Anyone who says they didn’t love this show growing up is plain wrong and I can’t be convinced otherwise. The Powerpuff Girls was one of my favorite shows as a child. I had t-shirts, toys, blankets, cups, Gameboy games, and who knows what else. This show encompasses girl power as I have described in previous episodes such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While I loved this show as I child I am interested to go back and look at from a scholarly perspective as an adult.
As most of you probably know, The Powerpuff Girls follows 3 little littles who are created in a laboratory and have superpowers. Throughout the series they are called upon by the Mayor of Townsville to fight crime and bad guys. Without even having to watch an episode of this show and only reading the synopsis we can already see some trends. The Mayor, an older man, must call upon 3 little girls to fix his problems and thus puts the girls into a position of power. This is contrasted by the character of Sara Bellum, the Mayor’s assistant. This character is only shown from the shoulders down with her voluptuous body as the main point of her character but she is very often the brains behind the Mayor’s ideas and her name is meant to be a pun off of the cerebellum, a part of the brain, which is ironically since her we never see her face/head. Here I think the show creators are making a point about how women are sexualized to the point that their thoughts and opinions are second to their looks but as as child I never would’ve picked up on that fact.
I was able to find the very first episode of The Powerpuff Girls on YouTube and that is the one I will be talking about here. While I have already discussed the representation of females in the show I have not discussed possible implications to viewers. I found a lot of relevant scholarly articles when looking at The Powerpuff Girls but the one I will be including in this blog is Saving the World Before Bedtime: The Powerpuff Girls, Citizenship, and the Little Girl Superhero by Lisa Hager. In this reading the author puts into perspective how many superhero females focus on discovering their sexuality while also figuring out their powers but The Powerpuff Girls do not have that issue since they are children. With this it allows for the show to be a source of empowerment for little girls with sexuality completely removed. The author also notes that shows such as The Powerpuff Girls are retaliating against conservative American culture by breaking gender stereotypes and empowering women. Empowerment of women has been a strong theme among the shows I have looked into so far and I find it interesting to look back and think to myself, “did The Powerpuff Girls have any impact on my life and the way I see things?” and I think “probably so.”
A final note for those reading, was there a specific Powerpuff Girl you associated with the most? There could be a whole other blogpost on the framework in personality on The Powerpuff Girls. I always felt I was a Blossom.
Next up is one of the most iconic shows of 1990s Nickelodeon: All That. During my childhood I watched this show but it was not my favorite though it did help Amanda Bynes to get her own spin off show, The Amanda Show. All That ran from 1994 to 2005 and was similar to Saturday Night Live in format since it featured short comedy skits and musical acts.
For this analysis I will be looking at this episode which is available on Youtube. The cast of All That featured in the episode is very difference with both males and females and a variety of ethnicities. While watching this episode was interesting just to see what 90s television was like I didn’t see much of a cultural impact that the show could have on teens of the 90s, especially teenage girls, other than showing they can just as easily be funny as their male counterparts. I also looked for scholarly articles on All That and it was very difficult to find anything related to what I was doing. I guess this show will have to be the dud in my research since it has given me little to work with.
This next show I had never even heard of until the first meeting for the Console Living Room and that is Clarissa Explains it All. All I really knew about it going into this project was that it was a 90s Nickelodeon television show starring Melissa Joan Hart who was also in the television show Sabrina, the Teenage Witch which I have done a previous blog post on. Clarissa Explains it All ran from 1991 to 1994 and follows a teenager named Clarissa as she navigates life while explaining it all to the viewer.
While there were no full length episodes I did find a variety of short clips. The first one I watched was this one which features Clarissa babysitting a little girl. In the clip I watched Clarissa seems like a pretty normal teenager babysitting an evil little girl while her brother tries to blackmail her. When watching the show I didn’t see much that I felt could be applied to my paper so I moved on to looking at scholarly sources.
The source I found was Girls Rule!: Gender, Feminism, and Nickelodeon by Sarah Banet-Weiser. In the reading the author describes Clarissa as part of the “self-confident, assertive, and intelligent” girls in television along with shows such as The Wild Thronberrys. The author makes this point, “The embrace of consumer culture is the site for tension within girl power programming on Nickelodeon as well. Once feminism (as represented through girl power), becomes part of the mainstream it has traditionally challenged, can we still talk about it as political? Can feminism be represented and enacted within popular culture, or is popular culture by design hostile to feminism?” I think this is a point that is relevant to my research because I am directly analyzing the effects that media has culture and specially on women within society. While I am not specifically looking at feminism and its place in society I am analyzing how television can influence trends such as feminism in society.
This next show is what inspired me to join a cult and start drawing pentagrams everywhere: not. Sabrina, the Teenage Witch was one of my favorite shows as a child that I loved to watch with my nana (I watched a lot of these shows with my nana I’m now realizing). The series ran from 1996 to 2003 and starred Melissa Joan Hart as the title character. When I started my research on this show I was expecting to find a bunch of articles on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch glorifying witchcraft and religious intolerance, which wouldn’t fit in as well with my paper, but instead I found an article on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch titled The Rules of the Gendered Realm: An Interpretive Study of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch by Genevieve Marie Andrade that discusses how the female cast members reinforce gender stereotypes and subordinate one another. Because of this I will be doing this blog post backwards than the others I have done with the research in the beginning and the analysis of the show afterwards because during my time watching the show when I was younger I don’t remember women’s subordination being an undertone.
The article asserts that adolescence is harding for girls as they find their appearance matters more than what they do and that television influences meaning-making in adolescents therefore assumptions about gender are made by the viewer. The author did research into 6 episodes and said that she found that the female characters had no agency when it was unrelated to their appearance and that they mostly did things to help men. With my understanding of what the author is trying to assert I then went and watched the show to see if I also noticed these trends.
I was available to find some full episodes on YouTube though noise is distorted. For this analysis I will be looking at season 2 episode 4 Dante’s Inferno. In this episode Sabrina’s boyfriend Harvey tells her that his parents want him to start dating other girls. Sabrina is upset and her aunts try to set her up with wizard boys but she says she only wants Harvey. The next day at school she finds out Harvey already has a date so Sabrina goes back to her aunts who set her up with a boy named Dante. Sabrina goes out on a date with Dante and her aunts talk about how they haven’t been out on dates in ages. At school Sabrina finds out Harvey’s date is a model named Jean who Sabrina starts to say bad things about. Sabrina and Harvey go on double dates and it goes badly but at the end of the episode Sabrina uses her magic to get Jean to talk to Harvey again.
After watching the show I feel the article is correct in its assertion that television has the ability to influence girls and in this specific episode of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch I did see points where appearance was important such as Sabrina being jealous of Harvey’s date because she is a model and Sabrina thinking less of herself because she doesn’t find herself as beautiful as Jean. Though I don’t know if it was as bad as the article deemed it to be though I could see the impact that could have on teenage girls.
Next up is a show that my mom and aunt were huge fans of growing up but I have literally never watched before: Beverly Hills, 90210. This show ran from 1990 to 2000 and helped to launch the career of stars such as Shannon Doherty (who was also in the show Charmed which I will be reviewing later on), Jennie Garth, and Tori Spelling. This show is highly regarded as one of the best teenage dramas to grace the small screen and has been the basis for other tv dramas and a remake that began only 8 years after the original shows conclusion. Sadly this show does not have full episodes streaming online for free so I will be mainly using separate clips for this blog post but for those of you who have CBS accounts you can watch full episodes here.
For the first part of my analysis I will be using this YouTube video. It features Brenda talking on the phone with an unknown girl who is talking about how she just needs to talk to someone. Brenda says she will listen and the girl on the phone starts to tell Brenda about how she likes this boy at school and she thinks he likes her to. She then asks “when you tell him to stop and he doesn’t, does that mean it’s my fault?” to which Brenda replies “No! At least I don’t think so..” and the girl concludes saying “How do you know if you’ve been raped?” From a viewers perspective I think the show opens up the dialogue to talk about serious problems teenagers, especially girls, may have such as sexual assault. While Brenda is there to help the unknown caller she isn’t confident in her answer when telling the girl it wasn’t her fault for being raped. Including scenes and story lines such as this shows viewers steps they can take if they ever combat these issues in real life and know how to help those in need. In my personal experience I have heard my peers say they don’t like when television or entertainment slips in issues such as these but I think seeing these things can have a positive impact.
Continuing on this point I found a scholarly article titled High School is Hell: The TV Legacy of Beverly Hills, 90210, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Sara Magee. Here the author asserts a point similar to mine and claims that when something becomes tons of copies of it start to appear in the media but what sets shows such as Beverly Hills 90210 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer apart is there ability to talk about serious issues such as rape and helps educate their audience while still being entertaining. In the article it uses a quote from Aaron Spelling that says, “We have a sign up here that says when you do issues, and God knows we did forty-one issues on 90210 alone, ‘Don’t preach, teach.’ Say things in a way that young people understand them.” Another quote from producers of the show was, “We hope that we can have some impact a) to entertain, and b) when its over to get them [teens] to think about what they have seen, for maybe about five seconds. That was always our goal, just five seconds. And the fact is, it seems that our impact is a little longer than that.” I think these goals are similar to ones I discussed in my Buffy post and can have a great impact on an audience to shape a generation in their thinking.
This one is an icon: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Many women loved this show, especially my nana, during its run from 1997 to 2003. I know I have watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer before but I don’t really remember much about it (I was more of an Angel fan). The basic premise of the show is that it follows a girl named Buffy whose lineage has fought evil forces and she must continue on the tradition using her magic powers. During the show she is accompanied by friends and love interests while fighting evil. Sadly this show has the same problems as Saved by the Bell in regards to easy, free availability as it is available on Hulu. After not finding a quality video online I have decided to just use the pilot available on Hulu. For those reading who do not have Hulu there is an unaired version of the pilot available here though there are some differences.
The show starts off similarly to any other teen drama: gossip, cool girls, and dead bodies falling out of lockers. We’re told Buffy had to move schools due to her burning down the gym of her previous school in L.A. so she starts off as a strong character. We also see Xander literally falling for Buffy as he skateboards past her. Other girls in the show take on typical tv tropes: the cool girl Cordelia and the nerd Willow. I mostly used this episode as a jumping point because when originally looking at my topic I saw a lot of scholarly articles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
One such article is Staking Her Claim: Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Transgressive Woman Warrior by Frances H. Early. The reading follows the trend of increasing media about men at war and shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena pushing back against that narrative. The article features a quote from Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Josh Whedon in which he says, “If I can make teenage boys comfortable with a girl who takes charge of a situation without their knowing that’s what’s happening it’s better than sitting down and selling them on feminism.” I think this quote really encompasses what I am aiming to research in the course of this project: how media has impacted culture specifically in relationship to women. Here Josh Whedon talks about his aim to make strong women common in American media and culture through the use of his television show. This is why studying television and media is important, especially when looking at older generations, to see if the media has impacted society and if it had the impact that was intended.
When looking at Buffy I think the show did fulfill what Josh Whedon aimed to do by making Buffy a household name and inspiring many young girls while also paving the way for other shows to feature strong female leads and moving away from the male centric television show.
For my next installment I will be looking at a show I’ve never personally watched but have heard of extremely often: Saved by the Bell. Saved by the Bell ran from 1989 to 1992. My mom and aunt recall this as their favorite show during their teenage years and loved to watch it. When searching for episodes and clips to watch this show I found it difficult to find them on places such as YouTube so that those reading along with my blog could also view them though if you do have Hulu it is available on there. Due to this the only full length episode I could find on YouTube for everyone to watch is actually a “lost” episode from 1989 but for the sake of this blog it will have to do.
In the episode I looked at it follows 4 of the main characters as they travel through a world similar to The Wizard of Oz where they see other popular television characters such as Alf as the wizard is on a quest for the next big Saturday morning show. While the show was interesting I didn’t feel it added much to what I am studying though it did use an interesting marketing technique of connecting popular television shows in the same universe. The only part I found very relevant was at the beginning of the episode when A.C. and Lisa comment back and forth about finding their friends and A.C. says it “sounds like a mans job” to which Lisa replies “Hey, I think a girl can do this just as well as a guy” and A.C. replies “okay come on”. Here I find the episode trying to be progressive and show the male and female characters as equals by Lisa being upfront about her ability to do what a man can do.
While the episode didn’t help me much I decided to look more into scholarly articles on Saved by the Bell. When searching for the show I found the article Sex‐role stereotyping in FCC‐mandated children’s educational television by Mark R. Barner. The article uses Saved by the Bell as an example and describes how males have more representation in television while females tend to be more sexualized than their male counterparts. Without doing much research into Saved by the Bell I think it is easy to see this just by looking at the featured image for this blog post and society in general. In the main cast of the show only 3 of those pictured are female while 5 of them are male though the numbers do vary throughout the television shows run. For those of you who also may not have watched Saved by the Bell I am sure you have seen boys wearing t-shirts featuring an image of main cast member Kelly Kapowski typically in a crop top or bra such as in this image of Justin Bieber wearing said shirt. While the show may not have intended for her to be a sex symbol it seems as if she became one anyway even to generations after the 1990s.
We’ve reach one of my personal favorite 90s television shows: Sister, Sister. The show ran from 1994 to 1999 and starred Tia and Tamera Lowry as twins separated at birth due to being adopted by two different people. The show explores the dynamic between sisters during the 90s plus the twins and the parents trying to come together as one family. The girls go through high school and both have boyfriends. For this blog post I will be analyzing the sisterly dynamic presented in the show in an effort to understand femininity and sibling relationships during that time while also looking at the girls and their relationships with their boyfriends.For this blog post I will be analyzing the sisterly dynamic presented in the show in an effort to understand femininity and while also looking into the family dynamic. While both Tia and Tamera both have romantic relationships in this show I will not be focusing on that part as much.
So far this is the only show in this blog series that I have seen full length episodes uploaded to YouTube so those can be found here for those interested. While all 4 seasons seem to be available for the sake of this blog post being a reasonable length I will only be looking at season 4 episode 17: Model Tia. In this episode Tia and Tamera befriend a photographer online who wants to photograph Tia. Their parents tell the girls that it isn’t safe for them to go because they don’t know this person. Tamera sets up an appointment for Tia to meet the photographer and Tamera tagalong but Tia cancels the appointment. After this Tamera tells Tia that Tia is going to Harvard but Tamera has nothing so this modeling gig could be her only shot. Tia then goes to meet the photographer on her own though the photographer starts to act very suspicious and tries to get Tamera to do things she is uncomfortable with. Tia comes to her rescue but the photographer won’t let them leave. Their parents eventually find the girls and save them before warning them about the dangers of the Internet.
I think this episode hits on a lot of points relevant to my specific research but is also relevant to the Console Living Room as a whole. The driving point of the episode is Tamera feeling hopeless about her future since she did not get into a fancy college like her sister did. Because of this she thinks she isn’t smart or talented so her only hope for a future is to model since she is pretty. While sibling rivalry and comparison have been a common trope it is interesting to see it played out in 90s television.
For this series I found further research done on 90s television, TGIF: Thank Goodness It’s Family: Family Messages in ABC’s 1990s Friday Night Lineup by Kourtney Hanna Smith. In this reading the author discusses the changes from the traditional family to a post modern family such as the one seen in Sister, Sister. I think this is an important attribute because it helps to remove the stigma from both adoptive and single parents by showing that they can just as well raise a family. This is seen in my episode that I looked at because it shows the parents doing normal things parents do such as enjoying each others company while also protecting their children from harm.
I continue my blogs with what many consider even to this day their favorite show of all time: Friends. This cult classic started in 1994 and ran until 2004 and led to the creation of superstars such as Jennifer Aniston. Over these 10 years Friends targeted many social issues such as condom use while also being a family friendly show. For the sake of this blog post I will try to only look at 90s era Friends episodes though how the television show evolves over time is important.
I will be describing one the most iconic storylines in Friends history: WE WERE ON A BREAK! This line is one of the best known from the film franchise and focuses on another important topic when looking at femininity in the 90s: the different meaning of words between males and females. The book A Cultural Approach to Interpersonal Communication has a section titled A Cultural Approach to Male-Female Miscommunication discusses this exact problem when looking specifically at American society.
To give context to the scene, Ross and Rachel are having a rough patch in their relationship to which Rachel recommends they “take a break.” Ross takes this to mean they relax and cool off such as going to get frozen yogurt but Rachel replies that she means a break from each other. While Rachel means she wants some space from Ross to think about their relationship while still being committed to each other, Ross takes this to mean they are broken up. During this time Ross sleeps with another woman and then famously exclaims to Rachel who is upset about the news “we were on a break!” This leads to many other characters throughout the show making comments to both Ross and Rachel about the events surrounding their break and taking up different viewpoints.
When looking at this scene I would take Rachel’s side since I believe the couple had not officially broken up while when I asked my boyfriend he was on Ross’ side of the argument. When looking at this in the context of the 1990s I think this had the possibility to shape the lingo of girls and boys who watched the show. Since Friends aired every week those who watched the show often could easily pick up on the words used in the series and then add them to their own vocabulary thus using it in the same meaning as their favorite characters.
This example is something I also plan to look further into during my paper and see how different words have different meanings to males and females since the book I linked above had a lot of relevant information that could be used when looking at 1990s television. I also plan to look at other television shows and see if there are linguistic trends that can be traced between them in regards to femininity and relationships during this time period.
For my next installment of Television and the 90s Chick I’ll be looking at a 90s classic, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. My project focuses on all aspects of femininity and sexuality in 1990s television so I am looking at television from different races, ages, social groups, and locations so this one is a good point of view in regards to different races and social classes in comparison to Full House since the Banks family is an upper class black family while the Tanners were a middle class white family. For background on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air you can check out its IMDb or Wikipedia pages. A good source to look into for race in 1990s television is <em>Color by Fox by Kristal Brent Look in which she discusses the development of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The basics of the show are this: it ran from 1990 to 1996 and starred pop culture icon Will Smith as Will Smith “a street-smart teenager from Philadelphia” who moves in with the Banks Family in Bel-Air in order to get away from the trouble in his neighborhood. At this point I’m sure you’re thinking “what does The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air have to do with 1990s femininity?” well I’ll tell you. The show features many strong female characters such as Aunt Vivian, Ashley, and Hillary. During the series it shows how Will and the other men of the show such as Will, Uncle Phillip, and Carlton interact with women while also showing the reactions, experiences, and troubles of the male and female cast members.
Moving on to look at some actual footage of the show I will be mostly looking at scenes from this YouTube video, which is titled Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Funny Moments. The first I will be looking at starts at 00:33 and features Will in the basement with his new girlfriend Kathleen and they are kissing. He makes a comment to her saying “I love you for what is on the inside” then as they are kissing he accidentally pulls a piece of her weave off her head before screaming and throwing it to the side. This here shows Will in an attempt to be progressive by saying to his girlfriend he doesn’t only care about her looks but loves her for her personality and character. This statement is then put to the test as they are kissing and he accidentally grabs the hair off of her head and is immediately scared of it. This puts into perspective Will’s understanding of female identity, especially of black women such as Kathleen, who often wear weaves. While he appreciates her trying to look pretty for him, he does not understand the work that goes into it and when must come face to face with it he is scared.
The scene continues with Will sitting on the floor with the weave now on his head as he sings “I’m stuck in a basement sitting on a tricycle, girl getting on my nerves. Going out of my mind, I thought she was fine but I don’t know if her body is hers.” Here the shows dialogue mentions two things I want to discuss: Kathleen’s bodily autonomy and the craziness of all women. While this show is based on comedy it is still making comments about the world in a large context. In a society where plastic surgery and ways to change ones body for “the good” run rampant, I wonder if comments such as these could shape a generation and create the world we live in today? Clearly Will does not find Kathleen’s attempt to be conventionally beautiful good enough due to the flaws such as Will’s ability to remove the hair. This could lead to girls making more permanent changes to their bodies in order to appear “natural”. The crazy woman trope is another common aspect of television, especially sitcoms such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. We see it briefly mentioned in this episode so I won’t go into too much detail now but will come back to this topic in future blog posts.