7th Heaven; Cute Troublemaking

On August 26th, 1996, the show 7th Heaven aired on The WB for the first time. The show was about a family of seven (initially) that lived in Glen Oak, California. Religion was a big part of this show, as the father of the family was a reverend at a local church and seen by his family and the community as a man of wisdom. The premise of the show was essentially how Reverend Camden and his wife Annie raised their kids and helped them through moral and social issues with loving guidance. Issues such as premarital sex, drug and alcohol use, homelessness, bullying, and even menstruation were discussed between family members with the purpose of educating viewers on such topics. The show received a great deal of praise and the Parents Television Council ranked 7th Heaven regularly among the top ten most family-friendly shows. Parentstv.org says that, “While addressing topics such as premarital sex and peer pressure, these parents [Annie and Eric] are eager to provide wise counsel along with love and understanding.”

 7th-heaven40

  (Annie and an older Ruthie)

Obviously, in 1996, I was not watching this show. But I did try to watch it as I grew older. What I find interesting now is that my mother did essentially everything she could to keep my sisters and me from watching it– but my guess is that this is because she started to notice what I was using the show for. When I started watching, I was probably around 9 or 10 years old, but I was definitely too young to care about the troubles associated with drug addictions and premarital sex. I identified most closely with Ruthie, the youngest of the family (at the time). However, instead of learning how to deal with problems that might arise in the typical ten year old’s life, I learned how to create them. Ruthie was about my age, and I took particular interest in her because she was cute. And I don’t mean I thought she was pretty. She, as far as I could tell, could basically get away with murder because she would get in trouble in a “cute” way. As any reasonable ten-year-old would, I took careful mental notes on what Ruthie did that got her attention without getting her in too much trouble. One such example would be an episode where Ruthie crawls under her bed and uses the wall as her easel for keeping a type of painted diary. When the pictures are found, Ruthie is given a talking to and receives a new diary that she can use to draw her pictures, rather than using the wall. Instead of then asking for a notebook or diary form my parents, I saw this as a brilliant way to steal some attention from my older sisters, while also gaining a new notebook or diary! So I did the same thing. Unfortunately, our housekeeper found the drawings the next day and took me upstairs to a) explain myself, and b) make me clean it off… #backfire

While I didn’t realize exactly what was happening, what I saw in 7th Heaven was obviously quite different from what the Parents Television Council saw. Rather than portraying the potential harm that results from rebellion and mischief, 7th Heaven demonstrated to me how I could do these things that were not allowed, and not have any consequences that lasted for more than a few minutes. In other words, I “[drew] upon prefabricated characters and situations of popular culture to make sense of [my] own social experience, reworking them to satisfy [my] own needs and desires” (Griffin 104).

Griffin asks his readers, “did the television Western help keep children contained within the frame of the screen or did it open young viewers to a frontier of possibilities beyond parental control?” (109) While 7th Heaven is obviously not a Western show, it did portray a sort of new frontier to me, introducing to me an entirely different family with different ways of dealing with conflict, and introducing me to new ideas of “cute” trouble making and attracting attention. Essentially, similar to the Westerns mentioned in Griffin’s article that “encouraged roaming over the countryside”, the show that attempted to educate me on the downside of getting in trouble actually encouraged me that the aftermath wasn’t all that bad and that I should roam this “danger zone” for myself.

ruthie

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4 thoughts on “7th Heaven; Cute Troublemaking

  1. So I’m thinking of how prevalent this particular type of character is — basically, she’s a television trope, the cute, precocious, quasi-rebellious youngest child — but also how that force is framed within the narratives of these shows. Whether it’s a drama, like 7th Heaven, or a comedy, like Full House, you’re absolutely correct in your assertion that these little hellions get away with whatever cute trick they play. Is it for laughs? Comic relief? A distraction from the drama? In other words, clearly this young girl isn’t a good role model….the way that the older siblings on the show perhaps would be. Is it okay because children of that age, such as yourself, just weren’t supposed to be watching the show?

  2. I think it’s awesome that you wrote on 7th Heaven! I was going to write about it but couldn’t figure out what to say. I think that the points you make are excellent–I would never have thought to incorporate the idea of the frontier into something about 7th Heaven. I also think it’s interesting that it’s Ruthie that was the crafty one and not SImon who really isn’t that much older. Simon is always shown to be more serious and responsible (Bank of Simon, etc). Would we still have laughed and had the same emotions (ie. “aww Ruthie’s so cute, etc) if Simon had been the crafty one? Or does it work because Ruthie is a girl? Also, if Simon had done something like that, would his punishment have been different because he was a boy?

  3. I immediately thought of Full House when I read this post! While I had a minor Full House obsession, it was my little sister who really started acting like Stephanie in the show—she would repeat lines from the various episodes that she watched and would always said the classic line, “how rude”. Stephanie was always a pretty good kid, and most kids on older programs similar to 7th Heaven, or Full House, or my personal favorite, Growing Pains, showed fairly strong role models compared to television today where the characters seem much more deviant. However, it made me wonder if there is any possibility to refrain from setting a bad example because the characters are usually trying to represent a true and normal person—even in shows like Barney or Caillou instances of mischief occur.

  4. For me this post also reminded me of “Malcolm in the Middle,” debuting in 2000 the show is another update of the modern family unit. The basic premise describes the crazy lives of a family with three boys where the idea of civility and order go out the window. Although I still see a connection with Ruthie on 7th Heaven and Dewey, the youngest on Malcolm in the Middle. Both are the cute young rebels who get away with whatever tricks they play. Part of the reason my family and I watched this show was because of the ridiculousness of the characters and storylines unthinkable in my own life. Yet for me I cached on to the wild nature of the young boys and asked myself whether I was too polite and normal? Instead of seeing my own life as ordinary and civilized, a possible use of the show, I saw the show as a reminder of how unnormal my life was (I didn’t get into big fights with my siblings and I didn’t do pranks).

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