’t watched King of Queens, go do so now because you are missing out.  I myself have probably watched each episode twice because they are all on YouTube foe free.  FREE TV FOLKS! What’s better than that?!

~Brian Forrest




References

Havens, T. (2007).  Guy-Come and the Hegemony of Juvenile Masculinity. University of Iowa
Zimdars, M. (2014). Lecture
http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2011/sep/24/female-comedians-american-sitcoms-bridesmaids


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5 comments:

  1. I love this show as well and was one of my favorites to stay up late and watch. Overall, I think you did a great job proving your points through personal experience in class but I would be interested to see other scholarly sources cited in the article. I appreciate how you bring in the "juvenile masculinity" from Tim's class and apply this concept to help exemplify your argument, it was a great point to bring out.

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  2. Nice job Brian! I also love this show. My mom and I always watch it when its on. You hit it perfectly, Doug is a big clown, while Carrie is stern and holds the fort down. I never really thought about how Arthur grew up in a different time period where the male's were the dominant breadwinner. Its pretty interesting to see him now having to be supported by his daughter. By the way, he's a great addition to the show and cracks me up. This show and other shows like it are seeming to be the new trend in television of juvenile masculinity. Great Blog, and thanks for letting us know "King of Queens" is on youtube, I am about to start watching some old episodes!

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