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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

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Family, Ideologies, and Television Viewing

Thinking about Fuller House.

January 4, 2017
 
 

Over the holiday break, the children and I binged watched Fuller House on Netflix. Since I had seen all the Full House episodes on television when I was a child, I was curious to dive into two seasons of this new, updated version. After watching the new series, I think it presents a nice opportunity to compare how television represented caregiving in the late 1980s to today.

Full House was set in a period when popular media was exploring the idea of men taking on more responsibilities at home. A few years before, the movie Mr. Mom played the idea of a father staying at home while his wife worked as a comedy. A few years later (the same year as the premiere of Full House), Three Men and a Baby featured three bachelors forced to suddenly care for an infant.

As women worked outside the home in greater numbers, popular media began asking who would raise the children by imagining worlds where woman didn’t exist.  Much of the humor of Full House rested on the incompetency of the men not knowing how to care for the children. The pilot episode showed Joey and Jesse completely unable to change a diaper. The show found laughs in the men having to deal with what had been, up to that point, exclusively women’s problems. One of my favorite early episodes is when Jesse and Joey have to make a big corporate presentation but need to watch baby Michelle at the same time. The show tackles head-on the real problem of who will watch the children when everyone is working.

Some fans have made the case that Full House successfully demonstrated a loving male-driven household, perhaps unconsciously paving the way for gay dads on future television programs. Full House even made it on a list of “TV’s 8 Most Unintentional Gay Dads.” At the same time, Becky joined the Full House cast in the second season and often provided the “girl talk” and womanly perspective that the show implied is needed for raising three young girls.

The new Fuller House finds its humor from a different place than its namesake. Now, two of the Fuller children, DJ and Stephanie, and their best friend Kimmie, are fully-grown women and have reclaimed the household. Rarely are jokes made about the incompetency of the women’s childcare skills. The show respects the ideology that women are naturally adept at caregiving. Even Stephanie, who has the least experience with children, is shown to be able to easily step into a caregiving role.

In fact, an early episode offers the audience a reason for why Stephanie doesn’t have a family of her own (SPOILER ALERT): she’s suffering from infertility. Since the plot of the episode had no reason for this to be explained to us, it seems like the show is reassuring the audience why a woman does not have children. In the older show, Joey’s not having his own family was not explained or justified, but Stephanie is presented as not choosing a child-free life but being saddled with it.

Many episodes of Fuller House show the women expressing their sexuality. A running joke is the wolf howl the three single women do, even bringing in Kimmie’s daughter after her first kiss. The humor here seems to be derived from juxtaposing motherhood with sexuality. Just like the “Becky” character, Kimmie’s fiancé Fernando is included to provide a male perspective, which is supplied by his extreme masculinity (he’s a race car driver, to start). Apparently, all-female households are just as risky as all-male ones.

While my children may enjoy watching a show about family antics (there IS a cute dog, by the way), I’m watching the typical ideologies of family caregiving. Men are bumbling, women are natural caregivers, sexuality and motherhood are either incompatible or funny to watch, and same-sex households must be balanced with the opposing gender. Neither show from either decade explores the true challenges and awkwardness of burgeoning sexuality, such as a first period or bodily changes. Neither show entertains the idea of choosing not to have children of one’s own.

If you have seen either or both of these shows, what do you think?

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