Last week in class, Mary suggested that I read the Honeymooners chapter in The Sitcom Reader to find words relevant to Louie. I did, and I did. Thank you Mary.
The chapter, as we all read, explores both working-class masculinity and somewhat-subtle messages of domestic violence in postwar sitcoms like The Honeymooners. Steven Sheehan details that the undermining of the “head of the household” form of manhood heavily relies upon the ability (or inability, in Ralph Kramden’s case) to provide materialistic items, which results in the apparently hilarious spousal disputes that ensue. Kristina Gupta’s interview reveals the complexities of studying masculinity in media, like the real and fictional expectations we hold for different types of men and male characters.
Louie as a series explores masculinity in several ways, and one of the most interesting episodes that does so is one I recently watched from the 5th season, titled “Bobby’s House.” The episode begins with Louie and his brother Bobby mistakenly attending a stranger’s funeral, followed by an awkward exchange between the two in Bobby’s apartment. Bobby laments about the upsets in his life (low income, dingy apartment, sterility) and says that Louie should be looking out for him. Louie doesn’t know how to respond, and when he asks how to specifically help Bobby, Bobby shuts down.
The next scene shows Louie trying to stop a woman who is attacking a man at a bus stop, but she turns her anger to him and physically assaults him. Later, Louie’s two daughters beg him to explain where the bruises on his face came from and he reluctantly tells them that “a very strong woman” beat him up. To his dismay, they laugh at him.
The episode immediately cuts to a scene of his sort-of girlfriend, Pamela, hysterically laughing at and teasing him about the situation, which he now appears to have a lighter attitude about. He asks her to cover his bruises with makeup for his comedy shows that night, and when he refuses to let her apply lipstick, she begs him to let her fully make him up. The scene that ensues is essentially a sexual role-reversal, where Pamela emulates a male character by putting on a baseball cap and speaking in a low voice – all while implicitly urging Louie to take his role seriously, which he ends up doing by taking on the female character of “Jornetha.” After the unusually intimate sexual encounter, Louie tries to talk about it to Pamela and she ends up breaking up with him. He cries. She laughs again.
(Badly-cropped still from “Bobby’s House,” S5E4; Courtesy of my parents’ Netflix account.)
In this episode, there are three very different expectations of Louie: the financially generous older brother, the strong father who should not be beaten up by women and the sexually adventurous and experimental lover. The first resembles the working-class masculinity that the Honeymooners chapter talks about, while the second mirrors the expectations for masculinity that Gupta discusses, but in counteractive ways; Louie is NOT financially providing for his (extended) family, and is NOT a strong man who can physically defend himself. The last expectation is easily the wildest, but when it is placed beside to the previous two, it provides an overall picture of Louie’s outward struggle with masculinity. This episode proves that his form is unconventional and ambiguous, which is perhaps a better way to represent it that forcibly fitting into the molds of masculine expectations. The episode ends with Bobby hysterically laughing at him for 30 or so seconds, which is a final reminder that to Louie, every real struggle presented in the show can still be funny.