“Desperate Housewives” is an American television comedy-drama series, created by Marc Cherry and produced by ABC Studios and Cherry Productions. The serial is set in the street of Wisteria Lane in the fictional American town of Fairview. The show is about the lives of a group of women, living as neighbors and seen through the eyes of their dead neighbor, Mary Alice Young. It involves their struggles in everyday life, their secrets, crimes and mysteries. The show was launched on ABC on October 3, 2004 and has been very popular. The television show “Desperate Housewives” represents diversity in America in different ways, sometimes leaning on stereotypical images created by media and sometimes trying to break through such stereotypes.
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Media generally relies to a large extent on stereotypes. One of the major areas in which television has impacted society is through the use of stereotypical portrayals of minority groups. By stereotyping we mean the standardized mental picture of a particular group of people which has transgressed through the media. In the television show ‘Desperate Housewives’ Mexican Americans seem to be portrayed with respect tinged with ridicule. African Americans are both non-recognized and ridiculed. Asian Americans are shown as stupid people who are subservient and can be exploited because they do not have a strong background. The four central characters of the show are Susan Mayer, Lynette Scavo, Bree Van de Kamp and Gabrielle Solis.
Gabrielle and Carlos Solis are not the regular stereotypical Latinos who are shown to be middle class or poor people speaking Spanish. They are shown as rich people, having a high style of life and even having a white gardener. Both Carlos and Gabrielle are also shown as disloyal people having their own affairs. Here the script follows the regular Latino portrayal as flirty people with a lot of passion. Carlos goes to jail on tax charges. Libby Collins is a pole-dancer in a strip club who offers to give her baby to Carlos & Gabrielle, but changes her mind when she finds out they are Mexican. This again takes a silent knock at Mexican Americans.
Only in the second season, the first African American character is introduced in the form of a new neighbor Betty Applewhite. The Applewhites appear normal on the surface. But they have a younger son Caleb who is locked in the basement and mom has to take a gun with her every time she goes down to feed him. The shooting of Matthew is a needless portrayal of a violent black man shot by the police. All the bad qualities associated with stereotypes of the African black people are included here – theft, murder, cheating, etc.
Chicago Sun-Times TV critic Doug Elfman points out that the show portrays Asian Americans in poor stereotypical light. Two Asian American characters were both depicted as maids – the first one was a conniving, can-barely-speak-English foreigner; the second one is a former Chinese slave who was released by the FBI. In Season One, there were two Asian American incompetent manicurists, one of whom is accidentally kicked in the face by Susan. In flashbacks, Matthew’s girlfriend tries to stop him from breaking up with her: “There are advantages to dating someone like me, and you know what I’m talking about.” This seems to suggest that her Asian descent gives her some advantage during the dating.
This is a sad commentary on Asian women. The Asian maid/surrogate of Gabrielle is depicted as a subservient person who is afraid of going back home to China. She is at the beck and call of Gabrielle. Gabby first suspects her of having an affair with Carlos. Later, when Carlos is offered “reading materials” at a sperm back, he says that he does not need them, taking an askew look at the Chinese maid, sitting on a couch reading a magazine. This depicts Asian Americans as weak persons who can be easily exploited. To avoid deportation, the Chinese maid accepts to bear the child of the Mexican couple. Here there seems to be a portrayal that whereas Mexican immigrants come legally, Chinese immigrants come illegally. Thus, the show depicts Asian women in a negative manner.
The show also got into controversies due to errors in its depiction of diverse minority groups. Initially, the only main gay character Andrew Van de Kamp was shown as an apparent sociopath. This brought ABC under heavy criticism from LGBT groups. Another controversy came up in the show regarding portrayal of Filipino-American doctors in the US. The episode “Now You Know” had Susan Mayer saying: “Okay before we go any further, can I check those diplomas?’Cause I would just like to make sure that they are not from some med school in the Philippines.” The Philippine government demanded an apology from the producers.
There are many wrong portrayals of minority people in Desperate Housewives that is based on stereotypes built by society and reinforced by media. However, it does help to a certain extent in fostering understanding of diversity and multiculturalism. The fact that so many varied characters are included in this serial makes it clear that diversity in America is here to stay. Portrayal of minority characters is stereotypical to a large extent.
However, in this show, the portrayal of Mexican American couple as prosperous couple is a break in the right direction. It is time that television and movie industries begin to accept diversity as part of the social fabric of America and portray them more as Americans rather than Latinos, Asians, Chinese, etc.
Desperate Housewives. ABC productions.
Wikipedia (2007). Desperate Housewives. Web.