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- Published on Amazon.com
This is one massively boring book. It reads like a doctoral thesis; for example, never use a short and simple term when a much longer, and much fancier one, can do.
The author says that the show was basically influenced by the women's liberal movement although over time it became less liberal in its approach and somewhat more traditional in how it viewed women. It also had a very troubled history, being cancelled, brought back, cancelled, brought back, cancelled, and then brought back as a series of made-for-tv movies.
The author examines womens' issues in relation to the series. I became somewhat concerned when she began detailing what constituted "women's issues" and what didn't. Let me take a couple of specific examples.
p.136: "For one thing, TV's criteria for choosing these (women's) issues, as we have seen, skewed toward subject matter that can be tapped for its sensationalism. Whereas other potential issues, such as low wages or discrimination based on race, class, age, appearance, disabilities, and gender are also crucial for women, they may lack exploitation potential and are perhaps more difficult to reduce to an individual level."
For one thing Cagney & Lacey was a show that needed to develop and keep and audience and thus needed to "entertain" people. Documentary-type programs can deal with issues such as these in great detail but they are individual programs and do not stretch years in length. Cagney & Lacey covered many of these issues (and discrimination was dealt with many times during the series, actually), but if this examination of such issues would have been constant, in-depth and totally realistic and accurate the series would have become boring over time and would died much sooner than it did.
On the same page (136) she defines some of what constitutes "designated women's issues" and includes rape, woman-battering, incest and sexual harrasment, but she then goes on to complain that designating such things as "women's issues" ends up serving to "contain them, consign them to the domain of 'belonging to women" and once again obscure their more general social, power-oriented and structural characteristics."
In other words she basically complains that issues are not being dealt with but is also complaining that if they are and they are designated as "women's issues" then that is also wrong. Basically, the people making the series could never, under this line of reasoning, satisfy her. They're damned if they do and damned if they don't.
What confused me many times is the author's approach like in the above, complaining about various things, and then following that section of the book with various details of how this-or-that organization or group of people praised the show's dealing with the issues or approaches that she took issue with. It seemed to me like the author was saying over and over that the show's doing a particular thing that did not fit in to the correct feminist mode was wrong despite the fact that many people were very happy that the show dealt with this-or-that particular topic.
The more I read of the book the more convinced I became that the author's position was that of a feminist extremist. She adds, for example, on page 153 that the show presented some material "that was troublesome and offensive from feminist points of view, among them: the sensational serial murders of women; racist, classist and sexist slurs; graphic portrayals of women as victims; stereotyped depictions of prostitutes; an overly didactic approach; and white women as enlightened teachers about racism."
Somebody explain to me, please, why presenting serial murders of women as being something that is bad should be offensive to anyone. Doing shows that examine how wrong racism or any other -ism is does not seem to me to be something that is bad or offensive. Also, why can't white women be "enlightened teachers about racism"? One female singer I happen to like quite a bit- Joan Baez- was an "enlightened" opponent of racism and a personal friend of Martin Luther King.
The next part of the book that bothered me was the amount of space devoted to a lesbian interpretation of the Cagney and Lacey relationship. Not that lesbianism bothers me; I'm support it fully. Same for homosexuality. But, where I have a problem with the author and others is that the word "bixexual" seems to be permanently removed from many people's vocabulary. Mary Beth was married and had sex with her husband Harvey. Christine had sex with different men. If they would have ever have had sex with each other then they would have been bisexual, not lesbian. Yet a bisexual interpretation of the "gazes" the author refers to between the two women never seems to occur to the author.
A few pages later the author talks about Christine's character. "Her problems with men and her perpetual jibes at macho masculinity coexisted with her continual heterosexual couplings and her oftentimes submissive, 'needing to be taken care of' behavior in scenes of physical intimacy." Basically it seems the author doesn't really care very much for women having sex with men ("couplings"?) and definitely seems to oppose women in any kind of submissive situation. Forget, of course, that it was entirely voluntary on Christine's part, that she was comfortable with having a diverse personality.
To me what could have been a good work on the history of women on television and how Cagney & Lacey fit into (and improved) that history instead turns out to be a boring, feminist-extremist work that seems to be self-contradictory