Academic journal article Liminalities

Making Room for the Brady Bunch: The Syndication of Suburban Discomfort

Academic journal article Liminalities

Making Room for the Brady Bunch: The Syndication of Suburban Discomfort

Article excerpt

Introduction

The Brady Bunch, created by Sherwood Schwartz, is an American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) sitcom that aired on Friday nights from 1969 to 1974. The show was not a hit with audiences or critics in its prime time run; it became a popular culture icon only after it went into syndication in 1976. The Brady Bunch found its audience once it began airing on weekdays, during after school hours. It has now has been in continuous syndication in the United States and around the globe for the last four decades. Because of the show's popularity during its lengthy syndication, two generations of audiences share a common afterschool legacy of watching The Brady Bunch. In spite of the show's saccharine storylines and bland representations of early 1970s white, middle class suburbia, the Brady family and their suburban home are deeply rooted in twentieth century popular memory.

The Brady Bunch was dismissed during its prime time run because it was oblivious to the profound social and cultural conflicts of the early 1970s. Four months after the show premiered in 1969, Richard Nixon became president; he resigned from office five months after The Brady Bunch was cancelled. The five years of the Nixon administration was a period of social and political upheavals in the United States and around the world. In syndication, The Brady Bunch earned its iconic status in popular culture precisely because the show masks, domesticates and sugarcoats anxieties about contemporary American life. Much of the pleasure in watching The Brady Bunch is not taking it seriously. "Other members of this generation understand what it means to love The Brady Bunch, " Generation X Mimi Marinucci writes. "It does not mean that we think that the show is good, or least not in any customary sense, and it does not mean that we buy (or bought) into the values it fostered."1 'While fans mockingly adore The Brady Bunch series for its banal attempts to contain modern life, the Brady's home is regarded with some reverence. Four decades of viewers have watched the Brady family live in their ranch style house. It is likely the most familiar suburban home in popular memory; it is so entrenched in popular culture that homeowners and realtors use the term "Brady Bunch house" to reference 1960s1970s suburban homes. The iconic exterior of the Brady's house, a 1959 splitlevel home in the San Fernando Valley, is the most widely recognized home in television history and has been a popular tourist destination for decades. For fans, the home that provided exterior shots for the series, is all that physically remains of the Brady house because the roomy two-story interior and backyard was a stage set that was taken apart after the series ended. The interior of the Brady's home is spacious, modern, and well organized; it is a home fit for a successful upper-middle class architect, like Mike Brady.

Critics have dismissed the series and audiences have lovingly mocked The Brady Bunch because of its obliviousness to public life. To be sure, war, the oil embargo, the energy crisis, Title IX, Roe vs. ~Wade and the ~Watergate scandal never permeated the Brady home, but The Brady Bunch does address private issues concerning the home, domesticity and middle class suburban living. It is easy to undervalue and overlook these issues when we consider The Brady Bunch, in part because the Brady's house is so familiar to us, but The Brady Bunch house is worth our critical attention because four decades of viewers have made themselves at home there. By uncovering the ways the Brady's navigate their home, my aim is to bring to light how The Brady Bunch has contributed to our popular understanding of what it means to live in a suburban house.

Rather than investigating how architects and planners imagined suburban life, historian Annemarie Adams suggests that if we want to understand how people experienced postwar suburban homes, scholars must investigate, describe, and interpret the practices of the people that actually lived in them. …

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