Faith-Based Plot Initiatives

by: Mimi White / Northwestern University

Joan of Arcadia
Joan of Arcadia

What is the story with Joan of Arcadia? I don’t mean this literally, since the basic story (or perhaps more accurately, the “high concept”) is pretty clear: teen girl talks to God. I have been watching the show, off and on, and trying to make sense of it. Brief disclaimer: I watched the show occasionally during its first season on U.S. television and am also watching it now in Finland, where they are airing the first season. So I am not “up to date” with the current season. I have perused episode summaries on line, and it seems that my concerns are still relevant, but I cannot be certain about this.

My confusion starts with the high concept at the heart of the show: I really don’t know how to take the God(s) that speak(s) to Joan. Is it an actual divine being, a figment of Joan’s imagination, or something else? In Touched by an Angel at least the angels were really supposed to be angels…really. The God(s) in Joan is not so clear. At some level, it seems to function as a faith-based initiative for generating plots, kind of like an inverse deus ex machina, where God shows up at the start, to get things going, instead of appearing in the nick of time to resolve dilemmas. Can’t figure out how to get Joan into awkward situations, interacting with different high school factions and misfits each week? Gee, let’s have God tell her to join the band (even though she doesn’t play an instrument) or the debate club or the cheerleading team.

But then I wonder about what sort of “God” would put a stumbling, angst-ridden teenager into such difficult situations week after week. I realize there is an ostensible moral, more or less, to be drawn from each situation: Joan doesn’t have to be perfect, as long as she is trying; she makes good or bad decisions and learns something new as a result; she learns about taking responsibility for her actions and exercising free will; etc. But having God in the picture seems to belie these very lessons. After all–and being quite literal here–by following God’s instructions, Joan is precisely not exercising free will, not taking responsibility, not figuring out things for herself. Instead she is obeying the direct orders of someone(s) she takes for an almighty power, even when doing so often places her in yet another impossible position, or embroils her in some new harebrained scheme. (At times–for example when Joan has promised to cook dinner at home, help a friend mount an art exhibit, and fetch her brother’s science notebook from another friend all at the same time–I imagine a sit-com version of the show, revising it, and Joan herself, along the lines of I Love Lucy instead of the angst-ridden domestic drama it is.)

Joan’s God (Gods?) seems to derive from some sort of multicultural Judeo-Christian tradition, broadly speaking, embodied in humans of varying races, genders, and ages. (There aren’t any flora, fauna, or inanimate objects that speak as God. The short-lived Wonderfalls did endow inanimate objects in a Niagara Falls gift shop with the power of directive advice.) This is also God without a specific religion, just a range of muddled, generic ideas about doing deeds, exercising free will, and so on. God(s) starts verging upon New Age spiritualism, as some kind of diffuse power, existing in everyone, or some sort of higher ethical consciousness.

Of course, God could be a metaphor, or an objective correlative, possibly for the interior state of an insecure teenager fitfully progressing toward womanhood (ick!), or something like that. Or Joan could be mentally ill, and hallucinating the Gods who speak to her. But in the larger context of the program, these explanations don’t quite fit. The first of these moots the whole point of bringing in God, specifically, in the first place (as opposed to something along the lines of the inanimate objects of Wonderfalls). As for mental illness, the program suggests that high school is generally an age of affective and cognitive extremes, if not full mental imbalance; everyone is a little crazy. But only Joan actually talks to God(s).

Joan of Arcadia
The cast of Joan of Arcadia

I could continue with my questions and confusions about the show, and how come different ideas about what God is doing there (besides bossing Joan around) all seem inchoate or nonsensical. But there are reasons for my impulse to try to figure out what is going on. “God” clearly means many different and particular things to many people. Depending, God does or does not exist; God exists in manifold versions; God is (or is not) already a metaphor. The show implicates different versions of God at different times; it is almost impossible to “invent” God without invoking, referencing, or including/excluding at least some of the versions that already exist.

More specifically, here is a show that makes God a manifest part of its content at a time when the American President has publicly called for more faith-based initiatives and even established an Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in the White House, (although there is no specific mention of television drama in its purview). In this context, the program might be expressing, or at least trying to tap into, this conservative socio-political discourse. In addition to having embodied God(s) as a recurring character, Joan’s nuclear family includes prominent representatives of repressive and ideological state apparatuses with her father on the police force (originally brought to town as chief of police) and her mother a high school teacher.

Yet even though this is not inaccurate, it still seems too pat. For example, the program’s general tenor of angst and disorder extends beyond the high school characters, into the socio-political world of Arcadia with the rampant political and police corruption that the father exposes, losing his job as police chief in the process. In some ways, at least, the program seems to question the quiescent conservatism that it also advances (in part by having God direct Joan’s fate). And when it comes to religion, the program undercuts its God as avatar of mainstream religion just as readily as it encourages the idea that religion, or at least some sort of faith in a higher being, is a meaningful force in the life of its eponymous heroine.

Maybe the show’s idea of God is just so half-baked that it isn’t even worth thinking about this much. (The inverse of this is something along the lines of “God is whatever you think it means,” yielding a quiescent liberal complement to its quiescent conservatism.) Maybe putting God quite literally in the picture is a means of giving the impression that there really is something substantive to think about. You start to wonder if it isn’t just a cheap gimmick. Perhaps it really is a faith-based initiative after all, or maybe even a perverse joke on the very idea of faith-based initiatives.

Image Credits:
1. Joan of Arcadia
2. The cast of Joan of Arcadia

Links
CBS.com – Joan of Arcadia
Joan of Arcadia Fansite
Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives

Please feel free to comment.

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18 comments

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  • Brett Boessen

    I want to start by notiing that some of the issues you address above are also addressed on the show itself later in the first season and into the second (the implications of Joan being diagnosed as insane, whether others interact with the Joan’s God). I point this out not to be a spoiler-freak, but to highlight the extent to which it would appear the show’s producers are interested in and engaged with the same kinds of questions you have brought up above.

    At some level, I wonder whether the issue is not a certain degree of compatibility between television and metaphysics: in contemporary American culture, TV is still so closely associated with the benign (or even malignant), as opposed to the sublime, that any attempt to raise questions about God/Providence is lose/lose: not enough detail to impress religious conservatives and too much to impress non-sectarian others.

    But the serial nature of television drama opens up the possibility for these kinds of conversations in a way that the one-shot nature of cinema does not: a film must make an argument, or at least invite viewers to experience the story from a limited number of perspectives, while serials can show us one perspective one week, a different one the next. Any given perspective may have less coherence, but taken together they can provide a much more three dimensional (or complex, or muddy) sense for the issues at play in their universe.

    This kind of loose narrative progression contributes to the fuzzy metaphysical answers Joan of Arcadia often seems to give. In subordinating easy answers (or complete answers, or sometimes even just good answers) to the needs of the serial structure, Joan closes off the possibility of solid arguments in traditional terms but also opens up the potential for an ultimately more nuance depiction of God’s influence in contemporary culture.

  • I’m wondering whether this is a discrete phenomenon, restricted to this particular program, or if the presence of deities on television is more pervasive than we might recognize. Where else are we confronted with a “God” either within a narrative universe or referenced in some manner? What role does God play in the televisual universe? Is she a plot function, an obstacle to be dealt with, a support for our heroes and heroines? How and why is she invoked? Outside of sports programming, where God is (apparently) seated on the winning team’s bench, where is God on television? How might we consider the invocation of God relative to programs like 7th Heaven?

  • Colby Holliday

    It seems curious to me that the link between the show “Joan of Arcadia” and the historical account of Joan of Arc has not been discussed. The idea for the show is/was to show a modern interpretation of the Joan of Arc story in which a teenage girl speaks with God and is influenced to do a number of good deeds around her community. Seeking any sort of deeper meaning within the “character” of God is almost an impossible task, because the idea of God is so vague and confusing that no one person can pinpoint exactly what the writers of this show are trying to convey and in what context. One could argue that “Joan of Arcadia” is in fact a story about obedience to God and about God’s power to inspire us to be a good person just as easily as another person could argue that the show is an elaborate satire of religion in which a person of questionable mental health follows the voices in her head (of which she calls God) and does whatever they say. Personally, I find the show to be a rather simplified version of a famous legend that espouses the virtues of being a good, honest person in every day life with a strong motivation from the Christian tradition and the immanence of God.

    As far as the socio-political repercussions of “Joan of Arc” are concerned, I think that the only commonality between the character of Joan and our current governmental policy makers are the fact that they both believe they are doing right in the name of God, and that is where the similarities end. In contrast, the real story of Joan of Arc (filled with battle and the conquering of “heathen” forces) might actually make for a better parallel with our current administration seeing as both seem to enjoy spreading the word of their God as the foundation for their moral and ethical superiority. The role of God in “Joan of Arc” leans more towards the gimmick side of things by virtue of the fact that it is not exceptionally well done (in my opinion), but it serves it’s purpose within the story to inspire and guide Joan so I would hesitate to call it cheap. The growing sentiment of “divine right” within current politics is a worrying matter to be sure, but relating a simple television show with aspirations no more grand than making money to a Washington-based theology advocating hard-line selfishness in policy matters seems to overstate their relationship quite a bit. Christianity has been the dominant theology in this country for a long time, and this is far from being the first show on TV to speak from the Christian perspective, so labeling “Joan of Arcadia” as a tool for the religious right to further infiltrate the population by means of audio-visual stimulation is giving them much more credit than I am willing to concede.

  • Travis Wimberly

    Ambiguity and Ratings?

    I think White makes an excellent point here which can be further considered in relation to CBS’s business strategies for this program:

    “it is almost impossible to “invent” God without invoking, referencing, or including/excluding at least some of the versions that already exist.”

    It is interesting to consider how this idea ties into demographics and CBS’s quest for ratings with this show. Undoubtedly, the creators recognize the fact that different aspects of their “God” in this program will reflect to audiences various pre-existing notions of God. The creators surely recognize that it is, as White has stated, impossible to create an entirely “original” depiction of God. However, by taking different pre-existing concepts and combining them–Judeo-Christian idealizations, notions of pre-determined fate and free will, etc–the producers have succesfully created a God that is difficult to assign to any one religious sect–a God that is multifaceted through his ambiguity. A God so puzzling, in fact, that Mimi White here has written an article about how puzzling he is!

    Perhaps the creators are intentionally employing this ambiguity of what God “is” in order to not alienate any particular audience segment. If the show were more straightforward with its conceptualization of God, say by having Christ himself visit Joan in an episode, audiences of non-Christian faith would likely be turned off by the show creator’s implications that God is “that” way. By combining some conflicting idealizations of God and creating an entity whose nature and purpose is much more ambiguous, CBS hopes to draw in viewers of many religious beliefs.

  • My 2¢

    I think the Travis makes a great point. The ambiguity in terms of the religious aspect of the show’s premise could definitely be best explained in terms of demographics. I agree completely that the keeping the personifications of God non-denominational is vital to maintaining a sort of broad-based religiously-oriented viewership. It’s a marketing strategy, and a clever one at that.

    Furthermore, if you take a look at the flow context of the show in relation to what’s being programmed on other networks, you begin to see that CBS is milking the ambiguity we’ve been talking about for all it’s worth. With Dateline running on NBC, America’s Most Talented Kids on ABC, and the movie of the week on Fox, CBS is taking the opportunity to use a show this a religious premise so ambiguous that it is capable of catching the eye of just about any mildly faith-minded conservative viewer looking for something other than reality, news, or feature presentation to chew on.

    I think its best not to get too hung up on who or what the personifications of God on the show represent. The networks aim is just form a programming strategy based on churning out some random dribble that any mother/daughter pair can feel comfortable sitting down and watching together. This show is something that won’t give you that weird feeling you get when you’re sitting with your parents trying to watch MTV’s Spring Break whipped-cream bikini extravaganza special. It’s just sanitary enough to meet a conservative demand, with God’s character(s) as a little holy cherry to top it all off.

  • In the article, White muses and questions the validity of the God character in Joan of Arcadia, and rightly so. The point at which White hits the nail on the head though is during the mention of the fact that we are living the context of a period in our nation’s history in which religion is being used to forcefully advance agendas and careers. While CBS is trying to reach what has been discovered to be an extremely lucrative demographic (The Passion of the Christ?), the fact remains that God can be quite exclusive to many other people in this nation, which is why the character comes out so half-baked. God cannot be taken too far in any direction due to marketability concerns. This is the reason why most all of network television programming is rather middle-of-the-road in its ideological worldviews. Perhaps on HBO or FX the show could really delve into a more substantive God character and more fully explore the mysteries, ideas, frustrations, and questions surrounding God.

  • Is God effective?

    It is immediately clear that CBS wishes to reach a young religious demographic, but also wishes to remain as inoffensive as possible. I personally think this is a bad way to make a show compelling, as it would be more effective to take away the controversial angle of God and concentrate on using other elements to generate drama. Perhaps this is why there have not been many successful dramas using religion as a central element. Shows that have used God ultimately fall back on the kind nature of the characters as the likely reason for the desirable outcome rather than pushing the idea that it was God which designed it to be that way, even though the original premise relies upon this notion. I think this type of downplay or reduction is insulting to the purpose of the show, but reveals that corporations and news networks are fallible money machines, and it is unlikely they “care” whether the religious content of a certain show affects a viewer in any meaningful way. Perhaps cable networks (such as HBO) can expand on the idea of creating a highly religiously centered show as it has more lee-way on the controversy side, but it is unlikely that mainstream Christians would want to watch something about the goodness of God on the same network as “Oz”. Nevertheless, as these shows have remained on the air for quite a while, they have clearly been successful regardless of their ambiguity about the subject. It seems that God as an aside can always boost the “feel-good” factor of any good natured drama, and generate the number of eyes the network needs.

  • Joan of Arcadia sure does cause a lot of confusion. This show is to represent the faith and religion but it is very vague to distinct what the show’s message is really trying to convey. The show can be misrepresented easily and it can cause viewers to look at things differently or what they’ve learned or were raised to believe as in religion. From what I’ve read the show does seem a little silly to follow and Joan supposedly speaks to God who leads her into more bad chaotic episodic situations. So how do we know as an audience whether Joan has a crazy imagination and not to take the fact that she speaks to God literally or metaphorically? The show drags to show clarity and consciousness to the viewers what they are trying to express throughout the show. So far its seems this show is about chaotic messenger trying to get through her teenage years and following orders from God at the same time. It puts the faith of God in a weird place whether to judge if he does exist or not or whether or not he does try to help out in situations or make things worst.

  • Joan of Arcadia is a confusing show is the audience doesn’t know truly what the motives of God are. Is God the catalyst/source of Joan’s conflict of each episode or the faithful aide who shows Joan the way to overcome conflict? To me, God is definitely one of those unseen/unknown motive characters who opposes, aides, or justifies another character’s actions… (I.e. Frasier’s Marius, Niles Crane’s ex-wife). In this case, the unseen character, God, affects the main character.To make the show less confusing… maybe God should be a conscience character. Maybe an imaginary conscience character for Joan to talk to… similar to Luc Besson’s The Messenger: The story of Joan of Arc. That way the audience will know our main character is crazy…. although… that’s not quite too appealing to some producers and viewers. Perhaps both God and the Devil were able to talk to Joan. A short-lived animated series called, God, the Devil, and Bob, had God as Bob’s conscience and the Devil as the counter part. Though it seems that Joan of Arcadia is another teen drama genre blended with other… in this case with faith. Others would be Smallville (Dawson’s creek meets Superman) or Jack and Bobby (90210 meets politic themes) and so forth.

  • Shenise Sampson

    White makes an interesting point in her statement, “God clearly means many different and particular things to different people.” I have to say that this could possibly be the reason why the show’s depiction of God appears to be “half-baked”, as White put it. I have to agree with White that placing your finger on what it is exactly that the producers of the show are trying to bring to its demographic audience is unclear.Watching the show does not guarantee a clear answer to the presence of God in the teenager’s life.

    Although the show addresses a worthwhile and significant issue, it is important to identify the possiblereasons for why religion and the presence of God is so “half-baked” and defined so poorly. The possibilities for this are endless.Hoever, I would have to agree with what someone else said, by saying that I think it has a lot to do with not offending the show’s target demographic audience, whoever that may be.

    Although many shows have a clearly defined target, it is hard to say who exactly the target is for this particular show, which is one of the reasons why I think religion and God are two issues that the show recognizes as significant in society, but have limited to how far they are willing to go with it, for a fear of offending a religious or possibly non-religious audience. Honestly, i think that this is a poor way to structure a show around such a sensitive issue. I think that the show should either address the presence of God(s)entirely or let it go. This half-baked representation is confusing to many viewers who aren’t in on the behind the scenes structure of the show. If the show is successful, then it is obvious that there are viewers out there who enjoy the show and get a clear message out watching it. However, the issue still exists, who is this God and what exactly is the purpose of it? I beleive that this question has many answers for those who question the show, but for the those who watch it regularly, maybe there is this feeling of what White said above, “God means different things to different people”. It seems appropriate to keep in mind that maybe this is the appeal or the mystery of the show.

  • Zachary Atkinson

    This show quite clearly uses God as a plot device and faith-based initiative. That is probably the idea that caught the attention of the producers of the show. By putting God into the show, the creators have made a way for them to control the main character with something that is a part of the story world. This is somewhat of a priceless commodity to the writers because they can use it whenever they feel necessary, and since God is a recurring plot device it does not seem strange to throw it in at any point. So, in the context of the show, using God as a plot device does not seem like too much of a cheap solution. It is also not an overly used solution; at least not in such a direct representation that God appears in the show. The last time a God figure was over used as a plot device was probably in the old Greek and Roman myths. These old myths could be considered source material to some extent. The gods did in habit different people and animals in those stories in order to help people or teach them lessons. Perhaps that’s where the show got the idea. They probably decided to leave out the animals because that would just seem a bit too strange for modern audiences. If Joan did talk to animals then she absolutely would be crazy. It is also odd that the shows representation of God fits more closely with these old myths than with the story of Joan of Arc, which the story’s title clearly references. In the story of Joan of Arc she does not talk to god as if they are other people but rather hears the voice of God through statues of saints. Perhaps Joan of Arcadia’s God just has enough spare time to embody different people and talk directly with Joan. I would have thought that an almighty being would be a little more technically savvy with email or something. But, I guess that text messages just don’t have the same impact on a story as one on one dialogue.

  • Corey Pemberton

    Of all the controversial topics presented in the media today, religion ranks among the most heavily-debated. Obviously CBS is appealing to a religious demographic, yet they do so in a non-committal fashion. God’s personification in various types of people in Arcadia is a testament to this; God is whatever the viewer wants him to be, and this gives Joan of Arcadia a broader appeal. This program does not appeal exclusively to one belief system. I think many people tune into Joan of Arcadia because they find it intriguing that this program addresses religion, unlike the vast majority of current television programs. CBS obviously does not want to alienate liberal viewers with the emphasis of conservative religious ideology just as much as they don’t want to alienate conservative viewers.I feel that it is important not to read too far into the presence of God in Joan of Arcadia. After all, this show is for entertainment, and God serves as an excellent tool to place Joan into challenging situtations as White argued. Joan of Arcadia manages to be a program about religion without propagating a particular religious statement. Religion draws audiences because it is controversial, and then it is up to each individual viewer to extract whichever meaning (or lack of meaning) they they would like.

  • White does have a point; the show never does give a specific image to the “God” in this program. However, you can’t blame the show for possibly trying to reach more than just the Jewish community, or the Christian community or any other specific religion that refers to their almighty as “God.” By doing in such a fashion the show has kept the ratings it needs to stay on air for as long as it has. In this way I don’t believe the show has an overall agenda to make everyone turn to Christianity, or that it’s trying to measure up to “The Passion of Christ” as recently discussed. If it were Jesus talking Joan or even Buda, then yes, I could see how it was set towards a certain religion and being overtly exclusive. Moreover I think the program is using this form of “God” to bring up the larger issues of society morals and perhaps the lack there of. In light of this I can understand where a lot of society is still left out, but not everyone is bound to the same morals or may agree with society norms but they are in fact there and are used as the status quo, no matter how we feel about them.

  • Because White gave a disclaimer noting her knowledge of the program, I feel it necessary to give a disclaimer of my own: I have never seen a single episode Joan of Arcadia, and also, I’ve been very disconnected with television as a whole for the past few years for various reasons. This said, my interest in White’s article and the show itself, lies in the religious and political ideologies it presents in relation to the neo-conservative’s (Regan-Bush Jr.) political policies and actions, as well as their dominant influence in Media. From my limited knowledge of political-economic media studies (Chomsky, Jenson…etc), I know numerous examples where neo-conservative political action directly contradicts its construction and representation in mainstream media. Because such contradictions exist between reality and its revised mediated versions, it is crucial to suppress and keep hidden these contradictions to maintain the status quo, no matter how crazy the attempts may be.

    I know I know…this is a lot of set-up, but I see a specific similarity between Joan… and current conservative policy that works to rationalize, accept, or justify current administration’s course of action. Colby Holliday, in her commentary above, notes that the only similarity between the character of Joan and the current government policy markers, is the fact that they both believe, (or claim they believe, in the current administration’s case) they are doing right in the name of God. This “doing what I believe to be right in the name of God” theme is crucial to public acceptance of our government’s current military and economic policy. And, because of the hegemonic structure of mass-media, this theme needs to reiterated constantly in a plethora of different forms to focus attention away from alternative takes on the government’s motives that don’t tend to coincide with their agenda.

    Although, as White notes, Joan… doesn’t have a clear political, religious, or ideological stance; only more of a conservative/liberal hodgepodge of contradictions and confusions. The fact that Joan’s actions are entirely faith-based and are determined by what “God” directs her to, and that she is imperfect, makes mistakes, etc., works perfectly with the media portrayals of Regan, and the Bushes (Bush and Shrub). The “noble Christian man who’s quest to spread freedom, democracy, and to protect America from “evil-doer’s,” even if it means killing people” portrayal frames their political and social agenda as faith-based, for the good of God. This frame leaves out sorts of factors that challenge their agendas, so it is only logical that similar frames and themes need reoccur in mass-communication because other frames threaten neo-conservative power, which for them it seems, it the only thing that matters.

  • Megan Carnathan

    I have only seen bits and pieces of Joan of Arcadia, but I agree with White and her questioning the representation of religion in hour-long dramas. As I was reading this article, I couldn’t help but to think of 7th Heaven. Although God is not represented as a figment of anyone’s imagination on this show, the characters are portrayed as a bit (too) odd. If you take a look at all of the children, once they hit about 18 are itching to get married so to avoid pre-marital sex. Although this show promotes high morals, it is not realistic in today’s society. Instead of giving the children in the show problems that kids today can relate to, they take the worst case scenarios and run with it. A recent syndicated episode I saw a few weeks ago was with Mary, the oldest female child, and her entire Varsity basketball team vandalizing the school gym because the coach cancelled practices until the team brought up their grades. Although this might be a noble thing to do (for the coach) it is unrealistic. As far as Mary goes, portraying her in this light (a preacher’s daughter breaking in and ruining school property) is highly unlikely and impractical. With the exception of Touched By An Angel, there has been an extremely poor representation of God “believing” people on TV. It’s just to dramatic which makes it almost nauseatingly unbearable to watch. This in turn, to those who might not know any better, portrays the Christians and those who think they can talk to and be talked to by God as imposters—like they are making it up. Although some might call it entertainment, maybe even wholesome, I call it a waste of time.

  • Daniel Crocker

    I’ve watched Joan of Arcadia on several occasions, however the show, in its entirety did not grasp me as a viewer. However, prior to reading this article, I took the show as merely another ‘show.’ That is to say, a form of entertainment on television. I took i n the concept of it without really putting too much thought into it. However, as pointed out by White, I do see the ‘God’ character as being a force to drive the show. The show begins with this proposition/direction/etc. And the Joan goes along, often unwillingly with it. Everything seems to go wrong, but in a moment of ‘clarity’ it turns out that everything happened as it should, and that, in the end, Joan is better off for having done what she was told to do. In this sense, I would certainly say the God character is merely a part of the episodic aspect of Joan of Arcadia. In another sense, however, I would also argue that the ‘God’ character is so ‘mysterious’ and ‘ungrounded’ in any certain religion for practical demographic purposes. Suffice it to say that if God was tied to any one religion, the show’s demographic would inherently be limited. In leaving the concept open to the viewer, it allows for them to take the show for what they choose to. Thusly, instead of giving the God a religious identity, it was left “open to interpretation.” In the end, while this does open up demographics, I would also say it allows for the show’s ‘message’ as I would take it, to be easier to digest. If I felt as though I was being preached to, I wouldn’t bother to actually watch the show and think about what it’s possibly trying to say. I would feel that the show, aside from it’s entertainment value, is making a statement in regards to God, religion, and the lives of teenagers. In not limiting the show by identifying the God, it is in effect, allowing it’s message to reach further audiences, and with more viewers tuning in, there are more available viewers to grasp the show’s message. In the end, I would say that White is correct in questioning the God figure within the show. Eventhough it may lead to a larger demographic, less alienation of viewers, and the greater possibility of impacting those viewers, it limits the actual impact it can make in that the concept is, in the end, too up in the air and insubstantial to be able to grasp more than the base message of the show.

  • I find your use of transforming the show’s tormented drama into an I-Love-Lucy-like screwball sitcom extremely interesting. After all, Joan does seem to suffer from the same sort of narrative setbacks as Lucy does; however, in Lucy’s case, the divine figure outlining the acceptability of her actions is a Cuban bandleader, and not the multicultural Judeo-Christian God you speak of. What came to mind when you first mentioned your I Love Lucy coping mechanism was Patricia Mellencamp’s article discussing and comparing The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show and I Love Lucy. Her main argument, that of containment, stresses how Lucy wins performatively, though she fails narratively. In other words, Lucy is undoubtedly the star in terms of performance, however the narrative—due to the fact that she never succeeds—seems to constrict Lucy every time she attempts to break out of the domestic space. Joan, too, seems constrained by the narrative of the show, since as you mentioned, the presence of God in her life seems to work against the divine messages she receives. As long as she follows the god-given path laid out for her, she will inherently be unable to internalize the intrinsic messages of these tasks.

    Part of the show’s appeal, however, lies in the fact that it becomes nearly impossible to run out material when God is providing the sparks for the plot. But what happens when the show’s audience needs something more, something BIGGER than divine intervention? This is where the show runs into trouble, unable to cope with monotony in a typical fashion—because no matter how far you’ve fallen, you simply can’t kill off God.

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