Thursday, September 17, 2009

According to Jim His Wife is His Property

Insomnia is a rotten thing but it did grant me the opportunity to watch a ridiculous show that I otherwise would never have seen. According to Jim is an ABC sitcom that has evidently been on the air for over 8 years. As sitcoms go, it seems pretty typical and unremarkable but the episode that I caught from the first season entitled "Blow Up" seemed a little too familiar for comfort. I realized about halfway through the episode that it was an almost exact copy of the storyline from an episode of Roseanne that aired almost ten years earlier. There were a few little changes to the storyline that made a huge difference in the representation of gender roles.

I think that this summary from Wikipedia really explains the feel of the show pretty well:
"Jim and Cheryl are the perfect middle class American couple. Happily married, living in a suburban house with two adorable (but loud) little girls and a baby boy, they really can't complain much about life – except for those couple fights that neither one can ever let go."



"Blow Up" was about the way that Jim and Cheryl chose to celebrate Valentine's Day. Jim got Cheryl a car safety kit (ever the practical thinker) and Cheryl, at the pushing of her sister, decided to get a sexy photo taken. The fight in this episode (I am going to assume there is one in every episode, as I said, this is not a remarkable sitcom) happened when Jim decided to show his friends, coworkers, and the Kinkos employees the intimate picture, thus humiliating his wife. She tried to explain her humiliation and he just didn't understand. The episode ended hilariously with Jim begging Cheryl to take down the giant portrait of herself that was in the shop window where she had the picture taken. Now that she wanted to show off her body on her own terms he get extremely possessive, even getting down on one knee to beg her to take it down. The show ends with Jim presenting Cheryl with a hilarious sexy portrait of his own.
fin

Before I go into an analysis of why this show was sexist and awful, I'd like to share the synopsis for an episode of Roseanne entitled "It Was 20 Years Ago Today" from season 5. In this episode, Roseanne, at the pushing of her sister, decided to take a sexy photo for Dan for their anniversary. He decides to alter her wedding ring to include all of their childrens' birthstones without telling her. Hilarity ensues as she goes on a mad search for her ring and tries to keep the picture a secret. In the photo shoot, she is shy and embarrassed but realizes that Dan loves her and loves looking at her so she gains the confidence to take the pictures. In the end Dan loves the picture and respectfully keeps it between the two of them. The show ends with a montage of images of Dan's own sexy pictures.
fin

I don't think I need to tell you why I was reminded of this episode of Roseanne after watching According to Jim. What I do want to share is the remarkable difference that a few subtle changes can make in a storyline like this one. The According to Jim episode was about betrayal and objectification. Jim decided that since his wife is his property, there is really no harm in sharing her sexualized body with everyone he knows. He really didn't think that there was one thing wrong with that. When Cheryl expressed her betrayal and feelings of violation, it was all set up for laughs. Because it is hilarious when a woman is stripped of her autonomy and is exposed in a provocative way AGAINST HER WILL. She makes Jim promise not to show the image to anyone else and all is well. Until her brother spots the picture of her blown up and hanging in a window display at the photographer's studio. Cheryl's body is presented in these scenes as being the property first of her brother who hangs his coat over the picture for the entire scene and then of her husband who throws a temper tantrum on the street begging Cheryl to take the picture down. In this scene, Cheryl decides that she kind of likes the picture being out and gains a certain confidence from knowing that other women were inspired by her (that could be another post in and of its self). The only indication of Cheryl owning her own body is undermined by Jim's demand that the picture be removed. Cheryl "teaches him a lesson" by telling him that this is exactly how she felt when he was showing the picture off to their friends. Of course, it is not the same thing because the picture is still one of her.

In the Roseanne episode, the sexy photo is an opportunity for Roseanne to explore her sexuality and to be intimate with her husband. The image is not the focus of the episode, the relationships between Dan and Roseanne and Roseanne and her body are the focus of the episode. There is not one second in this episode in which Roseanne is not in control of her own body or her own sexuality and as pathetic as it might be, that is a pretty remarkable thing to see on broadcast television. Dan and Roseanne, like Jim and Cheryl, have three children, have been married for awhile, and their trials and tribulations are the focus of the episodes. Dan and Roseanne had a fight in "It Was 20 Years Ago Today" and the arc of the stories were really almost identical. Yet those subtle differences go a long way to make a show either a piece of misogynist tripe or a story informed by feminist ideals. (It might also be notable that the Roseanne episode was written by a woman while the According to Jim episode was written and directed by two men.)

10 comments:

Sabertooth Screaming Lemur said...

Hi! Good stuff!
*goes off to read archives*

notemily said...

Awesome analysis, Cortney. I especially like the difference between the husbands' gifts to their wives...

aquirkydelight said...

Cortney, this is such good stuff! You are brilliant, and we don't usually get into these discussions in person, so I'm glad you have a blog. Also, I totally remember that episode of Roseanne from its first airing. I am old. <3 Ebeth

edvard said...

I was just thinking about this show and how its portrayal of women (Jim's wife in particular) really upsets me. So I goggled "according to jim feminist criticism" and this blog came up. Hooray! I'm tempted to write up an analysis/criticism of my own but that would require me to watch several episodes of it when I can only stand to see parts of one, at most.

Cortney said...

Thanks Edvard,

I have only ever seen that episode and I certainly cannot stand to watch any more. That one was bad enough.

Anonymous said...

Hi
Your review was like balm to my soul... i feel i need to post a review a wrote to this show on a parental recommendation website (where most people find this shit hilarious, clever and full of good morals) and i wanted to add it here... i want people to know the kind of shit i have been subjected to when forcing myself to watch this so i could thoroughly judge it...let me know what you think.. Im sorry the review is kind of long but I felt every word of it was necessary to convey half the emotional trauma that show provides
so without further....

Anyone who thinks this show represents good family values because Jim does what he does to protect them, and Cheryl's cool attitude and acceptance of his 'shenanigans" has been completely and successfully blinded by the shiny glaze enforced over the true messages of this show. Although a scathing review of these will follow I will also note that this show is not funny, predictable, repetitive and really is without value. If your kids are watching tv to the extent that this show becomes an option please opt for the animal, discovery, history or even cooking channels for the sake of actually giving them worthwhile information instead of a truly poisonous hogwash of a show...The only saving grace of this show, the character of Cheryl, an angelic woman who really goes the extra mile to support and understand her husband, gives of all her to her family while retaining an awesome sense of humour...thanks to the actress she has filled out the character so well that were she placed in an actual realistic and supportive environment the show would actually showcase the morals desired from adult role models...and would likely be a worthwhile show for kids. But since in this version this woman accepts unrealstic circumstances of her 40's era household values, and never reacts to the constant betrayal she is subjected to this show remains a poorly constructed lie of what family is and should be, full of dangerous messages to kids growing up in this day and age.

so then why am i so perturbed by what i see on According to Jim...I must note that nearly every episode will make me feel so ill at its premises that i need to shout in disgust and exasperation.

Anonymous said...

the most misogynist show i have EVER seen, every episode without exception has the father trick and/or literally control how his wife behaves (both God and the Devil appear to Jim in different episodes and give him the power to do what he wishes to his wife, in fact it is because he made a deal with the devil that his wife loves him in the 1st place. The devil appears when Jim and Cheryl have newborn twins and the devil comes to take his 5th born child for him as payment for cheryl's love. He then tries to trick her into thinking the leftover identical twin is also his brother, as she has had a C-section (the easy way out! exclaims Jim) and is bed bound...at the end of the episode however it is suggested she has sex with him despite her medical issue of a freshly sliced and stitched together abdomen.
When God gives him the power to change all women in his world to his personal ideal (because Jim is dissatisfied how free willed his wife is and laments to his brother-in-law/best friend (the endless punchline of fat jokes, who is moronic, and NEVER is seen in a serious & loving relationship with a woman) that he could make all women so much better) - the 1st change he gives all women of the world giant breasts ....and then sees his 10 year old daughter with a giant rack...the 2nd wish that women be more like men equates to his wife taking him for a quickee, finishing before her husband, promising to let him orgasm the next time, then loudly farting and making a dutch oven over her husband.. .the third wish then is for men to be like women - turning Jim sensitive, weepy and into a cook and neighbour dinner party thrower who stresses too much when a dish has already been had at a previous night that week, he thus has a back-up dish..which too has been eaten earlier in the week causing him to have a complete meltdown..
he is always seen lounging in his la-zboy watching sports while she is more often than not seen in the kitchen, cooking or gossiping. How is the mother staying home for her middle school age children in ANY way a positive message?
this show is disgustingly misogynist and sexist, has a disgusting view of gender roles. It is sick! i dont know which message is worse, the one little girls or boys may take away from this. dangerous at its core and promoting antiquated "morals" of using your partner and kids for your personal pleasures while consistently lying to or trying to trick everyone who is female - wife, daughters, sister-in-law while they all remain compliant and are never really offended by this under the thin pretense that this is how familial and unconditional loves work. His sons however only seem to be tricked when they are inexplicably tied into the trick to be executed on the girls as collateral damage, but never directly due to his scrutiny. His best friend is there to help him concoct the episodal plans against his sister and her kids to be rewarded only by being called some kind of idiot and with never ending fat jokes - he is once dressed in only a diaper, cap and binkie when Jim attempts to fool his wife concerning his newborn twin boy taken by the devil. Truly every episode is composed of cruelty and tickery by an alpha-male under the guise of being a good & protective family man
sick, sick, sick! how and why is this show allowed to air on tv...?

Anonymous said...

Hi
Your review was like balm to my soul... i feel i need to post a review a wrote to this show on a parental recommendation website (where most people find this shit hilarious, clever and full of good morals) and i wanted to add it here... i want people to know the kind of shit i have been subjected to when forcing myself to watch this so i could thoroughly judge it...let me know what you think.. Im sorry the review is kind of long but I felt every word of it was necessary to convey half the emotional trauma that show provides
so without further....

Anyone who thinks this show represents good family values because Jim does what he does to protect them, and Cheryl's cool attitude and acceptance of his 'shenanigans" has been completely and successfully blinded by the shiny glaze enforced over the true messages of this show. Although a scathing review of these will follow I will also note that this show is not funny, predictable, repetitive and really is without value. If your kids are watching tv to the extent that this show becomes an option please opt for the animal, discovery, history or even cooking channels for the sake of actually giving them worthwhile information instead of a truly poisonous hogwash of a show...The only saving grace of this show, the character of Cheryl, an angelic woman who really goes the extra mile to support and understand her husband, gives of all her to her family while retaining an awesome sense of humour...thanks to the actress she has filled out the character so well that were she placed in an actual realistic and supportive environment the show would actually showcase the morals desired from adult role models...and would likely be a worthwhile show for kids. But since in this version this woman accepts unrealstic circumstances of her 40's era household values, and never reacts to the constant betrayal she is subjected to this show remains a poorly constructed lie of what family is and should be, full of dangerous messages to kids growing up in this day and age.

so then why am i so perturbed by what i see on According to Jim...I must note that nearly every episode will make me feel so ill at its premises that i need to shout in disgust and exasperation.

Anonymous said...

the most misogynist show i have EVER seen, every episode without exception has the father trick and/or literally control how his wife behaves (both God and the Devil appear to Jim in different episodes and give him the power to do what he wishes to his wife, in fact it is because he made a deal with the devil that his wife loves him in the 1st place. The devil appears when Jim and Cheryl have newborn twins and the devil comes to take his 5th born child for him as payment for cheryl's love. He then tries to trick her into thinking the leftover identical twin is also his brother, as she has had a C-section (the easy way out! exclaims Jim) and is bed bound...at the end of the episode however it is suggested she has sex with him despite her medical issue of a freshly sliced and stitched together abdomen.
When God gives him the power to change all women in his world to his personal ideal (because Jim is dissatisfied how free willed his wife is and laments to his brother-in-law/best friend (the endless punchline of fat jokes, who is moronic, and NEVER is seen in a serious & loving relationship with a woman) that he could make all women so much better) - the 1st change he gives all women of the world giant breasts ....and then sees his 10 year old daughter with a giant rack...the 2nd wish that women be more like men equates to his wife taking him for a quickee, finishing before her husband, promising to let him orgasm the next time, then loudly farting and making a dutch oven over her husband.. .the third wish then is for men to be like women - turning Jim sensitive, weepy and into a cook and neighbour dinner party thrower who stresses too much when a dish has already been had at a previous night that week, he thus has a back-up dish..which too has been eaten earlier in the week causing him to have a complete meltdown..
he is always seen lounging in his la-zboy watching sports while she is more often than not seen in the kitchen, cooking or gossiping. How is the mother staying home for her middle school age children in ANY way a positive message?
this show is disgustingly misogynist and sexist, has a disgusting view of gender roles. It is sick! i dont know which message is worse, the one little girls or boys may take away from this. dangerous at its core and promoting antiquated "morals" of using your partner and kids for your personal pleasures while consistently lying to or trying to trick everyone who is female - wife, daughters, sister-in-law while they all remain compliant and are never really offended by this under the thin pretense that this is how familial and unconditional loves work. His sons however only seem to be tricked when they are inexplicably tied into the trick to be executed on the girls as collateral damage, but never directly due to his scrutiny. His best friend is there to help him concoct the episodal plans against his sister and her kids to be rewarded only by being called some kind of idiot and with never ending fat jokes - he is once dressed in only a diaper, cap and binkie when Jim attempts to fool his wife concerning his newborn twin boy taken by the devil. Truly every episode is composed of cruelty and tickery by an alpha-male under the guise of being a good & protective family man
sick, sick, sick! how and why is this show allowed to air on tv...?

Anonymous said...

I am so glad that I am not the only person who thinks the same. Yeah it's suppose to be "funny", a sitcom, good humor about a family,but I never could find it all that fun, rather "hillarious" or "funny" with a twist, being a twist in a direction towards putting the cast are in said gender roles, that men are the powerful one that runs it all,while women know little to nothing and is only good for looking pretty.What ticks me off the most though is that be it when the women act out they learn a lesson and grow a bit in character, but the male roles don't learn anything and revert back to themselves before the whole problem, never really having any sort of character growth.