Friday, February 28, 2014

Shameless: Defying Television Stereotypes

Left to right: Debbie, Fiona,
Frank, Lip, Carl, Ian, Liam
An alcoholic father, a bipolar drug addict mother, and living in an impoverished neighborhood on the south side of Chicago is not the ideal way for six children to grow up, yet the Gallagher family manages.  The Showtime series Shameless shows struggles that most comedy-drama television shows would not dare to address, like not knowing where the next meal is coming from, or if they are going to be able to afford their home.  The series gives the word shameless a new meaning by peering into the personal lives of the Gallagher family and how sexuality, race, gender and class resist dominant television stereotypes.

The Gallaghers have no shame and live with no rules.  They are crude and rude and don’t care.  Even the opening credits to the series show each character in the bathroom, which is one of the most private rooms in a house.  Their mother, Monica, is only in the series for seven episodes and is never a positive role model, and Frank, their father, is always drunk and typically passed out somewhere around the city.  The children rely on each other to support their family.  All the children except for the baby, Liam, have a job so they can save money to make it through the year.  Laws are more of guidelines to this family.  Karl is ten and will causally drink a beer.  Fiona the eldest dates a guy that steals expensive cars, and no one has a problem with stealing food if it will benefit the family.  They are nothing like the typical American family shown in television shows.

 Opening Credits

Shameless portrays a new kind of poverty.  “The Gallaghers are a level of poor we’ve never been exposed to before on the small screen.  We’re talking steal-from-UNICEF, con-Social-Security-to-get-a-dead-aunt’s-money levels of poor.  It’s not blue collar; it’s no collar” (Ektin, '”Shameless': Poverty Gets The TV Treatment, But What Message Does It Send?”).  The series takes place on the south side of Chicago in an already rundown neighborhood.  None of the Gallagher’s have a consistent job, but they somehow manage to make it, even if they have to beg, lie or steal.  Throughout the summer all of the children work and save money so they have enough cash to make it through the winter months when everyone goes back to school.  They do not have a car, health insurance, new clothes, or emergency money in case something goes wrong.  When their water heater breaks, Lip and Ian, the two older boys, have to steal one from their dead neighbor's house.  During one of the episodes Frank and Monica find the kids' “Squirrel fund,” which is the kids' money they save for winter.  Instead of leaving the money alone because it is not theirs, Monica and Frank decide to buy cocaine and spend the money as fast as possible.  The Gallaghers come from an impoverished family but find a way to stay out of foster care and still be their own version of a family.

Mickey & Ian
Ian Gallagher is the third eldest child.  At seventeen years old he is struggling with being a teenage boy and his hidden sexuality, until his brother Lip finds a magazine stuffed behind the dresser in their bedroom.  When Lip finds it, he does not know how to react and decides to confront Ian, who later comes out to their older sister Fiona.  Ian works at a convenience store and has a secret relationship with his boss who is married to a woman and has two children.  This continues until his boss’s wife finds out and forces them to stop.  During this time Ian hooks up with the neighborhood bully, Mickey Milkovich.  Mickey continuously picks on Ian and neglects to admit his feelings for him.  He is known as a tough guy and refuses to accept anything else.  Mickey fights with himself about his feelings towards Ian. And will not show any affection towards him.  When Mickey’s dad walks in on him and Ian, he beats both of them bloody.  He makes Mickey have sex with a hooker saying, “she’s going to fuck the faggot out of you, kid” and he forces Ian to watch.  Most television shows about teenage boys show the awkward stages of going through puberty and starting their first heterosexual relationships.  In shows like Modern Family and Will & Grace, the gay characters are adults and mostly flamboyant.  Shameless is one of the only series that shows a teenager struggling with his sexuality.  Ian prefers to keep his sexuality hidden from most people, and he tries to over compensate by being more masculine.  He wants to join the military, and the few times he gets into physical fights with Lip, he has to prove that he is the stronger one. 

Fiona is the oldest Gallagher and she is the most responsible one.  She took on the “mother” role when her mom left.  She dropped out of school and got a job so she could help support her family.  She watches over her siblings like they are her own children, and in the third season Fiona gains custody of all five of her younger siblings because her parents are unfit.  They “believe being poor together is better than living comfortable yet separated lives with different foster parents” (Rochlin, “The Family That Frays Together”).  Shameless portrays the strong ties of a family that is living the rough life without real parents and lacking consistent money.  They aren’t’ the average American family, the youngest, Liam is black even though both his parents are white.  Liam’s race is only brought up when Monica tries to take custody of him with her new lover Roberta.  The children have love and an older sister that does all she can to watch over and care for them. 

The Gallaghers are not a typical family depicted on television.  They do not have a nice home or live in a good neighborhood.  Their parents are absent most of the time, one brother is gay, and another is black.  They defy the stereotypical families shown on television.  They are nothing like the Dunphys from Modern Family or the Matthews family from Boy Meets World.  Sex, drugs, and alcohol are introduced into their lives at a young age, as well as poverty and misfortune.  Shameless showcases sexuality, race, gender, and class in a way television has never seen before.

Etkin, Jaimie. "'Shameless': Poverty Gets The TV Treatment, But What Message Does It Send?" The Huffington Post., 05 Sept. 2012. Web. 27 Feb.2014.

"Photo Gallery." IMDb., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.

Rochlin, Margy. "The Family That Frays Together." The New York Times. The New York Times, 01 Jan. 2011. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

"Shameless US Opening Credits." YouTube. YouTube, 10 May 2011. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.

Is the Controversy Surrounding Certain American Horror Story Themes Warranted?

            American Horror Story is notorious for bending the rules when it comes to network television. For the past three seasons it has dealt with some pretty extreme controversial issues. These issues include abortion, rape, homosexuality, racism, incest, etc. But have there been some instances where the show has gone too far? One scene in particular that has drawn a lot of attention was the mass school shooting that took place in the first season. While many lack the ability to take this show very seriously, it should be expected that some of the content would draw from real life horrors. The horror and controversy surrounding this particular scene is unwarranted, considering the themes of the entire show in general.

Season one of American Horror story, known as the “Murder House” season, revolves around a broken family. An unfaithful husband, a distrustful wife, and their depressed teenage daughter, Violet, all get to face their issues in a house filled with the ghosts of those who died there. Totally oblivious to the fact that these people are dead, Violet finds solace in one of these lost souls. She befriends Tate, a boy known only to her as one of her father’s patients. He seems a little “off” right from the very start, a trait that attracts Violet to him in the first place. There is always mystery surrounding Tate, and it’s not until the episode titled “Piggy Piggy” is his past is unveiled. 

This is where the controversy begins. It is revealed that Tate was the culprit behind a mass shooting at Violet’s high school in 1994. The episode opens with a scene of terrified high school kids trapped and hiding in the schools library. What comes next is the image of Tate entering the library and subsequently picking off each of the kids one by one with a shotgun. It never actually shows the kids being shot, but the effect is horrifying nonetheless.

It is a common notion among critics that the show shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Each episode has so much going on that it’s hard to get bored, even if the elements of horror have been borrowed from classic and somewhat overused haunted house themes. Robert Bianco of USA Today, like many other critics, takes on the mindset that most of the time the show is laughable. “As with so many stories that are held at a constant rolling boil, the excess quickly becomes funny rather than frightening” (Bianco).

The realistic nature of the content was simply unexpected. The crazy, supernatural, and ridiculous nature of most of the show doesn’t coincide with the portrayals of more realistic human suffering. Many regard the show’s value as merely for entertainment purposes, not the place for real life issues. Columnist James Poniewozik for Time reflects this notion when he states that it is, “a disorganized, unbelievable mess, [but] it’s often disorganized and unbelievable in an interesting way”. This particular scene crossed the supposed “line” that the show has drawn for itself simply because it was believable and hit so close to home in regards to how the American society sees this issue.

Columnist Richard Lawson makes this opinion clear in his criticism of American Horror Story. He claims the show, supposedly meant to be terrifying, is actually quite amusing and should not involve serious content because of that fact. He states that, “obviously everything on the show, if done in real life, is insanely terrible -- maybe a viewer somewhere knew a man who had his neck snapped while drowning in an apple-bobbing tub and was gravely offended when the show did that -- but this particular set piece seemed so deliberately exact. There was a particular event, or events, that they were trying to directly evoke and that's just cruel”.

But is this scene so much more outrageous than everything else going on in the show? Many other aspects of American Horror Story are far from unrealistic. Does Lawson truly believe that things like rape and suicide are not realistic and tragic true-life events? The only difference between the mass shooting image and the other issues is that the former is highly publicized in our media while the latter is not. Suicide and rape are much more prevalent in American lives than mass school shootings. While still terribly tragic, American media has placed a far bigger taboo on school shootings than on suicide or rape epidemics. This seems to me the main reason why this shooting scene horrified viewers much more strongly than the images suicide and rape. This seems to be more of a societal flaw than a particular flaw of the show itself.

In essence, American Horror Story is simply a television show, and like any television show, it is going to draw from the cultural surroundings of its time. It embraces the fact that it is always a stir for controversy, even though many can recognize the familiar tried and true horror themes. Any number of these themes can be deemed as crossing the line. It all mostly depends on what is culturally relevant at the time, and what the media deems worthy of recognition. 

Bianco, Robert. “American Horror Story: Scarily Scatterbrained." USA Today, 4 Oct. 2011. Web.
Lawson, Richard. "'American Horror Story' Goes Too Far." The Wire. The Wire, 10 Nov. 2011. Web.
Poniewozik, James. "TV Tonight: American Horror Story." Time Entertainment. Time, 5 Oct. 2011. 

Play and Watch The Simpsons– Smartphone Game as an Innovative Way of Promoting the TV Show

Doughnut is quite overpriced, but...
As one of The Simpsons fans, finding new stuffs related to this TV show always make me excited. I even loved to drink banana flavored milk with the illustration of Bart when I was in the South Korea. This excitement reached the peak when I visited the Universal Studio in Orlando this winter break. In the Universal Studio, there is Springfield, USA that embodied village appeared in the Simpsons. Even though I paid an overpriced ticket for this theme park, I literally forgot everything and obsessed with looking around everything that appeared in the ‘Springfield USA’. I bought the pink doughnut that Homer always loves in every episode, and took a photo with the chief Wiggum. After coming back to the Iowa City, I checked my bank account status, then just screamed with saying, “Oh gosh, it made me spend the money like water!” This multiple experience on one TV show does not only apply to my case. Starting from the Weddings of a Lifetime in late 20th Century, it is an ongoing trend that TV show and related byproduct appeared in both on-screen and off-the-screen, for maximizing their profit and making synergy effects. On behalf of that, Smartphone game that is co-developed by the EA Mobile, Fox Digital Entertainment and Gracie Films, The Simpsons: Tapped Out did not only make the profit as a game, but also used as a tool to promote the TV show The Simpsons. This attempt didn’t end in the case of The Simpsons, but become a great example of how media companies try to promote their product - especially TV shows - in diverse ways. 
Before we talked about The Simpsons case, knowing about the former case of synergy effect will be helpful to understand The Simpsons’. TV show Weddings of a Lifetime is one of the great examples that showed TV Show's synergy effect with byproduct. As Levine mentioned, the audience of this TV show is young to middle-aged women and Lifetime considered it as a marketing strategy during the Weddings of a Lifetime (p. 77). Lifetime helps Disney to promote products that are heavily related to women in that age through the Weddings of a Lifetime. Promoted products included Walt Disney World, their cruise vacation and even pricy fairy tale styled wedding package (Levine, p. 72). Even though there are no exact statistic data about the effect of this promotion method, their attempted strategy is more effective than promoting the related product to the general audience because this is more focused and headed to the niche audience who really wants specific products that is advertised.
When we look through The Simpsons Tapped Out game with considering the case of Weddings of a Lifetime, it is obvious that EA, Fox and Gracie Films are trying to promote the TV show The Simpsons via this Smartphone game. It is true that the difference between Tapped Out and other social games is hard to find at the first glimpse because of the same basic structures like an in-app purchase. Of course, they make the profit by selling the premium characters and decorations, too, and the results are even pretty impressive. According to the Jordan (2014), The Simpsons: Tapped Out made $130 million in lifetime revenue with “hitting a record level of daily active users” and helped EA Mobile to boost their sales. But other than that, what Tapped Out make different to other social games is its long history and reputation of the original story. Tapped Out was created based on the TV show The Simpsons, which is a famous TV show that lasts 25 seasons until 1989, which means that its story and character is quite well known, and the majority of users of the Tapped Out is the fan of The Simpsons. If not, users will familiar to The Simpsons and its character at least. Like Lifetime knows about their audience’s demographic and used it as a benefit to promote related products, these companies who developed the Tapped Out know about their audience; Users have interests in the TV show The Simpsons (or know about The Simpsons at least), which means promoting the TV show The Simpsons would be perfectly matched to the Users of Tapped Out. Compared to the TV show Weddings of a Lifetime example, Tapped Out took a role as a Weddings of a Lifetime itself. Like Weddings of a Lifetime promotes Disney products through constant exposure, Tapped out encourages people to watch the TV show The Simpsons more by repeating the episode that was aired a few years ago via events, or embodying the detailed decorations that appeared on the Simpsons episode, from house to newspaper dispenser.
Oscar's Truck in the episode 'Yellow Subterfuge' (Season 25, 7th episode, Originally aired December 8, 2013)
Truck as a Decoration
@ Tapped Out
What is more, there are 2 episodes in the Season 25 that the developers of the Tapped Out explicitly tried to promote the specific episode, which shows the developer’s intention of promoting The Simpsons with the aid of Tapped Out. For example, after the updates of the Tapped Out are made on December 4, 2013, new events named ‘Clandestine Nerd’ appeared on the screen. Divided in 3 parts, conversations between Lisa and Skinner leak the part of the new episode. However, the game doesn’t reveal the whole episodes, but gave a message instead ‘Uncover all the answers on Sunday’s episodes of the Simpsons8/7 c on Fox! Or on your DVR any time afterwards!’ with giving free decoration that also relates to the episode. A few days after the update (December 8, 2013), episode named ‘Yellow Subterfuge’ aired on the Fox, with revealing the whole things that were concealed in the game. Of course, a decoration that was given as a reward in the game also appeared on the real episode. 
As we can see in the example of the 'Clandestine Nerd' events on the Tapped Out, it shows the developers intents on users through the game. Like the Weddings of a Lifetime become a tool to promote Disney's products throughout the whole episodes, The Simpson: Tapped Out started to work as a promoting tool to boost the viewing rates of The Simpsons. It is not sure that EA, Gracie Films and Fox keep using this strategy or not. But one evident thing that we can conclude is, that Tapped Out is not just a game for making extra money and media companies kept trying to expand their tools for promoting the TV show as much as they can, like Tapped Out did.


Jordan, Jon. "EA Mobile Sees Q3 FY14 Sales up 13% to $97 Million." Steel Media Limited, 29 Jan. 2014. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.
Levine, Elana. "Fractured Fairy Tales and Fragmented Markets: Disney's Weddings of a Lifetime and the Cultural Politics of Media Conglomeration." Television & New Media 6.1 (2005): 71-88. Print.
"Yellow Subterfuge." The Simpsons. Fox. 8 Dec. 2013. Television.

By Yongsoo Gweon

Women in Power: A deeper look at the women of Grey’s Anatomy

Shonda Rhimes, a very well known television writer and producer that has created a number of popular television shows in the past decade including Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and Scandal writes her shows with one common characteristic, a female lead role. Not only do these television shows have women as their lead characters, but Rhimes purposely positions her female characters in roles that portray women to be powerful and successful in the workplace. You might be reading this expecting another feminist based essay which blames men for the reasons we don’t typically see women in power. Wrong! This is not that kind of essay.

Instead, this essay will focus on the ways female characters with well-respected, high profile professions on television often become trivialized and represented as being unable to balance both their professional life and their personal life. To make this clearer, I will attempt to use Rhime’s famous production of Grey’s Anatomy and its female characters as examples in order for you to fully grasp the concept of the typical female stereotypical plotline that involves choosing between their career or three reoccurring issues:  a family, their happiness, and most commonly, love.
In an Oprah interview with Rhimes a year after the pilot released for Grey’s Anatomy, Rhimes explained why she developed her female roles into multifaceted characters, “I wanted to create a world in which you felt as if you were watching very real women. Most of the women I saw on TV didn’t seem like people I actually knew. They felt like ideas of what women are. They never got to be nasty or competitive or hungry or angry. They were often just the loving wife or the nice friend. But who gets to be the bitch? Who gets to be the three-dimensional woman?” (Rhimes, 2006).  And that’s exactly what she does with her shows. Shonda Rhimes mentions how she made sure that her female characters were able to have a family, happiness, and a love life—all because IT IS happening in the real world.

          Ellis Grey a character on Grey’s Anatomy is a legendary former surgeon at Seattle Grace Hospital and also happens to be Meredith’s mother with Alzheimer’s disease. Ellis plays a significant role as being the stereotypical “too busy for a family” female surgeon. Because of Ellis’s actions, Meredith grows up basically without a mother that was there to care for her, due to the fact that she was too busy at the hospital pursuing her career. Knowing this, Meredith does everything she can to be a great mother once she adopts her first child Zola. Meredith is not the only female surgeon that has children, Dr. Miranda Bailey who also happens to be the chief of surgery has a son, and later on in the seasons two more women surgeons have children, which only emphasizes the certainty that women in successful careers can have both their career and a family to come home to.
Dr. Bailey is one of the primary characters that exhibit the emotionless, heartless, cold personality that is necessary for women in authoritative positions. When we are first introduced to Dr. Bailey, she scares the interns so much that she earns herself the nickname of “the Nazi”. Throughout the show, Dr. Bailey begins to know her interns well, which in turn creates a sense of mutual respect and additionally developed a soft spot for them in Dr. Bailey. In the clip below, Dr. Bailey breaks down for one of the first times in a professional setting. 

What this short clip exemplifies is the possibility for women in high authoritative positions to let their guard down once in awhile, and that it should be considered okay rather than not normal.

The final storyline that is often utilized in relation to female lead roles concerns the belief that women need to choose between love and their career. Meredith Grey is an example of a female character that is able to balance her career and love life with her boyfriend Derek almost equally. In fact, at a point in the show, Meredith demands that Derek gives her the same attention as the other doctors in her class, in hopes to keep the atmosphere as professional as possible while staying involved in her romantic relationship. Rather than punishing her for her choices or ignoring her wishes, Derek respects her choice and keeps his space in order for them to continue their relationship. This is much different than the stereotypical television falling in love phenomena. Critic and writer Elena Levine, comments on how the female characters overcome obstacles of love in their personal lives by stating, “The active and satisfying sexual and romantic lives of these characters challenge the postfeminist assumption that career and interpersonal happiness are either incompatible or that they require super-woman perfection. The female characters of Grey’s are flawed, best with troubles, and frequently unhappy, but their work as surgeons is never represented as a mistake or even as a particularly costly choice. It defines them and makes them proud, another nod to daytime soap opera, with its accomplished career women who suffer unrelated personal travails” (Levine, p. 141-142, 2013).

It is very evident that Shonda Rhimes tries to make her shows as close to real life as possible. Rhimes’s female characters do not let men manipulate or ruin any aspect of their lives, just as it should be with women in the real world. Writer and critic Marcia Reynolds, states it perfectly in her new book Wander Woman, by stating “More than ever, women are making their own career choices and setting the terms for what they call success. If someone tries to keep them from getting what they want, they feel motivated to try even harder to prove they can succeed” (2010).

Whether you enjoy Grey’s Anatomy or agree with Rhimes’s reasoning behind her plentiful female cast or not, the fact that her passion to create quality television that frees itself from the typical female stereotypical plotlines is indisputable. Being a huge fan of Rhimes’s work, I cannot wait to see what new creation she is waiting to surprise us with in the near future. 

Works Cited

Reynolds, M. (2010). Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers

Corn, R. (Director). (2010, May 20). Death and All His Friends [Television series episode]. In S. Rhimes (Producer), Grey’s Anatomy.

Thompson, E. (2013). How to watch television. New York, NY: NYU Press.

Winfrey, O. (2006). “Oprah Talks to Shonda Rhimes”. O, The Oprah Magazine. Harpo Productions, Inc.