How Are Women Represented in British Sitcom Peepshow

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How are women represented in the British Sitcom PeepShow Introduction I have looked at how women are represented in Peep Show, a British Situation Comedy based around two very different friends that share a flat in London. The majority of situations they get into involve their attempts to seduce or gain affection from the women they either love or have a fleeting obsession with. The reason I decided to analyse Peep Show is because its two main characters are so contrasting in ethics, morals, life style choices and attitudes towards women that it allows for an interesting look into how women are represented.
I also feel that women in comedy on a whole are underrepresented. Literature review The literary resources I will be drawing upon include and article by Jack Glascock from the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media(2001). In which he looks at gender roles on primetime television and focuses on the shift in representation from the seventies gender roles on primetime television . The article is both theoretical and statistical and provides an interesting overview of gender on screen. I will also be looking at the work of Brett Mills.
I will look at two of his works one is a journal article in the Oxford Journal Screen. Also looking at his book, The Sitcom. Brett Mills is an expert in the sit com arena, with several journals and books on similar subjects, he offers a contemporary look at British sitcom, including Peep Show. Methodology I had several issues when approaching the method of my research. The first issue was that in order to do a focus group, I would have to pick specific episodes to show people. By choosing a specific episode, I would by default be cherry picking the content and with that content cherry picking the ideology of the episode.

I therefore decided to pick an episode at random, so I could try to eradicate the possibility of me picking an episode that would reinforce my own opinions. The episode “The Local Zero” was then shown to two male and one female. These three participants had never seen an episode of Peep Show before, they there for were briefed on the general narrative: i. e that Mark and Jeremy are friends that live together in a flat. I also did not tell them specifically what I was trying to find out; I then asked them a series of questions.
Not all specific to gender, however the majority were pin pointed towards gender. The focus group gave me an unbiased first account of what people thought if they were to just turn on the television for the first time and see an episode of Peep Show. Would they think that the show they had just watched represented women positively or negatively? They would have no bias or favouritism towards the characters. So it was a raw first thoughts approach, that was both useful and a hindrance. I balanced this out with a general textual analysis of the series. Analysis
As I mentioned in my methodology the focus group consisted of people that had not seen Peep Show previously. I showed them an episode in which Jeremy is troubled by his girlfriend’s new found wish for abstinence and Mark is still trying to win the heart of Sophie, the woman he works with, by fighting off the competition. The two female characters we are then presented with are Sophie and Nancy. Nancy is an American Christian who wants Jeremy to break sexual taboos after being criticised by Mark for not following her religion; she decides abstinence to be the last sexual taboo.
When I asked the focus group who the least likeable character was they all eventually agreed on Nancy, when asked why a participant stated she was “just annoying” a statement again that was agreed on. In the episode she comes across as a bit stupid. In response to her abstinence Jeremy pretends that he is fine with it, although in Peep Show you can hear the thoughts of Mark and Jeremy. One of the participants noted when how positive the interaction between men and women was, one participant said “not very as they think one thing and tell the women another. It is the deceitful attitude towards women they use in order to gain either affection or sex. In Jeremy’s case he lies about being religious in order to continue to have sex. However Jeremy was not the least likeable character even though he lied to his girlfriend. I asked the question whether they felt the interests and attitudes of female characters reflected real interests and attitudes of real women, the response was undecided. Feminists of the 1970s were concerned about the narrow range of representations of women offered in the media and argued that these were often ‘negative’ stereotypes.
So, for instance, much advertising was taken to task for restricting representations of women to only a few roles, primarily the wife and mother, the housewife and the sex object. This approach focused on the power of ideology as a force and a mechanism. (Fisk, 1987) Although Peep Show is a contemporary text, we have to wonder whether there is that diverse roles with the characters within. Nancy can be seen as the sex object, although throughout the series there are many similar characters that Jeremy has fleeting relationships with.
Sophie (Marks love interest) in later episodes becomes the “nagging wife” as he decides he doesn’t want to marry her and doesn’t want her child. There are very few female characters in Peep Show that seem to break theses boundaries. Gender issues have been of concern within the study of television. These concerns have primarily taken two forms. First, there has been the question of representation, which initially focused on how television stereotyped, under-represented or misrepresented women.
As a extremely popular show I felt it was important to analyse how women were represented, especially in comedy as a whole, the lack of strong female characters in comedy is apparent not only on television and in film, but also on the stage although it in improving. If you look at Space (c4,1999) the representation is balanced, the formatting is the same in that two friends share a flat but one is female and one is male, the minor characters are also more balanced and interestingly the writing was done by both Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevens something I will touch upon later.
In later series Mark befriends a colleague called Dobby. Nick naked so because of her likeness to the “house elf” from Harry Potter. A nickname that does not associate with beauty or power but that of an elf and a male elf. Dobby is the tom boy character, she is not referred to as attractive, is into typically male orientated activities such as computer games , Mark begins to like her because she makes references to things that he would also make reference to. She is like him and he is amazed that a woman knows about or is interested in the same things as him.
So it would be interesting to note that while she is a character that Mark relates to and befriends rather than obsesses over, she is considered strange looking. This can be seen throughout films and television, the idea of desexualised women because she gains male characteristics. The representation of women in Peep show can be assessed in two ways, by looking literally at the roles of female characters and by looking at the attitudes and relationships men have with women and vice-versa.
Peep Show’s two main characters are male; the female characters are not necessarily permanent, although Sophie is in it from the beginning. The other female characters tend to come in depending on the episode. Female representation in the media and in television in particular, may correspond to inequities behind the scenes. (Glascock,2001 ) If as Glascocks findings show the direct correlation between women behind the scenes and women on screen could it be then that this explains the lack of female representation on screen, or the lack of solid and permanent female characters at least.
By looking at the cast and crew information as listed on IMDB, all episodes have been written by men, all episodes have been produced by men , however it also states that it was a female that has directed a majority of the episodes. Interesting to note that as stated earlier Spaced ( c4, 1999) was co wrote by a female. The interaction between Mark, Jeremy and the female characters has two sides to it. You have Mark who is ultimately the “romantic” he obsesses with women down to minute details; he is the shy and awkward geek looking for the one. However you have Jeremy who is a hap hazard womaniser.
Yet what makes them so likeable is their foolish nature. While the progression of female characterizations on television has been noted, the pendulum may have swung the other way for male depictions. Frequently criticized have been made-for-television movies featuring males as abusive psychopaths (Kloer, 1996; Stein, 1994; Zurawik, 1996) and situation comedies in which "guys run the gamut from insufferable to useless" (Glascock,2001) Due to Peep Shows popularity it could be said that the characters are not “insufferable” however because they never fail to make tremendous mistakes, it could be said that they are “useless”.
This contrast with the useless, clumsy and likeable Mark and Jeremy, and the uptight relatively rigid female characters creates an overall impression of forgettable female characters. In some respects the women in Peep Show act as mother figures and Mark and Jeremy act as the child, the relationships are there for usually relationships that don’t last because they are told off or make a mistake and the women are then completely repelled by them.
In order to see what extent the female characters in Peep Show can be deemed stereotypical I first looked at the definition of stereotype : A process involving the expression of an exaggerated belief about a group that serves to qualify of justify the conduct towards that group of those who hold and express that belief (Long and Wall, 2009) Using this definition I applied it to the female character “Nancy” in the episode I showed focus group. Starting with Nancy, the beautiful blonde, does she fit the dumb blonde stereotype? I would say yes, in the program she says “God wanted us to have fun that’s why he invented pills... in a genuinely serious voice. Is this an “exaggerated belief”? I would propose that very few religious people would actually claim that God condones drug taking. Sitcoms; the genre criticised for its simplistic use of stereotypes, outmoded representations and an apparent failure to engage with social or political development (Mills, 2004) Yet I wouldn’t say the character are stereotypical men. They are very self-aware, self-depreciating, they also make frequent remarks about there in lack of strength, lack of manliness. In the episode shown to the focus group, Mark says “ ‘Mate’... he universal word for befriending taxi drivers, and bouncers” as he tries to fit in with some security guards. He has a sort of inferiority complex and yet acknowledges at the same time that he is middle class. Perhaps then he fits the stereotype of the middle class man, Jeremy often attacks him for his love of typically “middle class food” such as olives and humus. Yet they share a flat together and don’t really have much money. Additionally Peep Show has been noted for its naturalistic style, it is set in a point of view narrative, where we are positioned as different characters at different times.
Bret Mills further explore Peep Show in his book The Sitcom. In which he suggests: Peep Show is better placed in the realist/naturalist category than as a comedy of distinction, because of its gloomy colours for its downplayed performances suggests a kind of naturalism. If we see Peep Show as a realist text then we are to assume to sort of ideology that must also closely reflect the real world. As Mark says in the episode where he marries Sophie “ this has to be a dream, nothing this bad happens in real life. ” He reinforces the realist feel of the comedy. Representations give substance to ideology.
Textual analysis reveals ideology in action. The femme fatale is about gender and power. It is about the male fear of being; unmanned; by the sexual power of the woman, a fear of losing control. (Burton,2004) If Peep Show is a realist view, the ideology within it by default must also be deemed a natural point of view. Although they are exaggerations of characters like them, there interaction with the world are deemed quite natural and realistic. As Burton quotes “that representation gives substance to ideology” how we represent certain groups of society gives force to ideology.
Because of Peep Shows critic of society I would say that it did not promote dominant ideology. I would however say it was negotiated; it promoted new and forward thinking ways, yet with regards to women, it does not promote anything other than dominant ideology. It remains true that in critical studies the concepts of difference and of otherness are often used to emphasize the negative: sameness and difference are marked both symbolically through representational systems, and socially through the inclusion or exclusion of certain groups of people Conclusion.
To conclude, I feel that Peep Show does not necessarily represent women in a bad way, it rather under represents them. What is shown in a derogatory light is the relationships between men and women, the women are often sexualised. Whilst the research I have done has proved useful it has not necessarily helped me to come to a solid conclusion. Bibliogrpahy Books 1. CALVERT, Ben; Lewis, Justin; French, Liam; Casey, Bernadette; Casey, Neil. (2007). Television Studies: The Key Concepts. Taylor & Francis. 2. BURTON. (2004). Media And Society: Critical Perspectives.
Open University Press. 3. FISKE, J. (1987): Television Culture. London: Routledge 4. MILLS, B. (2009). The sitcom. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press. 5. LONG, P. , & WALL, T. (2009). Media studies: texts, production, and contexts. Harlow [u. a. ], Pearson Longman. . Journals. 6. GLASCOCK,J 2001, ‘Gender Roles on Prime Time TV’, Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, Fall 2001. 7. MILLS, B 2004, ‘Comedy Virite’ Oxford Journal Screen, Vol 45, no 1, Pp 63-78 Websites 8. Wikipedia, List of Peep Show episodes, http://en. wikipedia. rg/wiki/List_of_Peep_Show_episodes (as of May 22, 2011, 16:05 GMT). 9. International Movie Database, Full Cast and Crew, Peep Show, http://www. imdb. com/title/tt0387764/fullcreditscast (as of May 22, 2011, 16;06 GMT). Television Programs PeepShow, September 2003-, video, Channel Four, United Kingdom Spaced, 1999-2001, Video, Channel Four, United Kingdom Appendices. Focus Group Transcript. Peep Show Episode “Local Zero” What kind of relationships do you think are explored in Peep Show? Participant A: Friendship. Participant C: Sexual, love.
How positive is the interaction between men and women? Participant B:They were all being fake to one another they were thinking one thing and saying something else... made up. Which character including minor characters would you say was the most like able? All: Mark. Lest Likeable? Participant A: The homeless man... he didn’t do anything [laughs] Participant B :No I would say the girl... the American girl.. Participant C: Yeah she doesn’t do anything. Yeah even Sophie doesn’t. Partcipant A: Actually yeah, Nancy. Would you say peep show was a realistic portrayal of men’s attitudes towards women.
Partipant B: I think so... Participant A: I would say some not most Participant c: Yeah but guys think that even if you say no that really you would like them its just a matter of time, What social class would you place Jeremy? Participant C: What are the classes? Participant B: I would say lower class he doesn’t work Participant A:No i would say he is middle. Particpant B :He would be middle but lazy. Participant C: Yeah manybe. What are the main concerns of Mark of Jeremy? Particpant C: Women [laughs] Particpant B: Yeah sex.
Participant A: I agree Just sex, women. Do you think the characters Mark and Jeremy have a respectable attitude towards women? Participant C: Yeha maybe Mark, not the other one. Jeremy he just lied. Participant A:Yeah I agree Mark maybe but not Jeremy. Would you say that the female characters attitudes and interests reflect real women’s attitudes and interests? Participant C: It is hard to say, they were extremes. Participants B: Yeah, It is not really clear what they think. Participant A: You don’t hear their thoughts so you don’t get any idea about them.

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