Desperate Housewives; Dutiful Househusbands: #TBT Chapter 5 & Conclusion

Chapter Five

The Subversion of the “Ideal Family” in Desperate Housewives

In 2004 a dramatic situation comedy, also referred to as the sitcom, hit the American television screens with such magnitude, the show rocketed to number one almost immediately and quickly became a national and global phenomena. Comprised from a variety of family dynamics, numerous cultural and social issues and an array of varying human traits and characteristics, this sitcom created a familiarity of the family with which most of the American people could relate with. This sitcom taught the sociology of the family. This sitcom was entitled Desperate Housewives.

Desperate Housewives comprised itself of family dynamics which spanned across the years, beginning with the nuclear family concept through to the current, ever-changing, non-traditional family.

By using this sitcom, its unique and blatant imagery of the family, and using the previously mentioned contrasts and comparisons of the television family and real-life family, it is hoped that a conclusion will be formed on whether the image of the real-life American family influences the television family, or that the television family influences the image and dynamics of the real-life American family.

The conclusion will be reached by the use of each major character of Desperate Housewives, Bree Van de Kamp, Gabrielle Solis, Edie Britt, Susan Mayer, and finally Lynette Scavo. Each character and her family will accentuate a specific stage which has been identified in this paper, with a final result of one of the two anticipated conclusion options, previously mentioned.

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Bree Van de Kamp and her family lay the foundation for the sitcom by introducing the traditional “All-American” family. Composition of the Van de Kamp family specifically follows the definition of the nuclear family where “family group that consists only of father, mother, and children” and falls into the light of such great television families as the Anderson and Cleavers.

Bree Van de Kamp and her family hold the traditional roles. Bree is a hard working wife who’s main purpose in life is to perform household duties and support her family. Her husband is a business man who concentrates on the financial stability of the family. Andrew and Danielle are Bree’s children.

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However, unlike the Cleaver boys, the Van de Kamp children are anything but loyal to the family. Andrew openly embarrases his mother with his life style choice, and Danielle shames her when the young daughter falls in love with a suspicious neighbor.

Gabrielle Solis and her husband Carlos bring the minority into the sitcom. They’re proud Latinos, who’s flair and grace for life accentuate the Latino heritage they possess. Gabrielle does not hold the traditional roles as the mother figure. Her concentration in life is fashion and socialization. Her husband is a work-a-holic who buys his wife’s happiness many times.

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Edie Britt is the conniving and most manipulative woman on Wisteria Lane. Her portrayal as a seductive enchantress who brings to light the dysfunctional family to the sitcom in honor of the Connors, Bundys, and Bunkers. Her relationships are off-beat and unconventional, while her motherly tendences are motivated by competition. Edie has one goal in life, to win the best. Whether it be men, money, or anything else, she must win.

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Susan Meyer follows with the single parent, non-traditional family. Supported by previous sitcoms such as Full House and Will and Grace, Susan attempts to uphold the motherly role as did June Cleaver, however while also balancing a job and a single parent love life. Her daughter Julie is a mature and responsible daughter, holding many of the traits valued by the daughters of the 1950s, including the Anderson girls of Father Knows Best. Susan’s ex-husband does play some role in the family, going to and from the house when he is between girlfriends.

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Finally, we come to the current form of the family in Lynette Scavo. Lynette Scavo has a basically traditional family. A loving and hard working husband, and adoring children. However she also gives a home to a illegitimate child of her husband’s from another woman, bringing to light the extended family. Lynette is also a hard working woman of the new millennium who’s story line in the sitcom places an emphasis on the delicate balance a modern woman must make between the personal and professional lives. Lynette Scavo uses every ounce of intelligence she has to make the two worlds compatible. Including web-camming her children in the morning to wish them a good day at school, or starting a nursery at her advertising firm in order to feel safe and comfortable with working while caring for a new born.


fam|ly (fam′ə lē; often fam′lē) n., pl –lies [[ ME familie < L familia, household establishment, akin to famulus, servant <? IE *dhe–mo–house ( < base *dhē-:see do1) > Sans dhāman, household ]] 1 [Obs.] all the people living in the same house; household: see also extended family 2 a) a social unit consisting of parents and the children they rear (see also nuclear family) b) the children of the same parents c) one’s husband (or wife) and children (Webster).

By definition, the television sitcom family has up held the general concept of this ever changing social dynamic. Since it’s early form in television, by reflecting the whether brief or long term, nuclear family dynamic, to the extended, integrated families of today, representation of the family has evolve and will continue to evolve. Through the World Wars, Civil Rights Acts, Voting Rights, and Civil Union Laws, etc, television has helped to reflect the family on the television screen whether reflecting the social issues of the times, or the family values. The Cleavers and Andersons hold an ideal perception of the family, with clean lawns, orderly homes, and perfect relationships. Going through the racial transformations Sanford & Sons and The Crosby Show brought to the television screen in light of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Act, the dysfunctional loving parenting techniques that Archie Bunker, Al Bundy and Roseanne Connor provided, to the single extended family or non-related families of Full House, Friends, and Will & Grace, during radical social changes of marriage, divorce, and gay rights, television has reflected society. To the question posed earlier in this paper whether television sitcom influences societal views of family or if family influences television family societies, it may be concluded that there is no true way to distinguish with quantitative or even qualitative research the lucid and transforming nature of both the family and the television sitcom

The approach used to research this paper is a “new millennium way” of investigating the family and American society. Television has only been in the average American’s hand since the 1940s, when it was finally readily available and cost efficient. (Spigle). It has finally reached a point in its existence that patterns and themes, etc may be found. With such a short life span thus far, and it’s ever changing nature, due to new technologies, further research will be inevitable.

Works Cited and Consulted

Brooks, Tim, and Earle Marsh. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows; 1946 – Present. 6th ed. New York: Ballantine Books, 1995

Butler, Jeremy G. Roseanne; U.S. Domestic Comedy. Ed. Horace Newcomb. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997

Chao, Elaine L. and Kathleen P. Utgoff. Women in the Labor Force: A Databook. U.S. Department of Labor, May 2005, Report 985. 12 March 2007 <>.

Dean, Pamala S. Sanford And Son; U.S. Domestic Comedy. Ed. Horace Newcomb. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997.

 Desperate Housewives. Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Touchstone Television, 2004. DVD

Friends. Warner Brothers Television, 1994. DVD.

 Generic Radio. 25 March 2006 <>.

Gunzerath, David. All In The Family; U.S. Situation Comedy. Ed. Horace Newcomb. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997.

Hunt, Darnell M. The  Cosby Show; U.S. Situation Comedy. Ed. Horace Newcomb. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997.

Huston, Aletha C., et al. Big World, Small Screen: The Role of Television in American Society. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992

Internet Media DataBase. 19 January 2006 <>.

Kassel, Michael B. Father Knows Best; U.S. Domestic Comedy. Ed. Horace Newcomb. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997.

Morley, David. Family Television: Cultural Power and the Domestic Leisure. London: Routledge, 1988. 15 March 2007 < PP9&dq=family+and+television+studies&ots=8ZSKQTjevZ&sig=wZHH5GzlyEPO2bmDKej9jqn-J1A#PPP1,M1>.

Neufeldt, Victoria. Editor in Chief. Webster’s New World College Dictionary. Editor Emeritus David B. Guralmik. 3rd ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1997.

Roberts, Sam. Who Americans Are and What They Do, in Census Data. New York Times. December 15, 2006, 23 February 2007 8800&en=0854d746f02031e3&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss>.

Orlick, Peter B. Leave It To Beaver; U.S. Situation Comedy. Ed. Horace Newcomb. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997.

Ruggles, Steven. The Transformation of the American Family Structure. An American Historical Review, February 1994: 103-128. 7 April 2007 < R.pdf.>.

Saluter, Arlene F. Marital Status and Living Arrangements: March 1994. Current Population Reports; Population Characteristics, 20 – 484. 15 April 2007 <>.

Spigel, Lynn. Make Room For TV: Television and the Family Ideal in Postwar America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Stuller-Giglione, Joan. Married…With Children; U.S. Situation Comedy. Ed. Horace Newcomb. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997.

Tindall, George and David Shi. America: A Narrative History. 5th ed. Vol. 2. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000. 2 vols.

TVLand. 29 June 2006 <http://tvland/tvhome.html>.

U.S. Census Bureau. 15 January 2007 <>.

Wikipedia. 29 June 2006 <>.

Wober, Mallory and Barrie Gunter. The Television and Social Control. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988

Until next time,

Peace, Love and Pandas!

Published by Brian

I am currently the Assistant Director of Student Life for Registered Student Organizations and Late-Night Programming at Michigan State University. After earning my B.A. from the University of Michigan-Flint, I entered the Student Affairs profession. After a few years in the field, I returned to school and earned my M.A. in Educational Leadership-Higher Education Student Affairs from Eastern Michigan University. In my spare time I blog about my thoughts and musings on current issues in higher education, student affairs, digital worlds, identity development and general life inspirations and observations. I also volunteer a lot for my fraternity and multiple regional and national professional associations.

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