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Archetypal Characters and their Narrative Function: Iron Maiden, the Consciousness Raising Character

by Ethan Tussey

by Deborah A Macey for IN MEDIA RES

Anyone engaged with media knows the risk averse television industry recycles programming. From Lucy and Ethel to Laverne and Shirley to Two Broke Girls; the triad-plus-one in Gunsmoke, Seinfeld, and New Girl; and the working class buffoon in the Honeymooners, All in the Family, Simpsons, and King of Queens. My recombinant television research focuses on recycling four archetypal characters in Mary Tyler Moore, Designing Women, Golden Girls, Living Single and Sex and the City. Anyone who has watched these series can identify the four archetypes: Dorothy, the iron maiden, Blanche, the sex object, Rose, the child, and Sophia, the mother. Exploring how the archetypes function within the series is far more interesting.

The iron maiden is portrayed as masculine and career-oriented.  When privileged within the series, the iron maiden can carry a feminist perspective, but if perceived as unsympathetic, the iron maiden serves as a cautionary tale about the cost of feminism.

The sex object unabashedly owns her sexuality, desires sex for her pleasure, and genuinely loves her body. Blanche revels in her beauty and broadcasts how much she enjoys sex. These are her most progressive qualities. She also shatters media portrayals of older women as sexless.  However Blanche pits herself against the other women.  As a function of the problem-solution sitcom formula, this is the least feminist aspect of the series.

The child archetype is naïve, optimistic, and dim-witted, but when given more narrative space, like Charlotte in Sex and the City, the child promotes more traditional and conservative values.

The mother archetype connects the characters in the series and serves as the dominant storyteller. Sophia, while teeming with stories of the old country, becomes more of the stereotypical ethnic mother.

In the clip presented here, Dorothy makes the personal political as she names and describes Blanche’s encounter as sexual harassment.  Dorothy portrays herself as the feminist icon by raising the consciousness of those around her.  See Dorothy scold Dr. Budd for his sexist treatment of her illness, put the plumber  and the security salesman in their place.  When Dorothy carries the narrative a feminist discourse is present; however when Rose is privileged, the narrative is trivial. In the "Break In" episode, Rose shoots a vase and harms a parking attendant out of fear and in "Letter to Gorbachev" Rose is mistaken for a 10-year-old for writing a letter to Gorbachev about nuclear disarmament.  Had Dorothy been the character carrying these narratives, they would have had more political import.

Golden Girls and Archetypes

A clip from Golden Girls

from Golden Girls (1985)
Creator: Susan Harris
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey