Recombinant television, a common television practice involving recycled, prepackaged formulas, updated to create programming that is perceived as novel, impacts more than industry processes. While the industry uses recombinants to reduce risk by facilitating aspects of production and audience affiliation, the inadvertent outcomes include a litany of narratives and characters that influence our worldview. As did the myths of earlier oral societies, television serves as one of our modern storytellers, teaching what we value and helping us make sense of our culture. This study focuses on how the prevalence of recombinant television limits portrayals of women and the discourse of feminism in three popular, female cast American sitcoms.
This study comparatively examines the recombinant narratives and characters in Golden Girls, Living Single, and Sex and the City . While these programs are seemingly about very different modern women, older White women in suburban Florida; twenty-something African-American women in Brooklyn; and thirty-something, White, professional women in Manhattan, respectively, the four main characters in each show represent feminine archetypes found throughout Western mythology: the iron maiden, the sex object, the child, and the mother. First, a content analysis determines if a relationship exists between the characters and archetypes. Then, a comparative textual analysis reveals the deeper meanings the archetypes carry. Finally, a comparative narrative analysis examines the similarities and differences among the series.
The findings reveal that a relationship exists between each modern character and her corresponding ancient archetype, reflecting particular meanings and discourses. The iron maiden archetypes, for example, generally bring forth a feminist discourse, whereas the child archetypes exhibit traditional values. While the sex object archetypes are self-absorbed, consumed with their own beauty and sexual conquests, the mother archetypes seek psychological wellness for themselves and those around them, generally providing much of the emotional work for the group. As reflected in these popular U.S. television series, the similarities among the archetypes and narratives depict limited views of women's lives, while the variance indicates differences among age, race, and class demographics. These recombinant portrayals of ancient archetypes as modern women suggest that our understanding of women's lives remains antiquated, reductionist, and conventional.