Visual representation of the family depicted in the popular 1950s CBS television program Sarah Baker CMS332 Fall 2011
The Ricardos Lucy: The main character of the program and largely of the family itself, as a wife and mother she plays the distinctive role of a housewife in terms of gender, but also provides evidence of an independently-minded female in various humorous and extravagant situations; these ultimately lead to the facilitation of maintenance and management. Ricky: This husband and father role is developed through the characterization of an often hot-tempered, thick-accented, very loving Cuban man; he is displayed as a provider and powerful financially (Ricky is a famous singer/bandleader), but sometimes takes on another persona when his underdeveloped grasp of certain English terms provides a slightly less-powerful view of him. Little Ricky: The young and only child of the family is understandably adored and doted upon, but his role in the program serves mainly as a structural component in accordance with the two-parent biological family.
The Mertzes Ethel: Lucy’s “partner in crime” and often cautiously so, this wife and friend serves as a confidant, a co-conspirator, and takes on somewhat of a “sisterly” role. Fred: As a husband and, similarly to the Ricardos’ situation, the sole financial provider, he is often noted for his money-conscious (or “cheap”) behavior. Fred is a good friend and husband, often finding himself “along for the ride” when it comes to Lucy and Ethel’s generally wild antics.
“Families have been described according to blood ties and legal ties, as networks of persons who live together over periods of time supporting each other, and as groups of people who have ties of marriage and kinship to one another.” (Galvin, Bylund, and Brommel, 2012, p. 4). Though the featured family in the program is focused on a two-parent biological family, a larger family definition is also evident in the relationship between the Ricardos and the Mertzes. The Ricardo family has ties of marriage and kinship, as does the Mertz family, but there is a family cohesion and understanding between the two units based on a close, long-maintained, and supportive friendship.
In terms of the four levels of cohesion as discussed by Galvin, Bylund, and Brommel (2012), the larger family context would be considered somewhere between connected and cohesive. Though members experience emotional independence, they also strive for loyalty and togetherness. Individuality is clearly maintained with a sense of involvement and belonging. (p. 31).
Within Lucy and Ricky’s marriage, specifically, there is a constitutive rule that Lucy does not inform Ricky of decisions that she thinks he may not approve of. Instead, she formulates a plan—generally along the lines of a quest for fame or stardom—elicits the help of Ethel, and proceeds without Ricky’s knowledge. This almost always results in Ricky finding out and an argument of sorts occurring. In this, a relational rule emerges when Ricky ends up becoming angry and yelling in Spanish, something that Lucy comes to expect (and pokes fun at) in these situations.
Due to the comedic nature of the program itself, the development of family secrets are also humorous. The most prominent family secret does not fall under any of the categories explained by Galvin, Bylund, and Brommel, but does fit in with conventional secrets as suggested by Vangelisti. This type of secret may be private, but not necessarily “wrong” or “taboo” in any way. Lucy’s hair color: This minor family secret is kept from just about everyone, even Ricky, who always questions her seemingly endless trips to the beauty salon. Lucy’s signature bright red hair color and what lies beneath it is perhaps a secret that serves evaluation, privacy, and defense functions for Lucy.
Though minor conflicts emerge, the Ricardo’s marriage on a fundamental level exhibits positive communication patterns. Lucy and Ricky consistently engage in the maintenance strategy of assurances – “stressing love, support, and commitment, implying the partners are faithful and the relationship has a future.” (p. 108).
The maintenance strategy of social networks is significant within both the Ricardo family and Mertz family as separate units, and also in terms of the collective family they create together. This strategy “includes involving family and friends in activities as well as sharing interconnected networks. Social support contributes to relational stability because others are there to help.” (p. 108).
“These rituals involve interactional, territorial, and/or situational patterns or habits couples develop.” (p. 115). Indicative in part of the time period in which the program aired, Lucy and Ricky slept in separate beds; both an interactional and situational habit, this pattern is evidence of a couple ritual that the partners engage in on a daily basis.
As a couple, Lucy and Ricky would be considered a traditional gender-organized couple type. According to Galvin, Bylund, and Brommel (2012), this couple uses gender as a conscious method of dividing labor in the relationship and see their roles, though different, as equal. (p. 172). Ricky is seen as the sole financial provider for the family, and Lucy is characterized as a traditional (though scatter-brained) housewife. While Ricky works and essentially gives Lucy an “allowance”, she maintains household responsibilities while providing the primary care for Little Ricky. It is evident in particular program episodes, however, that role reversals occur and/or Lucy creates her own money-making scheme, etc. In keeping with the comedic value of the program, these scenarios are generally depicted in a mocking manner.
“Society provides models and norms for how certain family roles should be assumed, thus creating role expectations… Media has provided many family role models through television specials, situation comedies, movies, or talk shows.” (p.163). As a television program, the family in I Love Lucy reinforces role expectations by essentially placing the women in the “home”, and the men in the “workplace.” Ricky and Fred are both financial providers, while Lucy and Ethel maintain household responsibilities.
“In episode after episode Lucy rebels against the confinements of domestic life for women, the dull routines of cooking and housework, the petty humiliation of a wifes financial dependence, the straightjacket of demure femininity. Her acts of rebellion--taking a job, performing at the club, concocting a money-making scheme, or simply plotting to fool Ricky--are meant to expose the absurd restrictions placed on women in a male-dominated society. Yet her rebellion is forever thwarted. By entering the public sphere she inevitably makes a spectacular mess of things and is almost inevitably forced to retreat, to return to the status quo of domestic life that will begin the next episode.”(Retrieved from Archive of American Television: http://www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/shows/i-love- lucy)
Though the program depicts a family structure that was generally consistent with the time period in which it aired, the role expectations as they relate to family communication patterns are not as gender-divided as one would imagine. Lucy is not the “typical” housewife. Rather, she is scatter- brained when it comes to household maintenance and a daily “chore” often results in an imaginative, far-fetched plan to achieve something that inevitably ends up being a disaster. Ricky is not the “typical” dominant male in the sense that although he is the provider and his views adhere to the time period, he often engages in Lucy’s antics (sometimes unknowingly),and displays bargaining or compromising influence strategies that often yield positive results in terms of relational maintenance.
1. Archive of American Television. (n.d.). Retrieved from The Television Academy Foundation website: http://www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/shows/i-love-lucy2. Galvin, K. M., Bylund, C. L., & Brommel, B. J. (2012.). Family Communication (8th ed.). United States: Pearson Education.3. I Love Lucy. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Love_Lucy4. All images retrieved using Google Images.