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TV History: I Love Lucy

by Christine Becker

This clip was uploaded for an assignment in Prof. Christine Becker's FTT 30461: History of Television class at the University of Notre Dame in Spring 2017. Check the commentary dropdown menu for a student's analysis of the clip.

Lucy Ricardo: A Rebel of 1950's Ideals

by Brenna Moxley

I Love Lucy differs from the domestic sitcoms that came to dominate television in the late 1950s because it was not set in a white picket fence, suburban neighborhood. It did not contain strictly white people; one of the two main characters was an immigrant. The couple the show centers around, Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, does not have children. Therefore, it does not allow for family time and lessons that the shows in later years - for example, Father Knows Best and The Donna Reed Show - are able to produce. Also, Lucy and Ricky did not have the typical husband and wife relationship: Lucy went against the norms by standing up to her husband and disobeying his wishes, while Ricky tried to hold onto the ideals of marital relationships during the time. Although the show displays aspects typical of the 1950s, Lucy Ricardo rejects the ideals of this era and differs tremendously from the average American woman on television during this time.
Lucy represented the typical American woman who was fed up with the womanly stereotypes of staying at home, cooking and cleaning constantly. The domestic life was not attractive to Lucy, but unlike the average American woman, she did strive to avoid the limits of private life within the home and join the more public, social life. In the episode, "Lucy Wants New Furniture" Lucy wants new furniture without considering the true value of money, and that she has almost no money to her name that is solely hers. Lucy goes against all audience expectations and shares that she already ordered the furniture on credit without Ricky's blessing. This relates to George Lipsitz’ article, “The Meaning of Memory,” because it refers to an episode of The Goldbergs, in which the mom disapproved of her daughter-in-law’s choice to purchase a washing machine on the installment plan (44). This introduced the concept of buying on the installment plan to viewers. Then, in a later episode, the mother, Rosalie, decides to buy all of her new furniture on the installment plan. This shows television’s goal to introduce this method and influence viewers to follow suit. In the end of this I Love Lucy clip, Ricky decides to hold her accountable for her actions and makes her agree to pay him back for the furniture. This relates to the article because he has to pay the store for it since she put it on credit. She even admits that she will not be able to save that much money until she is an old lady, yet she did not hesitate to buy it on credit. The article emphasizes this idea with a quote from The Goldbergs: “live above our means – the American way” (44).
Ricky strives to fulfill the masculine, head of the household role by trying to shut down the furniture idea multiple times. He refers to her "allowance," which was an amount of money he gave her from his working income; this was common during this time because women had no regular source of money to buy personal items such as clothing or shoes. Ricky says Lucy spends her money on trips to the salon, which shows her commitment to keeping herself looking good. This relates to "The Career Woman" episode of The Donna Reed Show from the later 50s in which Donna seeks reassurance that she still looks fit and young, with female body ideals being focused on in multiple instances in the episode.
Although Lucy does contradict many of the stereotypes of the time, she does show acceptance of the idea that the woman should have a meal ready for the man when he arrives home from work. The difference in the social status of the two was highlighted in this scene when, during dinner, Ricky was wearing his business suit while Lucy had her apron on. This allows a viewer to see more of a balance in Lucy's personality: that she can both stand up for herself and make her own decisions, while also intending to please her husband. Lucy can be seen as a new ideal woman who can achieve both the loving housewife role while in the meantime also striving for more independence and control.
Lucy trains her friend Ethel to be on her side, but Ethel's husband automatically agrees with Ricky. At this point in the scene, Lucy illustrates that she is not afraid to drag outside individuals into their disagreements; in later 1950s domestic sitcoms, the argument would stay within the family. Her friend tries to explain to Lucy that she lost the argument and that she has to "live with the old," referring to the furniture. Ethel exhibits the typical response of an American housewife during this decade. Rather than be honest with her husband, Lucy tries to hide the furniture from him; lying to your husband was not a commonly seen trait in 1950s television. In addition, Lucy proves unladylike in the dinner scene, which goes against the stereotypes of women during this time. She also relies on her over-the-top facial expressions and sound effects to elicit laughs from the live studio audience, making a lot of viewer attention to go on her. Lucy defies many expectations of women of the time, and opens a door for women to speak their minds and act in an independent manner in 1950s television.

Works Cited:
Lipsitz, George. “The Meaning of Memory.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Sage Publications, 2003. 40-47.

"Lucy Wants New Furniture," I Love Lucy

This clip contains two excerpts from the I Love Lucy episode entitled "Lucy Wants New Furniture," which first aired on June 1, 1953, on CBS.

from I Love Lucy (1953)
Creator: CBS; Director: William Asher; Writers: Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Davis, Bob Carroll, Jr.
Posted by Christine Becker