Why so desperate to parse popularity of 'Housewives'?
TORONTO — Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes a television show is popular because it is good, not because it reflects some great truth.
This is the case with ABC's hit "Desperate Housewives" - in spite of the storm of parsing that the ladies of Wisteria Lane have weathered since last fall. Few television shows have inspired this much criticism and analysis from both the feminists and the family values corners - strange bedfellows. But given that Marc Cherry, the creator of "Desperate Housewives," is a gay Republican - maybe not so strange.
Regardless, the program took home two Golden Globe Awards last month. You have to hand it to main characters Bree, Gabrielle, Lynette, and Susan. Unless you're Jurassic feminist Germaine Greer, who recently asserted in The Guardian that, never mind the "focus on women, our sympathies are instantly enlisted for the men" on the show. Feminism, she adds, has no place in discussions of Wisteria Lane. Misogynists, she concludes, could not have dreamed up worse female characters.
Companies such as Kellogg's and Tyson Foods have pulled their advertising over the show's content, which includes blackmail, adultery, and the occasional murder. Members of Women Influencing the Nation and the American Family Association, among others, have voiced disapproval. What will happen to our sense of right and wrong if we keep watching Martha Stewart-esque Bree strive to make the perfect borscht? And if we like this show, do we even know right from wrong? Both The New York Times and Newsweek have puzzled over its popularity in ... red states! Why would people who care about family values want to watch the desperate and the hot? Are red-staters self-righteous hypocrites?
I find it difficult to believe any of these people are watching the same show that I am. And Ms. Greer's take seems at odds with her legacy. Are we to believe that women are not feminists because they choose to look after their families? Surely feminism is about choice. As for the men on the show, they are, at best, clueless. Lynette's husband - the top of the lot - is sweet, but often dismissive of his wife's frazzled state from caring for their hyperactive brood. Bree's husband is ungrateful and sulky, deeming his home and wife "too perfect." Susan's husband leaves her for the babysitter. Gabrielle's husband is accused of using slave labor to make his fortune.
As for the concerns of some conservatives, I hope they don't watch daytime television, where pathology and lingerie sightings are far more abundant. In fact, one of the things that most impresses about "Desperate Housewives" is the prevalence of family values amid the dark humor. Lynette and her husband agree that children need a parent at home, and while Lynette misses her career, she knows she is doing the right thing. Lynette also resists the recommendation that she medicate her boisterous children, concerned it will take away what is unique and loving about them. Bree tries to make her marriage work, rather than instantly capitulating to her husband's desire for a divorce. When Susan discovers Gabrielle's relationship with a younger man, she takes her friend to task for the pain she is causing.
The most profound relationships on the show are the ones between the moms and their kids. It is hard to believe this would have a corrosive effect on viewers, chipping away at family.
So, if we're not all immoral or misogynistic, why do we watch "Desperate Housewives"? Remember Occam's Razor: The simplest answer is the best. It is a clever show. It is well written, satirical, and carries enough mystery to make you tune in next Sunday. There is probably no deeper significance to the ratings of Wisteria Lane.
• Rondi Adamson is a Canadian writer.