Category Archives: TV Show Reviews

Discussion of Marxist Theory and Emotional Labor in Gilmore Girls

“Karl Marx has come alive for me today…”

Paris Geller

As a sociology professor, I have to say I loved the episode of Gilmore Girls calledWe’ve Got Magic to Do” in Season 6. Since Netflix released all of the seasons, I’ve been tearing through them quickly, as I missed the show when it was first on. It’s a fabulous show for discussing both gender and social class politics with a dash of commentary on race and ethnicity.

The core interpersonal conflict of the show is between Lorelai Gilmore and her wealthy parents, Emily and Richard Gilmore. Years prior to the beginning of the show, sixteen year-old Lorelai rejected and fled from her parents upper class life with her newborn, Rory. When the show begins, Rory is the same age as her mother when she ran away. Rory aspires to attend Harvard.  Lorelai, who is managing a successful inn, requests help from her estranged parents to help pay for Rory attend a prestigious, private, prep school.

Rory attends the school and winds up attending Yale, her grandfather’s alma mater, instead of Harvard.  When at private school, she meets Paris Geller, an intense, wealthy, young woman.  Over time, one learns that Paris rarely sees her parents at all, and she is essentially raised by her Portugese nanny, whom she loves. While attending Yale, there is a point where wealthy Paris losses everything due to her parents committing tax evasion.  Rory, who is running a benefit for the Daughters of the American Revolution, offers her a job to help. The theme is a United Service Organization event, explaining the setting and the costumes.  Paris works as a server, and she explains and supports Marxism in this short scene.  Her sudden fall though the social classes allows her to move past some of her social class privilege to understand and identify with the workers. This scene would be great to supplement a discussion on Marxism in an intro class. Paris notes that it isn’t right that the wealthy become rich off the backs of the laborers. Near the end of the clip, she asks how much Rory is getting paid to do this and speculates that Rory gets to eat in a separate place from the other workers.

Rory is also having social class related woes due to her boyfriend being from an extremely powerful and wealthy newspaper family.  In the past, his mother rejected Rory as not good enough to date her son due to Rory’s family and “lower” status. Therefore, when his mother arrives to the function late, she expects good treatment, despite not RSVPing. Rory is frustrated that her boyfriend’s mother can just waltz in, and she yells in the kitchen that she hates her.  In the end, though, Rory performs emotional labor and provides the wealthy woman with a table.  This makes several great points: (1) the rich aren’t subject to the same rules or laws, (2) working class and middle class people have to manage their emotions when it is clear that the wealthy do not have to do the same labor, and (3) the back-stage is a safer place for workers to discuss their ire towards the wealthier patrons who dehumanize hem. This episode illustrates Goffman’s dramaturgical analysis quite well, in addition to Hochschild’s emotional labor.  Finally, Rory minimizes her experiences at the end of the clip saying that she’s just hungry.  This takes an individual analysis of the situation, as opposed to the structural analysis that Paris takes. This invalidation of Rory’s feelings is disturbing, and it relates to the idea that emotional labor may come at a high cost for workers including alienation.

The entire episode would be great for a discussion in a sociology class about topics like social class, capital, alienation, commodity fetishism, prestige, Karl Marx, the means of production, the proletariat, the power elite, Marxist revolution, etc. I might analyze the series more fully later, as there are many scenes and episodes dealing with inequality.


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In-groups, Out-groups, and Socialization in “Belle and Sebastian,” My Favorite 1980s Cartoon

While I enjoyed kindergarten, I longed to return home in the afternoons to watch the anime, Belle and Sebastian. It aired in the U.S. in 1984 on Nickelodeon, although the series originally aired in Japan during 1981. As a six year old, I identified with the problems that Sebastian faced: coping with bullies, longing for friendship, and a thirst for adventure. Sebastian travels over the Pyrenees Mountains from France to Spain to find his biological mother, as well as to help Belle, the maligned Great Pyrenees, survive. As a girl, I wondered if I’d ever get the chance to travel the world, meet new people, and see new places. I even loved the bread and cheese that Sebastian often ate, starting a life long love of cheese. (As a vegan now, I stick to plant based cheeses.) The show inspired my imagination, and I often thought of short plays based on it, even when I was an older child. Mom recorded all of the episodes for me on VHS, and over the years, I watched the show when I was home sick. The show comforted me.

I’ve used the show (and other cartoons) occasionally in my classes as an example of how media is an important agent of socialization. Agents of socialization teach us our culture, including norms and values. Belle and Sebastian taught me about being a good friend, defending those who might have less power than you, and being wary of those in authority.  Authority figures are not always correct, and it’s important to think for yourself.  In fact, I’ve been thinking a great deal about how I remember the show portraying violence.  Often, the adults using violence did not give the benefit of the doubt.  The show emphasized avoiding the abuse of power.

I rewatched the first episode recently, and I realized that the show illustrates concepts like in-groups and out-groups.  In the first episode, Sebastian is being bullied by the other boys.  They were from the village; whereas, he was from a farm.  People make fun of Sebastian because he doesn’t have a mother; he was different, in other words.  Belle, the dog, is in a similar situation.  People are afraid of her so they assume that she is harmful.  In fact, the humans, with their guns, are actually much more dangerous than Belle is. Yet, they perceive themselves as protecting their community from a menace. Sebastian meets Belle and because he isn’t predisposed to be afraid of her, he develops a friendship with her.

This reminds me a bit of the stigma attached to dog breeds in the U.S. today like pit bulls and german shepherds.  From this Salon article, “pit bulls are the most frequently abused, tortured, abandoned, and euthanized bred of dog in the United States…Because of their stigma, they’re often difficult to adopt out; a ride to the shelter is almost always a one-way trip for pities.”  The article mentions how pit bulls were actually used as nannies for children in the past and this discussion gets at the social construction of beliefs surrounding dog breeds and their meaning in society.  “The media seems to feed off the idea of monster dogs—it makes great copy.”  Belle and Sebastian was dealing with the negative view of Belle; she’s thought of as a monster and dangerous.  The show teaches tolerance and appreciation of diversity.

In terms of tolerance and diversity, Sebastian’s mother, is a traveling “gypsy”, and I’m really curious to see during my viewing if she is treated respectfully by the anime.  There is a great deal of stigmatization and vilification of Romani persons in the media.  (I’m having a terrible flashback to the second Sherlock Holmes movie.  I almost walked out of it due to the discriminatory portrayal of Romani individuals.) Sebastian is adopted by Cecil, who is essentially his grandfather.  Cecil’s granddaughter, Anne-Marie, mothers Sebastian, although she is relatively young.  I was shocked to see Anne-Marie’s actions border on abusive.  I didn’t remember this as a part of the show.

I’m planning to watch all 52 episodes again and plan to blog about ones that are particularly relevant in some way.  I’m really curious as to how cartoons and anime for children are functioning as agents of socialization today, but I really don’t know what shows are out there.  My sense is that modern television focuses more on a dominant masculinity and violence, but I haven’t actually watched any or read any academic articles to know for sure.  I’d love to hear of examples, if you know of any, and how it might be socializing children.

  • What television shows impacted you growing up?  What did you learn from them?
  • What shows do you think are helpful or harmful for children today? Why?


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Bending and Conforming to Gender Roles: “Once Upon A Time” Season 1

[Spoilers through the last episode of Season 1]

Prince Charming states, “You’re a girl.”

Snow White corrects him before knocking him out with a rock, “Woman.”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been avidly watching the first season of the TV show “Once Upon a Time,” and finished it last weekend.  Although I haven’t heard many people talking about this show, it’s really entertaining, beautiful, and gruesome.  Of course, I’m always watching for stereotyping and gender roles, and the show seems to fulfill some traditional gender roles while turning others upside down.  The premise of the show is that an evil queen (and witch) decides to get revenge on Snow White and other fairy tale characters by transporting the characters to our world.  The characters have no memories of their former lives, and  the show explores both worlds in the first season.  While the story line in our world develops chronologically, the fairy tale world is explored out of order.

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, I appreciate character development and exploration of identity.  Since the characters don’t remember who they are, many of them are struggling with aspects of identity and feeling unfulfilled in their lives in our world. Although there are criticisms of Maslow’s hierarchy, the psychological concept, the characters begin to self-actualize and determine who they are throughout the season.  However, the evil queen, determined to make them suffer, blocks them at every turn.

Many sociologists and others have critiqued Disney’s movies and heroines for various reasons, including ethnocentrism, racism, and sexism.  Speaking to gender, most, if not all, of the princesses reified traditional, US femininity.  For purposes of this blogpost, I’m going to focus solely on Snow White, due to the fact that her life is the central focus of Season 1 of “Once Upon A Time.”  In the original Disney film from 1937, Snow White is hated by her step-mother for her beauty, and Snow White becomes the victim of her step-mother’s nefarious plotting.  Snow White is essentially enslaved by her step-mother and is the target of a murder plot because the magic mirror informs her step-mother that Snow White is the fairest.  Although this likely refers to outward beauty, which lends itself to objectification, it may also relate to the fact that Snow White also fulfills many traditional feminine gender roles like being kind, caring, and hard working, at least in terms of cleaning.  Eventually, she falls victim to a plot with an poisoned apple and is revived by “true love’s” kiss by Prince Charming.

In “Once Upon a Time,” in the fairy tale world, Snow’s story is woven over the course of the season.  It turns out that, as a girl, she fulfilled some of the gender roles of her predecessor, but then her step-mother, the Queen, decides to get revenge for an event that happened when Snow was a child.  Snow has to flee the huntsman, but she becomes a warrior and a thief to take care of herself in the forest.  She does become friends with the Dwarves, but she doesn’t have the same relationship with them.  While she meets her “Prince Charming,” she steals valuables from his carriage.  He chases her down and reacts with surprise that she’s a woman, leading to the interaction and dialogue included in the beginning of this post.  One of my pet peeves that I occasionally slip into myself is calling grown women, “girls,” which infantilizes us.  I think this interaction encapsulates the key components of this incarnation of Snow White.  She is action oriented and dominant while standing up for herself and others.  She doesn’t conform to the gender roles of her own society, nor our society’s traditional gender roles.  Eventually, they both rescue one another from danger.  Snow White and “Prince Charming” marry, and the evil Queen comes to destroy everyone’s happiness.  The gigantic spell carries them all to our world.  They save their infant daughter, Emma, from the curse by sending her to our world.  She is raised in the foster care system, has a child at a young age that she gives up for adoption, and comes to Storybrook when he needs her help.  Emma is also not a traditional heroine based on US values.

In the fairy tale world, Snow is not shown as a demure person who fulfills the gender roles expected of her.  In the “real” world of Storybrook, Maine, she, like all the characters, have no memories of her past.  Here, she is a school teacher, fulfilling her gender roles.  Occasionally, her old personality asserts itself in startling ways throughout the season.  She begins having an affair, and eventually gets called names like “tramp” by the other characters.  This looks at how sexism remains in our culture, where women are often censured more than men for their sexuality.  (Men are also subject to social control when it comes to affairs.) To spoil the end of season 1, Snow’s daughter, Emma, saves her own son with “true love’s” kiss.  Although this is a refreshing change to the traditional idea that “true love” is romantic love, in some ways, it still relates to traditional gender roles.  Emma gave up her son at birth, and the show is developing her road back to motherhood.  While I enjoyed this plotline, I also think that it reinforces traditional gender roles for women.  On the other hand, Emma is shown repeatedly to enact masculine gender roles.

I look forward to seeing how the show handles gender roles in Season 2 as more characters begin to show up.  It’d be illuminating to explore the gender roles of villains in the show, too.

What examples of gender roles do you see in Season 1 of “Once Upon a Time”?  What examples are there that bend the rules?



Filed under Fantasy, Sociology, TV Show Reviews