When I started off with this project I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do and if there was really anything in the 90s teenage girl category that I would find entertaining while also being able to find a lot of information on. After thinking about topics such as Pokemon and video games I eventually decided on the concept of “Television and the 90s Chick.” I thought with this idea I could go back and look at some of my favorite television shows growing up and analyze them in ways I never did when I was younger while also including some shows I had never even heard of before until the Console Living Room meetings. Over the course of this semester I analyzed 13 different 90s television shows by watching either full episodes or clips depending on what I could find that was streaming for free or that I already had access too such as through Netflix and Hulu. I also wrote a paper though at the time that I am writing this reflection it is not completely done.
Some issues I encountered during the semester included finding good clips/episodes of all of the shows. Since I was running a blog I wanted the videos to be easily accessible to those reading my blog and I also didn’t want to download episodes such as through PirateBay. I was originally going to provide television shows to run on the TV in the Console Living Room but due to issues with that not working I didn’t do that. I had nothing else to provide to the physical room so all of my work was done digitally. For some of the television shows I looked at I didn’t find a lot that I thought was applicable to the research I was doing and towards the end I started to think about what other shows I could’ve done that may have been more cohesive. Looking back on my blogs I found All That and Clarissa Explains it All to be the most boring that I looked at and offered the least amount of incite when looking at both the show and scholarly articles on the show. I originally included those shows because they had been suggested to me and I had seen them on lists of popular 90s shows but they didn’t add much to my research. After analyzing shows such as Buffy, the Vampire Slayer I started to see a lot of references to Xena: Warrior Princess and I thought to myself “why didn’t I do this show? I loved this show as a kid.” So if I were to go back and do it again I would update the list to fit more of the girl power, feminist narrative my blog posts started to fall into towards the end.
In regards to the scholarly articles, I found a lot of good sources for what I was talking about. I hadn’t realized prior to this semester how much work had been done on 90s television specifically on girl power and feminism in shows such as The Powerpuff Girls, Charmed, and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. I was also interested to find articles that claimed shows such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch helped to subordinate other women since I had never even thought about it in that way.
Writing my paper so far has been surprisingly easy since by doing the blogposts I found a lot of sources that meshed well together. I also started to really think about what I specifically wanted my final paper to be on while I was doing the blogs so it helped to shape my point of view and help me look for parts that would fit in well. For my final paper I am discussing everything I learned through my analysis and showing what previous research has to say in regards to the influence television had on girls in the 90s such as through girl power and dealing with serious issues to help educate the viewer. For my paper I am not using all of the shows due to the fact it would be too long and I wanted to only use the shows that were the most cohesive. As of now the paper is mainly focusing on Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, The Powerpuff Girls, Sex and the City, Charmed, and Beverly Hills, 90210 since all of these shows had a strong focus on girl power and dealing with issues relevant to viewers.
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.
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.
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.
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.