Lucille Ball of I Love Lucy in her last public appearance, 2006.

Lucille Ball, star of I Love Lucy. Wikimedia
Commons says this was her last public appearance,
at the 61st Academy Awards in 1989.

 

  I Love Lucy and Lucille Ball:
Comedy's Lovable Fools

by Ken Sanes

What are sitcoms about?

One of the things they're about is pretentious, lovable fools whose dreams are bigger than their grasp on life.

Like the character Lucy in the 1950s sitcom, I Love Lucy, who is forever grabbing after celebrity and fame as it slips through her fingers. Or like Barney Fife and Basil Fawlty, who put up grandiose facades that have a way of collapsing around them.

And us -- well the truth is we take fiendish pleasure in watching them suffer even while we secretly admit that we are really watching ourselves.

Take Lucy, for example....

What's Lucy doing in a giant tub of grapes in one well-known episode?

The answer is, she's stomping grapes.

It seems that Lucy wants to be in a movie that she mistakenly thinks is about wine-making. So she's getting some firsthand experience.

Uh oh - things don't look good, as Lucy gets into a fight with another woman stomping grapes in the tub, and smooshes some grapes in her face.

And down they go, wrestling in the grapes.

Later, when the producer sees how stained Lucy is with grape juice, he gives the part to Lucy's sidekick, Ethel Mertz.

And the look on Lucy's face is priceless. She'd like to give Ethel some grapes!

So what's this episode about?

It's about letting us empathize with Lucy as she yearns for stardom, even as we laugh at her foolishness.

As regular viewers, we know early on that all her hopes will come to naught, which enhances the sadistic pleasure we experience at her situation.

As she gets into the fight in the tub we continue to laugh at her foolishness while we vicariously enjoy letting out some aggression and mashing those grapes in another person's face, like Lucy does.

Then, when Lucy is rejected for the movie, we empathize with her loss and laugh at her foolishness.

When Lucy snarls, we're still laughing at her but we like her so much, we can't help but empathize with her and find her endearing at the same time.

Most of all, we enjoy watching the characters as they appear to suffer and involve themselves in matters that are of great moment to them but that are of no consequence to us.

We enjoy playing at having these emotions, ourselves, even as we are freed from having to really suffer them.

What is this episode about? It's about what all fiction is about: the confrontation between our narcissism and a world full of limitation. Like Lucy, we are all self-involved fools with inflated dreams who are foiled by life. Watching her, we get to laugh at ourselves while we deny it is about ourselves, and enjoy the fact that it is someone else who is doing the suffering.

The fiction and the humor, and our affection for the characters, as well as the fact that it is about other people who don't really exist, all give us permission to laugh and help heal the pain we experience as a result of the limitations of life. Oh yes, it also gives us permission to be a little foolish ourselves.

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You can also go to: More on Situation Comedies / An Essay on Sitcoms / Email / What's Being Said About Transparency /

Image by Alan Light (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

1996-2012 Ken Sanes

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