Monday, February 1, 2016

What Makes Gracie Run? (Core Post)

I don't think I'm alone in loving the humor of Gracie Allen based on the laughs we heard in class. It's kind of the extreme logic deadpan that the a situation without falling into the rules of social situations. However, I'm not sure I can thus follow Patricia Mellencamp's argument where "Gracie is blatantly dominated not only by George's looks at the camera and directed monologues of the audiences..." (85). Mellencamp's argument is a bit of an extension of the Newcom/Hirsch and Gitlin debate last week, where she sides with Gitlin's argument by seeing the possibly transgressive act (Gracie's humor) as codified and contained by George's role in the show. So to challenge this idea would be the fact that Gracie makes her jokes in the first place is what matters, even if she never leaves the (very artificial, as Lynn Spigel notes) the diegesis that is the home.

Does Gracie ever become contained? Lucy is often thwarted in her plans—Gracie always gets what she wants. She just isn't aware of the mountains moving around her. In the episode, Gracie comes to her own decision to end her checking account. When she speeds, she befuddles the cop so much that he cannot give her a ticket. She moves to the front of the line at the bank in the monologue she tells by being "a crazy woman," only to voluntarily put herself in the back of the line. The obliviousness of Gracie of her own actions thus perhaps mirrors her obliviousness to the audience—if Gracie reveals her own awareness to being a character, does the joke work? 

Thinking about Gracie's verbal transgressions of society, I naturally turned toward Bakhtin's theory of the carnivalesque (a quick summary: societies with strong hierarchies always have a day in which all social order is erased and eccentric, sacrilegious humor rules the day. While made as a release so society could restrain itself the rest of the year, it was in these spaces where cultural and political revolution could begin). Could Gracie be seen as transgressive because of the way she follows her own logic? Is she simply the carnival—the necessary expression of subversive society? Mellencamp does concede, "Humor might have been women's weapon and tactic of survival, ensuring sanity, the triumph of the ego, and pleasure" (94). But to return to the television codes that prompted this, perhaps the fact Gracie slides in and out without needing to break the fourth wall is what makes her transgressive. Any containment is done by her own free will. George might contain her humor, but he certainly never contains her.

This all makes me want to run down the history of transforming vaudeville comedy into narrative films that fit the genteel tradition as Steve Neale and Frank Krutnik discuss, which could easily be applied to Burns/Allen's integration into a number of Paramount movies in the 1930s, but it brings me to a larger point: how do vaudeville acts become "contained" by television narrative, which if we assume the Modelski model, privileges the segment/interruption model, and does that truly "contain" the humor? Or does the introduction of the desire of transgressive humor thus create the space for the N/H forum of ideas?

1 comment:

  1. The carnivalesque is a great lens through which to approach Gracie, though I wonder if it doesn't also prove Mellencamp's point, Peter. She functions as a revolutionary, mostly against language (taking meanings of words literally rather than idiomatically) and behavior (as with the cop and not getting a ticket). But her micro-revolution is constantly tamped down by George's desperate or dismissive looks to the camera suggesting she's kooky/eccentric.

    George functions as the hegemonic structure of society, the law and order and capitalistic commerce. You're totally right that the fact she makes these jokes at all is important, but she does not spin off into her own world of logic and morals. She has to return the real estate listings and does end up at the back of the line in the end. She is dominated by her role as a wife in the 1950s and despite efforts to fight against it, George generally gets the final word—inasmuch as he's a man and gets any word at all.