I love Lucy is one of the pioneer sitcom comedies shot in front of a live audience in the US. The setting of the sitcom is in New York with the show following the life of Lucy Ricardo and her husband Ricky Ricardo, who is a professional singer. The show also includes the couple's friends, Fred and Ethel Mertz. The show follows the life of Lucy, who is naïve in her ambitions to become a star in the big city. Together, the cast gets into various hilarious situations that are brought about by the actions of Lucy in her pursuit of stardom. In the show, Lucy has very few marketable skills to make it as a professional performer when compared to their best friends, Fred, and Ethel, who are vaudevillians. All these factors drive her ambition, which at times might seem misguided, that is portrayed throughout the show.
I Love Lucy was the most-watched TV series in America during its first three seasons and received many accolades such as five Grammy awards. The show ran for seven seasons, but remakes have increased that number to over 11. The program has been remade numerous times over six languages all over the world. The show was loved because of the use of three cameras and a continuous story line. The awards it won, and its immense popularity only serves to highlight the great cultural significance of the show in American culture.
According to Bordwell's taxonomy of meaning in the film (1996), the best way to analyze a work of film is by the use of a taxonomy through which a cue in a movie could be interpreted. The study divided the stages into three levels. Referential meaning is the meaning derived from the fictional world and enacted by the characters. It may be in the form of an event or a dialogue portrayed outwardly towards the audience. Explicit meaning is essentially the viewer's perspective of the film. Implicit meaning refers to the subliminal message that the piece of the film intends to represent. The average viewer would not typically pick up on these hidden messages and meanings that are expressed through the art of film. The analysis of I Love Lucy will use these parameters to analyze the information based on the whole series and particular episodes (Bordwell & Thompson, 1996).
The referential meaning in the opening scenes of the first episode where Lucy thinks Ricky intends to kill her. In the opening scenes, Lucy is seated quietly engrossed in a book about a woman who is murdered when her husband walks in the room. The scene has a comic feel because next to her bed there are two cans on a table, one for cold cream and the other a can of cheddar cheese. Lucy is so engrossed in her book that she forgets and dips her snack into the cold cream instead. This moment in the series set the undertone for using props to act out physical comedy in a live audience.
The gesture was funny and serves its purpose of bringing about comic relief. This gesture is the referential meaning of the opening scene of the episode. Comic reliefs are a great way of starting off a sitcom since it lays the foundation of the whole episode. In the scene of this particular episode, the comedy at the beginning is used to awaken the interest of the audience and to introduce the subject matter of the chapter to the crowd.
The book that Lucy is reading is a mystery novel in which the main character dies, and they try to find out the killer. Ricky suggests that the woman in the story was killed by her husband jokingly, and this sets the tone for the rest of the program. Another referential meaning can also be derived from the scene whereby the book falls out of the window, and Lucy tries to coax her husband into going to get it. In this situation, Lucy is shown as a fragile woman who doesn't mind flirting with her husband to get what he wants (Johnson, 2004).
Explicit meaning of the filmed sitcom is different according to different people. The explicit meaning can often be summed up as what the viewer sees as the whole point of the film. Through an analysis of the whole series and some specific episodes, many new meanings can be derived from the series. The first message that the series was used to portray was the struggle for stardom that most people at that time were chasing. During the mid-nineties, television shows, movies and musicals were all the rage. Many people traveled to the main cities such as New York and Los Angeles in search of stardom. The show focuses on Lucy's journey which is not always successful in its execution. The misadventures and hilarious scenes in the series as Lucy is seen pursuing her dream served two purposes. The first one was to show the average American that stardom was not a fairy tale story of overnight success and the second was to encourage the viewers never to give up on their dreams.
Lucy is ambitious, and no matter how many times she fails at securing her dream of stardom, she would always be back on air the next week trying again and again (Landay, 2010). Fred, the couple's friends, is a stingy and hard fellow who has a soft spot for Lucy's and Ricky's son. Fred has survived both the First World War and the great depression that followed soon after and this is used to justify his grumpy behavior.
These two events marked great moments in the history of the country and at that time, it served as a reminder that film could be used to show the bad effects of the two events in normal American life.
Family values are strongly emphasized in this classic American production. In the time when the show was on the air, American culture was strongly rooted in deep family values. The whole American system, starting from politics and spanning all the way to the film industry, family values were the core of every operation. The show served to portray the importance of a good and supportive family unit. Lucy is in a supportive marriage with Ricky Ricardo and the marriage shows the genesis of the family unit.
Lucy and Ricky were married and in the second season, they had a child called Ricky Junior. In the adventures the trio gets into each episode, they always end up together in the end and grow closer as a result. Ricky is a very supportive husband who encourages Lucy to pursue her dreams no matter how many times she fails in accomplishing her goals.
The implicit meaning derived from this film includes the gender roles of the mid-nineties and the virtue of ambition and determination. In the episode where Lucy thinks that Ricky wants to kill her, the book Lucy is reading falls out of the window. Lucy tries to coax her husband into retrieving the book for her by stating that he is the bigger one in the relationship hence the stronger one.
During the time of production and airing of the film, the feminist movement had not yet spread across America, and the system was therefore skewed to more traditional gender roles. The husband was the head of the household and as such was the breadwinner of the family and provider of labor. Gender roles were clearly defined as the concept of being a housewife was more relatable to a majority of the American female population. Another implicit meaning that the film carried included the power of ambition in a capitalist society.
Lucy has dreams of becoming a famous singer and performer in New York; she tries out several ways make it in the city and although she meets hurdles along the way, she never gives up. This serves as the moral lesson that the movie makers try to portray throughout the series. Ambition is priceless, and if one tries hard enough, they will surely succeed (Geiger & Rutsky, 2005).
Gender and class are two very important aspects that the show propagated. The presence of a female lead in the show was great progress in the film industry of the mid twentieth century. Lucille Ball, the main actress who plays Lucy, was a pioneer in the female influence on pop culture and the whole movie and film industry. Ball was able to give the female actress a significant role in physical comedy shows and in the TV production scene. Ball was expected during the time in which the first season of the show was filmed and in the second season, the introduction of Ricky Jr was in line with Ball’s actual delivery of her child. It is interesting to note how the whole show was changed to accommodate the delivery of Ball’s child and the probable impact this had on the show’s popularity and viewership. The female presence in the film industry is beyond doubt after the show became such as success.
The cast of the show played out their roles as middle class Americans in the big city in search of fame and stardom. Ethel, Lucy’s sidekick, and her husband Fred also play the role of a middle class American family that has survived the World War and the Great Depression in one of the dark times in America’s history. Fred plays the role of a stingy middle-aged man who is concerned with watching the bottom-line. The stinginess that Fred plays out exemplifies the hard economic times that most people in the US were going through at that time. The Great Depression led to a period of economic hardships in which small business owners and middle class families suffered due to the economic recession and the increased price of living. New York quickly became one of the most expensive places to live in America. The situation was represented in the show through subtle humor and satirical inferences.
Family values were the cornerstone of a majority of the film industry during the period of the mid twentieth century. Lucy and Ricky represented an unorthodox yet strong marriage in which both partners engaged and supported the other. The family aspect appealed to a majority of the American audience and this was further solidified by the introduction of Ricky Jr in the second season. The family on the show went through some good and some tough times, but they always stuck together and ended up closer than ever at the end of each episode. This show served to strengthen the importance of family in the American culture. The American society at this point in time was deeply engrossed in the importance of the nation and family was seen as the basic unit which was to be defended at all cost. The film aired shortly after the end of the two wars and the general feeling in the country was that of bringing Americans closer to each other.
The economic and political climate of the mid twentieth century greatly influenced the production of I Love Lucy and the show serves as a memoir into which the average American’s life can be studied and analyzed. The end of the war and economic recession was a major factor that influenced most young Americans at that time to go out in search of fame and fortune in the big city. Fred is the embodiment of the hard economic times when the film was being filmed. It was the post-war, post-depression America. The economic times of the 1950s made Fred’s stingy behavior, though crude at times, a good representation of the real life situation.
Many young Americans went out to New York to become famous at that time, most of them did not succeed in their quest for fame, but they were able to live out productive and fulfilling lives. Lucy is an embodiment of that struggle and ambition that drove hoards of people to go out and chase their dreams. The show follows a Lucy’s journey through the years, the birth of her child and some episodes where she actually succeeds in getting deals.
It is evident that the show I Love Lucy had a great impact on American society by being both a cultural artifact and influencing the cultural practices of that time. The show is a cultural artifact because it mirrors the culture of the society in the mid-nineties. The show depicts the strained financial times that the middle class faced after the Great Depression. The struggle of many young Americans to be successful in the city was also embodied by the show. Stories of rags to riches and overnight success in show business were doing the rounds all over. It was not uncommon to see large numbers of young people flocking to big cities in search of wealth and fame.
Social stratification came into play in the making of this film. The show gained a lot of popularity because a majority of the population could relate to the struggles of the characters in the show. Most of the American society is the middle class; a close relation could be made between the show and themselves. The economic hardships of the 1950s were the backdrop on which the movie was set.
In conclusion, the best way to appreciate the impact of the show on American culture is to appreciate the impact it has had on socioeconomic structuring and gender roles. The show has encouraged a lot of people to go out and pursue their dreams. The foundation of the capitalist nature of the American society is built upon innovation and excellence in the dispensation of duty. Many people who are on the hunt for success in New York City felt a deep connection to the movies as well. The subliminal message the show portrays is that of hope. The viewer is treated to a session in which it is possible to achieve one dream.
The gender roles of both sexes as viewed by society was highlighted and questioned. The show was among the first shows to employ a female lead who showed how hard it was to be successful in a male dominated field. The series served as a wakeup call to the industry and the popularity of the show made it possible to have a star of a show being a woman and still being successful. The show was immensely popular among the American public to such an extent that it served to influence the culture of the country.
After years on air, and numerous awards later, positive aspects can be attributed to the show. The show served as a mirror to the society of the time at that moment. Gender roles were finally put in the limelight and women took a big stake in entertainment. Women were seen as leaders in the show business for the first time because the immense popularity of the show catapulted Lucille Ball into the stardom. The show also helped spread the importance of family values in the American society, forming a basis through which politics and state affairs would be run along.
Ball, L., Arnaz, D., Frawley, W., Vance, V., & CBS Paramount Network Television (Firm). (2012). I love Lucy: The complete sixth season. United States: CBS Paramount Network Television.
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Geiger, J., & Rutsky, R. L. (2005). Film analysis: A Norton reader. New York: W.W. Norton.
Johnson, A. (2004). Genre and Television. A Study of Film. doi:10.4324/9780203957837
Landay, L. (2010). I love Lucy. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.