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Television, History and American Culture: Feminist Critical Essays

Television, History and American Culture: Feminist Critical Essays
edited by Mary Beth Haralovich and Lauren Rabinovitz
Duke University Press, $17.95

The pseudo-feminist hit “Ally McBeal” frequently features a feminist sociologist expert witness, much like the writers of these essays.

The editors, founders of an annual conference on “Television, Video and Feminism: Console-ing Passions,” argue for television’s power in “defining, transforming, and giving distinctive contours to American culture.” Most revealing are the papers on early history: women’s voices in radio (including Fanny Brice as one of the first women writers and producers of her own show); women’s neglected roles in local 1950s television programs; and on the reel versus the real in “I Love Lucy.”

The editors say “feminist television history embraces the study of race and ethnicity,” but there are no references to Jewish women’s portrayals on TV, even in an article on Rosanne. Attitude here sometimes overwhelms analysis. Julie D’Accie decries that a 1973 ABC documentary, and Roe v. Wade, support abortion for the wrong reasons. Editor Rabinovitz attacks “Designing Women” for not making a lesbian character a regular and “Murphy Brown” creator Linda Bloodworth Thomason for working with her husband.

Nora Lee Mandel writes frequently about television.