In our discussion of I Love Lucy, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that Fred and Ethel don’t have kids. There is never any mention of the two of them having children, and no children of theirs are even present on the show. This is interesting to me because of the time period the show reflects.
The 1950’s was supposedly a time for traditional family values to be expressed on television for the country to see. Gender roles were depicted on television as the normative actions for daily life; men went to work, and women tended to the home. Children grew up to be good people, with good manners, who did well in school. This reflection of “daily life” in 1950’s television is why I’m so intrigued as to why Fred and Ethel don’t have children.
Still from I Love Lucy “The Charm School” (Season 3, Episode 14, 1954)
But in deeper thought, the idea of two retired, previously successful vaudeville performers, not having children, portrayed on the I Love Lucy show makes complete sense. In our readings, Lori Landay discusses in her chapter, the idea that Lucy subverts the traditional gender roles ascribed to her. Since Lucy is the focal point of the show, we attribute the subversive behavior of the time to her alone.
However, is it possible that Fred and Ethel’s lack of progeny is just as subversive? It makes sense in terms of the goals of the show. The show is designed to portray the opposition of Lucille Ball’s real life as a movie star. As a movie star, she is still able to have children—they wrote it into the show. But what about those career persons who do not have the opportunity to live their lives according to the traditional norms?
In come Fred and Ethel. Fred and Ethel depict those very characters who have chosen to live their lives the way they wanted to without ascribing to any set standard of behavior. I think that is just as, if not more subversive than Lucy in the show.