Skip to site content

Loving Lucy: Society in a Sit-com

Some critics have labeled Lucy a scheming wife whose manipulative tendencies undermined the biblical marital model.

In the 1950s, more than 40 million people watched the show each week. Reruns have aired most every day since the show was canceled in 1957, and scripts of the show have been translated into hundreds of different languages. People all over the globe have enjoyed watching and laughing at Lucy.  <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Who can forget the episode in which Lucy is the Vitameatavegamin spokesperson, getting “happy” as she drinks more and more of the “health tonic”? My all-time favorite episode features Lucy and Ethel going to work at a candy factory. They are instructed to wrap each piece of candy as it goes by on a conveyor belt. They discover that it is impossible to keep up with the swift-moving contraption, so Lucy and Ethel stuff the excess candies under their hats and into their clothing and cram their mouths full of candy! 
 
“I Love Lucy” was such a hit because episodes were based on believable life situations—paying bills, taking vacations, arguing with a spouse, parenting a child. But somehow, in each episode, the situation went awry. Lucy’s escapades always backfired, and the exaggerated absurdity of her situation made us laugh.
 
Not everyone laughed, however. In the 1950s, “I Love Lucy” had its share of critics. When the show was first suggested, television executives dragged their feet. They didn’t think that Americans would believe a redheaded American of Scottish ancestry was married to a Cuban bandleader. 
 
Interracial marriages are still not readily accepted in today’s society, but in the 1950s these relationships were simply unheard of. Lucille Ball and husband Desi Arnaz forced Americans to think about and eventually accept that an interracial couple could have a happy and loving marriage.
 
A more recent criticism of the show concerns Lucy’s role as a housewife. It was apparent on most every episode that Lucy was not satisfied with her role in society. She was vocal in her discontent. She often looked for a job. She did not smile and quietly do the housework. She dreamed of a career in show business. 
 
Those dreams got her in trouble with Ricky, made her a fool and landed her back at home.  Lucy’s attempts to find her place in the world were never successful, but she never stopped trying. 
 
Most of her attempts to establish a career in show business involved deceiving Ricky. As a result, some critics have labeled Lucy a scheming wife whose manipulative tendencies undermined the biblical marital model.
 
But the case may be made that Ricky was no great role model for a husband. His domineering tendencies led him to belittle his wife’s “talents” and deny her the opportunity to live out her dreams.
 
For me, the beauty of the show was that, by the end of each episode, both Lucy and Ricky realized that scheming and dominating did not work. Lucy’s schemes always backfired, and Ricky was never able to stifle Lucy’s dreams. In the end, they always admitted their mistakes and forgave each other—only to go back to their ways in the next episode.
 
As a teen, I loved “Lucy” because of her wild antics. As an adult, I love “Lucy” because I have found that I am Lucy—without the red hair or the outlandish behavior. I often resort to manipulation rather than honest dialogue. I have unrealized dreams and goals. I often want to break away from the drudgery of life. 
 
But I also have a loving husband (who doesn’t curse in Spanish), happy children, wonderful friends and a good life. Watching Lucy helps me see myself, appreciate my life—and laugh!     
 
Pam Durso serves as assistant professor of church history and Baptist heritage at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, N.C.