The Personal is Political
While some comediennes may have been more overtly involved in government activities than others, none was ever truly apolitical. Politics are everywhere in these sitcoms, not just in campaigns or propaganda. Whether it is Mary Tyler Moore’s feminism or Gracie Allen’s insistence on the possibility of a female President, their stance as powerful women in male-dominated fields (broadcasting and comedy) made their shows’ inclusion of politics inevitable. How they went about addressing these political problems, though, depended on the characters and creators.
Male-created shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Burns and Allen Program, and Parks and Recreation have the most overtly political or feminist messages. None are too threatening, though. Mary Richards brushes off her feminism by appealing to her male coworkers, Gracie Allen is too illogical to be taken seriously even when she has a legitimate campaign, and Leslie Knope’s irrationality and “simpleton” competitors make her personal triumphs seem somehow less revolutionary than they are.
Shows like The Rise of the Goldbergs and 30 Rock are the complete opposite. Though Gertrude Berg and Tina Fey, respectively, had almost complete control of the creation of those shows and characters, the leading ladies lack the triumphs of other shows. Perhaps as a commentary about ongoing sexism in politics and broadcasting, the characters these women created for themselves struggle to break down somewhat self-imposed barriers. Molly Goldberg, though politically-minded like her creator, had no real political power; she was an immigrant housewife simply hoping for the best. Similarly, Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon is intelligent and opinionated, but powerless when compared to her wealthier, savvier, and more conservative boss. Compared to Gracie Allen and Leslie Knope, Molly Goldberg and Liz Lemon are logical. But their logic leads to powerlessness, while Gracie and Leslie’s political prowess are framed as nonsensical and thus non-threatening. The political story arcs in these shows encapsulate the tension between creator and character, logic and irrationality, and winners and losers. No one woman can have it all, but male-created characters such as Gracie, Mary, and Leslie have come the closest.