Showtime's Weeds Research Paper

Topics: Weeds, Mary-Louise Parker, Nancy Botwin Pages: 9 (3342 words) Published: August 28, 2013
In recent seasons, two popular Showtime series have introduced enterprising and transgressive heroines. On Weeds, Nancy (Mary-Louise Parker) is a white suburban mom turned drug dealer; her supplier is an inner-city African-American woman. The hardened Heylia (Tonye Patano) doles out advice with Nancy’s weekly purchase, helping her evade arrest and (literally) dodge bullets. Heylia’s troubled world contrasts with the upscale family life that Nancy struggles to preserve. However, their relationship also frees Nancy from a stifling suburb where, the theme song informs us, people live in “little boxes” and “all look just the same.”

On The L Word, wealthy white Helena (Rachel Shelley) escapes from similar constraints. When a series of misfortunes lands Helena behind bars, she pursues a lesbian affair with her steely, muscular black cellmate. When she is released on bail, Helena rejects her family’s protection, choosing instead to live on the lam with her lover. As in Weeds, it is an encounter with a street-smart African American woman that enables the sheltered Helena to assert herself. This plotline also follows The L Word’s tendency to grant minority characters greater strength and sexual prowess than their white counterparts.

Clearly, these series place women of color in limited and stereotypical roles: Heylia plays the sharp-tongued Sapphire, and The L Word’s Latina and African-American characters are often oversexed and exotified. The familiar figures of drug dealer and prisoner also associate minority communities with criminality. While my paper attends to these stereotypes, I am most interested in exploring the narratives’ construction of white femininity and the broader implications of these interracial encounters. In both series, white women enact rebellion not only though crime but also their willingness to cross race and class divides. Their minority counterparts impart survival skills, display physical and sexual power, and model alternatives to middle-class respectability. However, the fact that Showtime’s white heroines remain moneyed and mobile throughout these encounters establishes their superior position. Viewers are assured that for these characters, crime is a liberating choice, rather than a sign of desperation or innate deviance.

By critiquing this pattern, I explore how these media texts challenge gender and sexual norms while still preserving racial hierarchies. Yet, I argue that these encounters raise other possibilities. Weeds interrogates historic conceptions of suburbs as sites of racial segregation and female domestic entrapment. Likewise, the masculine, working-class and minority women who surround Helena in the prison subvert The L Word’s predominantly feminine, elite representation of lesbian life.

My research provides a close reading of these and related media texts, considering production details and responses of viewers and critics. This presentation draws from the broader conference theme of Crossroads as sites of “possibility … seduction and danger,” and responds to the ASA’s particular interest in presentations on media studies and queer studies topics.| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Media and Gender Stereotyping by Marla McConnell

As media becomes an ever more powerful force in shaping the world's perception of itself, an individual's struggle to maintain a unique identity and self-understanding apart from media influence becomes increasingly difficult. Damaging to the idea of the self are the racial, gendered, and class-based stereotypes (always artificial and frequently physically, fiscally, and emotionally unattainable), which are broadly perpetuated and, because of their persistence, are apparently not broadly questioned. The prevalence and power of gender (especially...
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