Academic journal article Film & History

Reading Desperate Housewives: Beyond the White Picket Fence

Academic journal article Film & History

Reading Desperate Housewives: Beyond the White Picket Fence

Article excerpt

READING DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES: BEYOND THE WHITE PICKET FENCE. Janet McCabe and Kim Akass, editors. Tauris, 2006. 246 pages; $15.95.


Even before it hit the small screen, ABC's Desperate Housewives (2004) courted controversy. The evening soap opera, focusing on the lives of four suburban women after the suicide of their neighbor and friend Mary Alice Young (Brenda Strong), delves into the lurid secrets lurking just under the neatly manicured surface of the protagonists' lives.

Reading Desperate Housewives: Beyond the White Picket Fence edited by Janet McCabe and Kim Akass is the latest addition to LB. Tauris' Contemporary Television Series. McCabe and Akass serve as editors and have overseen other volumes including Reading Sex and the City (2004) and Reading the L Word: Outing Contemporary Television (2006). The essays anthologized in Reading Desperate Housewives include writings from scholars and journalists whose contributions range from a transcript of an imagined recording of George W. Bush's comments on an episode to more traditional academic pieces.

The introduction provides a brief history of the creator, Marc Cherry, and the environment at ABC, summarizing some of the reactions characterized as "a pop culture phenomenon" (1). The book is divided into four sections: "Culture," "Sexual Politics," "Genre, Gender and Cultural Myths," and "Narrative, Confession, and Intimacy." Much of the writing focuses on the feminist or antifeminist, or post-feminist, or post-post-feminist, or post-post-post-feminist politics of the show and its depiction of suburbanites.

In the "Culture" section, David Lavery comments on conservative Americans' reactions to the show through the aforementioned satirical transcript, Rosalind Coward argues the show's popularity stems from its playful representation of emotional reality and its ability to tap into the cultural Zeitgeist, Ashley Sayeau weighs in on the series' "flimsy feminism" (42), and Kim Akass posits that the women of Wisteria Lane may be suffering from the same quiet desperation that plagued housewives of Betty Friedan's generation. Among these, Lavery's innovative bit of social political satire stands out.

While the essay may not age well, the nature of the book series is to produce sharp, timely responses to current television programs, and it is certainly that. "Sexual Politics," the second section of Reading Desperate Housewives includes Samuel A. Chambers' essay on the show's subversive sexual politics, Janet McCabe's confession that she is drawn to Bree Van de Kamp (Marcia Cross) despite the character's embodiment of "normalizing images of femininity" (75), Niall Richardson's reading of the show (particularly the character of Bree) as post-feminist camp, ! …

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