Media and My Mother

I ended up interviewing my mother. She’ll be turning 52 in March so she’s on the younger end of the spectrum of potential people to talk to. My mother grew up Southern California. Her father was a long term high school english teacher and her mother was a nurse. I first asked her first about the shows she watched and looked forward to. She focused mostly on the media she used in her teenage years. She would watch The Brady Bunch with her sister and It Takes a Theif with Robert Wagner by herself.  The Brady Bunch focuses on the blending of Mike and his three sons and Carol aThe Brady Bunch             It Takes a Theif   and her three daughters into one family. The blending of the two families is clearly illustrated through the opening sequence and the episodes focus on the adjustment of the new family and the kids growing up. The show however clearly has girls and boys in clearly defined roles. Although in numbers the show achieves an even balance between male and female the different roles are definitely stereotyped through interests, desires and activities. It Takes a Thief stars Robert Wagner as Alexander Mundy, a thief who is now stealing for the US government. I was unfamiliar with the show so I looked it up on Wikipedia to get an idea of the premise. My mum says that she found the show exciting and that Robert Wagner as handsome. Gauntlett cites a study which says that in the mid 1970s “there were nearly equal porportions of men and women on situation comedies –  although of course the gender roles and humour could still be traditional and sexist, despite this statistical parity – whereas in action adventure show, only 15% of the leading roles were women.” (47) The two shows that my mom watched seem to represent this statistic well.  She also remembers watching Little house on the Prairie, Happy Days, The Walton’sThe Dian Shore Show when she came back from school, and being forced to watch The Lawrence Welk Show with her grandmother. star-trekShe remembers watching Star Trek together as a family. She remember how it was at first on the 6 in screen and then later on the ‘huge’ 12 in screen. When I asked her more specifically about gender roles on television she sited her thoughts in reference to Star Trek. My mother said “In most of the television series of my youth had very traditional genders roles and I think I probably identified more with the male characters say in star trek than with the female ones, I mean Ohura doesn’t do anything where’s the fun in that!” My mother’s description parallels Gauntlett who writes”those women who were shown to be working were portrayed as ‘incompetents and inferiors’, as victims, or having trivial interests” (Gauntlett 48). Although Ohura appears in the show she really doesn’t do that much in the show, her part is not nearly as exciting. In general although she watched all of these show my mum says that she wasn’t generally allowed to watch much television. On Saturday nights she wasn’t allowed to stay up late enough to watch Saturday Night Live and then on Monday was left not knowing what everyone was talking about. My mother writes that missing out on this ‘blighted her life.” Her parent were generally pretty strict and would never have gone for buying anything as “frivolous or silly” as items with media characters on them. The one thing she remembers that may have been a fan item was the new tin lunch box she and her sister where allowed to get at the  beginning of each school year. Even in high school when she was making her own money my mum remembers buying makeup and clothes but not an fan items. She comments that even in high school she had people asking her if she had grown up in the US.

Since she wasn’t allowed to watch much tv my mum’s main source of entertainment and media was books. I have always heard this from her. One of her favorite anecdotes is about how she would get in trouble for literally bring her book around with her everywhere and constantly reading it. One her her favorites was harlequin romance novels. Her friend Susan and here shared a subscription where each month they would get 8 new ones and they would swap when they finished one. She writes “I cannot really comment on why these were so addictive for so long, middle school through high school but they were, the plot line is virtually identical in each. I just read them constantly, to my father and mothers’ disgust. Needless to say if you have ever read anyone one of them the Male was always dashing and good looking in a ruggedly handsome way, the woman though of strong moral character was almost always physically weak and in need of rescue. I think that they were just very reassuring to me, rather like that there is someone for everyone. The very predictability could let me zone out away from life.” Her engagement in these novels reminded me of Adorno’s theory regarding popular media. Although they were all the same she took comfort and enjoyment out of them. Although perhaps obvious, these novels have clearly delineated gender roles in them and the gender role form the mold that each novel conforms too.

Balancing out this obsession was the amount of news and magazines that her entire family reads. Every morning they would read the LA Times for at least half an hour even on school days. Additionally her family got copies of  Harper’s, a literary magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Scientific American, Nature and Science, Sunset all of which she read in entirety. Additionally she would listen to NPR and “All Things Considered” in the afternoons with her parents. The amount of time spent engaging in these ‘useful’ or ‘educational’ types of media far outweighed her engagement in television of much other popular teenage girl media. I asked her about more popular magazines such as Gaunlett talks about being a major part of girl teen culture and although she notes that she would buy a copy of Cosmopolitan from time to time she never had a subscritption. She comments that “So many things were more parent controlled then and any sort of fashion magazine would have been considered the height of frivolity and uselessness to my parents.” Which is not at all surprising knowing my grandparents.

My final question was just whether or not she remembers thinking anything regarding the gender roles in media. She remember identifying with or looking up to the male character more than the female since they were doing what was exciting or fun however it seems that strong set gender roles gave her a sense of comfort and assurance such as in the romance novels. She writes “Life on TV as far as male female roles pretty much mirrored the lives of most of my friends as far as I knew. For all my own mothers intelligence and academic achievement they had very traditional gender roles.” My Grandmother, my mum’s mother attending Stanford, where she met my grandfather. They got married and graduated around the same time.Although my grandmother worked it was in a role that was traditionally female, a nurse while my grandfather was the teacher. My mum recalled being puzzled when she got to college and her friend Susan was riled up that there were not female or people of color on the reading list. Since the gender roles where so engrained in the culture in which my mum grew up the representations on television seemed if nothing else accurate. From the media she engaged with she was able to learn, escape the world, and find a sense of hope for the future.



2 thoughts on “Media and My Mother

  1. I feel like after my interview and reading this one, it seems as though the way people view media has a lot to do with their family, background, and personal history. My aunt for example, seemed very negative about the media. Whereas your mom, seems to be more positive and open to the idea. I really liked this interview because it was deeper than the stereotypical gender portrayals. I think a lot of times people already have this idea of what the media does and in my interview, I felt maybe she just stated the stereotypes rather than thinking more in depth. She also didn’t watch a lot of television which leads me to believe that her answers were very limited!

  2. Sara, I loved that you talked a bunch about the other media objects that were in the house — (magazines, NPR, etc). I loved the New Kids on the Block, sure, but I was probably more heavily influenced by listening to NPR with my parents for an hour on the way home from school…and reading Entertainment Weekly cover to cover, not because I bought it, but because we had a subscription. Great interview!

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