Catfight in My Name is Earl as a Site of Feminist Resistance

by: Debbie James Smith / Wayne State University


The cast of My Name is Earl

The cast of My Name is Earl

In the situation comedy My Name is Earl, a catfight occurs in the episode “The Bounty Hunter” between the main female lead character Joy Turner (played by Jaime Pressly) and Jesse (played by Juliette Lewis).1 This is not a clichéd catfight over a man or just an act of revenge. Here it facilitates the discourse of a continuous cultural battle where poor women repeatedly fight against the limited definition of mother and, for that, are labeled as whores (Dow 173). In this catfight, Joy challenges the nostalgic stereotypes of motherhood and refuses to be shamed for not fulfilling imposed gender roles and social expectations of gendered behavior (Inness 6).

My Name is Earl centers on the character Earl, whose quest is to make up for a life of petty crime. Joy is Earl's ex-wife and friend, a modern day moll who is defiant of the law and moral values that would have her feel shame for exercising personal agency (Yaquinto 208). In “The Bounty Hunter,” Joy learns that Jesse, her former sexual rival, is looking to collect on Joy's unpaid traffic ticket. The underlying conflict between these two women is shown to originate from a catfight six years earlier when pregnant Joy left Jesse, Earl's girlfriend, toothless on the Crab Shack bar floor.

In flashback to the Crab Shack we become privy to Joy's dire situation. Pregnant with no money and no place to live, she has to find a husband soon. Desperate for an alternative to going to the shelter, Joy scans the bar for candidates, her eyes settling on two men playing pool. She dismisses the first for licking the cue chalk. The second only sniffs the chalk and Joy decides that he is her best chance. In collusion with her friends, Joy tricks Earl into marriage that night. In the days after the wedding, Earl and Joy are confronted by a confused Jesse. Joy flaunts her wedding ring in Jesse's face and when called a whore, she punches Jesse in the mouth, knocking out her front teeth. The camera angle provides a worm's eye view of Jesse's reaction.

Joy Darville

Joy Darville

Flash forward to Jesse, a bail bondsman's secretary who is presented with an opportunity for revenge with the arrival of an arrest warrant. After months of martial arts training, the addition of ill-fitting gold teeth and a training seminar, Jesse the bounty hunter is ready to bring Joy to moral justice by returning the punch. This is confirmed when she tells Earl that she is going to knock out Joy's teeth for resisting arrest.

Tracked down on a dirt road away from society, their final confrontation takes place. Displaying a range of “emotions, skills and abilities” in the moments leading to the showdown, the stereotype of Joy as a boyfriend stealing whore is deconstructed, leaving her as a woman who is defending herself against social judgment (Inness 8). Foreshadowing that this confrontation is about her moral character rather than merely a transgression of the law, Joy decides to face Jesse alone, telling Earl to stay in the car.

Standing on the road, Joy plays the role of fugitive by wearing Earl's ill-fitting boots, which also symbolizes her apparent need for male protection in this seemingly straight forward didactic and comedic drama. Joy tells Jesse there is no need for violence and offers to go quietly to jail. Jesse refuses this offer telling Joy that she is going to knock out her teeth. Once Jesse's true intentions are confirmed, Joy kicks off the boots of the fugitive and become her authentic self, the woman who refused to be judged a whore six years earlier.

As they begin to circle each other, “La resa dei conti” from the spaghetti western For a Few Dollars More confirms that a duel is beginning.2 The music suggests that what is happening is more than just a fight rather this is a traditional confrontation of good versus evil (Dow 172). The music also reiterates the injustice of the bounty hunter, who in For a Few Dollars More chases the outlaw for reasons other than a transgression of the law.

Joy punching Jesse

Joy punching Jesse, “The Bounty Hunter”

Once the action picks up, the song “Kung Fu Fighting” adds an element of comedic relief that mitigates the violence.3 The lyrics do not reflect the actual action which includes a few “Springeresque” left-hook punches, ending with Jesse lying in the dirt, teeth knocked out, again.4 We get another worm's eye view of her bleeding gums and missing teeth, suggesting a range of emotions including shame (Johnson 1363). As her authentic self, Joy naturally fulfills the role of master in defeating Jesse for a second time, confirming that she is no whore and will not be shamed by succumbing to societal judgment of her behavior (Botting and Wilson 15).

Throughout the battle the camera cuts infrequently to Earl's cringing expression, as he apparently deems the fight violent and unpleasant, not stereotypically erotic. Earl appears fearful and a little in awe of Joy as she gets into the truck. He asks her where she learned to fight, and Joy answers “I watch a lot of Springer,” placing the bloody gold teeth in his palm and telling him to melt them down and bail her out of jail. Earl's face expresses an unpleasant reaction to the teeth, but he places them in his pocket. In an interesting turn of events, the bounty hunter's authority, in this case her teeth, become the currency that will enable Joy to pay her ticket. As Joy and Earl drive away, we see Jesse role over and start to do push-ups, suggesting perhaps that this battle is not yet over.

The confrontation between Joy and Jesse manages to turn the genre of the catfight upside down by having the women represent opposite sides of the cultural debate over what is acceptable behavior for lower class mothers. Rather, the confrontation represents a discourse on how women are labeled for transgressing accepted female roles. Joy, as a pregnant unemployed woman, is forced to find herself a husband or go to a shelter. To do so she takes advantage of middle class values because, as a poor woman, she has to, and it is in this act of defiance that she exhibits agency.

1 “The Bounty Hunter.” My Name Is Earl. Episode 21, Season 1. NBC. Original air date Thursday April 6, 2006.
2 Music written by Ennio Morricone for A Few Dollars More, a Film by Sergio Leone. 1965.
3 Carl Douglas' hit single from 1973.
4 Pressly's other roles include starring in the Jerry Springer mock-documentary Ringmaster, a comedic look at a talk show where lower class people have the opportunity to humiliate themselves on TV.

Works Cited

Botting, Fred and Scott Wilson. Tarantinian Ethics. London: Sage, 2001.

“The Bounty Hunter.” My Name Is Earl. Episode 21, Season 1. NBC. Original air date Thursday April 6, 2006.

Douglas, Carl. “Kung Fu Fighting.” Produced by Biddu Appaiah, 20th Century Records, 1974.

Dow, Bonnie. Prime-Time Feminism. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1996.

Inness, Sherrie A. “Introduction. 'Boxing Glove and Bustiers': New Images of Tough Women.” Action Chicks: New Images Of Tough Women In Popular Culture. Ed. Sherrie A. Inness. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. 1-15.

Jamie Pressly Bio.” My Name is Earl. NBC. Accessed November 30, 2006.

Johnson, Liza. “Perverse Angle: Feminist Film, Queer Film, Shame.” Signs. 30.1 (2004): 1361-84.

Lee, Janet. “Subversive Sitcoms: Roseanne As Inspiration For Feminist Resistance.” Gender, Race and Class in Media. Eds. Gail Dines & Jean M. Humez. London: Sage, 1995. 469-75.

Lotz, Amanda Dyanne. “Segregated Sitcoms: Institutional Causes of Disparity Among Black And White Comedy Images And Audience.” The Sitcom Reader: America Viewed And Skewed. Eds. Mary M. Dalton and Laura R. Linder. Albany: SUNY Press, 2005. 139-50.

Morricone, Ennio. “La resa dei conti.” Music for A Few Dollars More, a Film by Sergio Leone. 1965.

Spigel, Lynn. “Women's Work.” Television: The Critical View. Ed. Horace Newcomb. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. 73-99.

Yaquinto, Marilyn. “Mamas, Molls and Mob Wives.” Action Chicks: New Images Of Tough Women In Popular Culture. Ed. Sherrie A. Inness. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. 207-29.

Image Credits:
1. The cast of My Name is Earl
2. Joy Darville
3. Joy punching Jesse, “The Bounty Hunter”

Please feel free to comment.


  • I am not a religious viewer of the situation comedy, My Name is Earl, but I do have an understanding of what makes up the show and storyline. I do agree with writer, Debbie James Smith, that the catfight between Joy and Jessie was not that of a typical catfight. These two lower class women were apparently frustrated with the indentiies that society was straining on them. However, I am still confused with the title of this article. I do not think that the catfight was “a site of Feminist Resistance”. If anything I think the catfight was the cause of Feminst beliefs. Joy, pregnant and single, is desparate to find a husband, yet she retaliates and punches Jessie’s teeth out. This proves that she is not willing to give into the image of a traditional mother that society places on her shoulders as a burden. However, at the sametime she maybe frustrated and feel that in actuality, she has no choice but to give into that image, because she feels helpless and by finding a husband, it would be her way of survival. In this case then, I do understand how the catfight maybe a “site of Feminist Resistence”.

  • Robert Petersen

    I have never seen My Name is Earl before because I never felt that it would be entertaining. But this article was interesting because it showed a deeper level the kind of show that is can be. In this article, writer, Debbie James Smith, presents a realistic interpretation about the actions of women in a catfight. In this case, they’re not fighting over a man but fighting about the stereotypes that they have been set into. The feminist resistance in the title is a fair argument to make. She sees the acting of marriage as a way to escape the label from the rest of society. But then when the character of Jesse confronts Joy about being a “whore” this leads to Jesse getting her teeth knocked out. Joy wants to protect her new role as married women/ mother anyway that she can even fighting.

  • Resistences, gold teeth, and Catalina

    While the catfight might offer a space for feminist resistance, I think it is helpful to think about who can and can’t participate in these resistances. While Joy comes out the victor, there is still Jesse, marked as the LOWER lower-class woman, without even her gold teeth– the ultimate symbol of “white trash.” Also, despite previous judgment, Catalina, the Latina Character, falls in love with Randy only after sleeping with him and discovering his prowess in the bedroom. What, if any, resistances are made available to characters that are further marked as “other,” like Jesse, and Catalina, who sadly fulfills stereotypes of women of color overpowered by sexual desires?

  • Conflicting Catfights

    I am very avid watcher of My Name is Earl. When I watched this particular scene, I did notice some intricaies discussed by Ms. Smith. The most intisive topic, which Ms Smith covered quite well, was the gender trangressive motives in Joy’s charachter. She fights not for a man or material objects of anykind, but for herself, for her own honor. This is reflective in Patricia Mellenkamp’s essay on I love Lucy and her discourse on how the woman wins performatively, not narratively and how her sucess transends,even transgresses her narrative role. In joy’s case, this is the same kind of situation: Her minute socio-economic status makes her lose narratively, however the charachter she portrays, Joy, displays such a liberating/revolutionary spirit that creates action that transgresses her narrative loss.

  • Viewing catfights differently…

    Although I am not an avid watcher of My Name is Earl, I came into thinking before reading this article that the catfight was to be all about the sex and erotic moments of it. This is entirely the opposite of what happened in this episode. I enjoyed this article in that Debbie Smith is able to deconstruct this catfight into social meanings. Joy seems to be wanting to be defined more than a ‘white trash’ character is the reason why she married Earl. With Jesse calling her a ‘whore’ denotes the lifestyle of marriage and motherhood that Joy is trying to live and represent. Joy’s act to fight for who she is and not for a man makes her independent. Her willing to protect her image is sign of her taking control of the situation. Also, the mention of the music played during the scene of the catfight is music that was played in popular where it is the men that were fighting and the women sat along the side, grimacing at the site of pain. The catfight is a good portrayal of a role reversal of gender on television.

  • Caitlin Faulknor

    What goes around…

    I watch My Name Is Earl weekly, mostly because I enjoy how every story comes full circle. However with this episode it was different, as a viewer I did not have the satisfaction at the end of the episode that I usually do. Earl crosses another person off of his list, and everything is fine in the end. However, in this episode I felt sympathy for Jessie and because of that I was not satisfied at the end. Jessie represents the independent woman that made it on her own even though her heart was broken and her man was stolen. She could go on and would one day get even, or as the show would say, karma could come around. But Joy, representing dependence on men, (being that she stole Earl from Jessie) won this fight in the end be she saw Jerry Springer on tv, despite Jessie’s intense training. It represented that living life doing what one is supposed to do, will never succeed, and the Joys of the world will find a way to cheat in life, and win by figuring the easy way out. Because of this, I disagree with Debbie Smith that Joy challenges stereotypes, I feel she is typical and feeds to the stereotype of a “man stealing whore”.

  • Vanessa Cervantes

    Before I read this article I saw the pictures that had been posted. The first sense I got from these pictures was that these women were fighting over a man. Boy was I wrong! I believe that this show (never seen it)is trying to stay clear of sexualizing women. We see here that Joy and Jesse are infact both females who want to be respected for who they are and not what they’ve done. Joy wants not to be known as a whore while Jesse doesn’t want to known as a loser who got her teeth knocked out. Not only did she get her teeth knocked out by a women, but a pregnant women. I like the fact that the show didn’t take their fight seen and turned it into a sexual perspective from Earl. Most shows create seens of women fighting and try to use sex as thier main goal. Here they show two powerful women fighting for what “they” feel is right and should fight for. The author, Debbie James Smith, makes her depicting of the characters clear and is telling us that not every fight including women should be about sex and or “man stealing”.

  • Having a sexual desire seen as being a whore?

    This scene exemplifies how women may perform the same actions as men, but are looked down upon and seen as not fulfilling their expected gender roles. Jesse reinforces and conforms to the societal expectations by disrespecting Joy, her own gender, for seeking sexual desire. She calls joy a whore for her counterhegemonic actions, but don’t men often do the same thing? It is ironic how men can get away with being promiscuous and sexually active, but if a woman wants to do the same, she is looked down upon. Joy challenges social roles by seeking sexual desire without fear, but she is still submissive because she is willing to comply with Jesse’s disagreement of her actions by “going quietly to jail.” Jesse, who is enforcing an anti-feminist views by imposing a patriarchal society, contributes to her own gender to continue to be suppressed. Women have been silenced by men and even though Joy is being the more mature person, she was willing to give up her dignity to the hegemonic patriarchal society by accepting the consequences for her actions. Joy won’t “succumb” to the societal judgement of her behavior. In resisting, she is performing disidentification, the process of working with and against dominant representations of social identity. Social identity, in Joy’s case, consists of a single parent not having sexual desire because she Earl and Jesse should resist the socially constructed definition of motherhood, where if women stray from the traditional expectatation they are labeled whores. The altercation between the two women “represents a discourse on how women are labeled for transgressing acceptable female roles.” When a woman steps out of that role, as Joy did, we cock our heads and see it as unacceptable behavior. It is at this point that we must realize the post-feminist backlash that we are reinforcing, where women are still not equal to men.

  • Interesting…
    While I do agree with the majority of the comments made, I still feel that the scene cast more of a negative light on the character, Joy. Her considerations in choosing a man purely involved which man was less disgusting. The consideration that one of these males could have been single never factored into her decision. In addition, the fact that she stated that she learned how to fight from Jerry Springer only further enforces her lower-class aesthetic. She could have said many other things that would have cast her as more heroic. On the other hand, it is refreshing to see the desperate, pregnant woman actually win narratively. The idea of a desperate, pregnant woman winning over a woman whose career is to deal people unhappiness is something that is not seen very often.

  • A positive or negative representation?

    Your article on the episode of My Name is Earl is a very interesting take on the way that females have been represented in society. Although I have not seen that episode, I do watch the show occasionally. This episode gives a good insight on the ways that the representations of females have changed over the years. This scene both demeans and empowers women in an offbeat way. For example, in the past, action scenes of this nature would have never involved women. It wasn’t till the 1970’s that Americans started seeing females handle lead action roles in such films as Foxy Brown or Coffy. Having females in roles which had them engaging in violent behavior was never accepted in American culture. Nowadays that is a very common practice though, with such programs as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Alias. This scene is a reinforcement of this idea. This fight scene is between two strong willed females who do not represent the typical gender ideologies in which people are accustomed to. It even mocks what is traditionally a male dominated genre by spoofing the classic Spaghetti Westerns as made famous by masculine actors such as Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson. However while this scene is empowering to women, it also brings to light the trashier side of American culture. The character of Joy is obviously shown as being not only lower class, but low on class. She is pregnant, unemployed and just looking for a man to support her in the flashback. On top of that, she claims she learned to fight by watching Springer. All of these elements that her character shows are very common amongst the TV show Jerry Springer (Not to mention that actress Jamie Pressly played a major role in the movie adaptation of the Jerry Springer show entitled Ringmaster). The Springer show is considered one of the trashiest programs on television also. This can make these two female characters seem negative rather then positive. It can show them as perhaps too unintelligent and un-classy to handle their problems in any other way besides physical violence, with the male character being the calm and responsible one. However overall, I feel that this scene works more in a positive way for females rather then a negative way.

  • This analysis of the episode of My Name is Earl is a valid analysis, but I believe it digs too deep to find meaning in what the scene and the show is trying to succeed in. The show wants to be funny, and in order for this to break gender molds it needs to be serious. Instead, for various reasons the scene conatins what could be stong women through mockery of strong women. The gold teeth are the first indication of mockery, the teeth are not a normal part of culture (however growing in popularity) and are meant to be laughed at for the sheer randomness of them (Jesse could have just gotten white fake teeth. Next is the music, the song Kung Fu Fighting, a song from the 70’s disco era that is now in itself a joke. If the song cannot be taken seriously anymore, how can the fight between the two females. Finally is the the facial expression of Earl during the fight; it would be an easy laugh to show him gaining pleasure from watching the fight, but instead he cringes in disgust. However, he cringes to get a laugh from the audience, not an easy haha. My conclusion on the scene is that in order for these two female characters to be seen as breaking gender molds while fighting, they need to be taken seriously. Instead the scene is played fro laughs, containing the women in mockery.

  • Empty victory

    It was interesting to read Smith’s analysis of the catfight as a seemingly more positive step in the direction of catfights because the two women were fighting for their reputations, rather than over a man. However, I have to wonder what reputation there was left to uphold. Should the viewer root for Joy, a manipulative man-stealer? Or ought we root for Jesse, a woman whose life revolves around settling a grudge. While it is refreshing to see two women fighting for their dignity than for a man, their victories ring empty because in the end the reputations they have upheld are not worth fighting for.

  • Challenging Gender roles

    After reading about this episode of “My name is Earl” it is interesting to see a lower class caucasin woman challenge gender roles the way she did. The simple fact that in a sense she did what she had to do to survive for herself and unborn child is amazing. The idea that all women have to stay at home and make a living in a descent way can’t apply to everyone the idea that it will is questionable. It’s funny to see how even white people can be represented in this way is funny because surely if Joy would have been black they would have made her character very ghetto. in this seen they explained Joy’s character as the typical white trash figure. it seem s to be a very Jerry Springer scene in a sense women fighting over nonsense and having one end up with broken teeth.The fact that finally women are fighting to do what they want to do to have that freedom of choice is great. Kudos to joy regardless of her race and irrational behavior she stood up for herself and has manged to manipulate men for her own benefit.

  • Jerry Springer

    I have never seen the television program My Name is Earl before. From reading this article I get the impression that Joy, a strong willed woman who knows what she wants and will do pretty much anything to get it, exemplifies the role of a single hick mother. In the flashback to six years prior in the Crab Shack when Joy and Jesse get into their first cat fight, we as the viewer could get the impression that these two women are strong and have a lot of will power; they wont let anyone stand in their way. Then, when Joy shows off her wedding ring from Earl to Jesse, we can feel the jealousy and the “Jerry Springer aspect” of these southern women who don’t know how to react when they are faced with intense feelings. There is a lot of the “Jerry Springer—hick aspect” in this episode. When Joy knocks out Jesse’s teeth, and uses her teeth as currency to pay for her ticket, we realize how poor Joy and Jesse are. These women are looked at as lower class female’s who turn to violence instead of verbalizing their feelings. Both Joy and Jesse leave behind the ideology that women should be at home cooking and cleaning for their families; each women goes out and fights her own battles, for example when Joy tells Earl to stay in the car so that Joy can face Jesse on her own. Like Natasha Dadour stated, “these two lower class women were apparently frustrated with the identities that society was straining on them.” They both are attempting to fight the constraints of everyday life by going out on their own and standing up for themselves. These two women depict two people that would be on Jerry Springer, and at a point, Joy acknowledges this by saying that she “watch[es] a lot of Springer.” Joy and Jesse break the ideologies of how women ‘should’ act, and follow the role of the Jerry Springer women.

  • Genevieve Brown

    Girlfight R us

    I do not watch MY Name is Earl,but I agree to Smith’s analysis. It’s stereotypical to always see women fight on television and over a man. But if the audience need to find something to laugh at and two low-income women are perfect examples. I feel that television should show women in another perspective, more independent and self absorb.

  • Zachary Williams

    It is very interesting how the author makes the point that the gold teeth which symbolized Jesse’s authority in the scene were taken from her through force to be used as the currency of freedom by Joy. Her status of the underdog proletariat that fights the dominant force of Jesse is reaffirmed by her reclaiming of the gold teeth, a status of wealth. From the pictures in the article, in particular the one with Jesse holding a shotgun, portrays her in a very masculine way with what looks to be black leather, a baseball cap, gold teeth and holding a very fallic shotgun reminiscent of a poster for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s terminator movies. An element of eternal reoccurance can also be found in the way the characters reproduce the same conflict they engaged in 6 years prior. Although this is solely due to the program producers choice to include the flashback in the same episode. The representation of a class struggle encoded within the battle I believe is a bit of an exaggeration as both women seem to be of the same class, and the struggle is more counter-hegemonic in the way a woman fights off a masculine like authority figure

  • In the show My name is Earl, I feel like they have to rely far too much on stereotypes to recreate the subculture they are trying to re-create. In this episode a sense of sympathy is created from the viewer to Jessie because it does not end on good note but on a bad one. I feel that the social and politcal view of the show is noticable mostly in resolution of the story. Furthermore the challenging of gender roles in this episode is through the roof.

  • Femminist Resistance?

    I found this article to be interesting and well argued, but I think that there are a few things about the topic I felt were left unexplored; I wonder if Joy’s character upholds femminist resistance against social expectation of women, why does Jesse acts as her opposite in the discourse of the show. I wonder if Jesse does indeed invalidate Joy’s lifestyle as a “husband stealing whore”, then what about her character works to embody social adherence that legitimates her invalidation of Joy’s lifestyle. If the subtext of the show is remonstrating against gender roles and expectations, then I would assume Jesse’s character is just as much an allegory for social construction as the dispute is over its disruption. This would make sense given Jesse’s unrequited defeat.

  • Perhaps Smith’s reading of this episode of My Name is Earl as a text that works to portray a poor mother as subverting her labeling as a whore is correct, but if this analysis is to be proven accurate isn’t it unfortunate that to achieve such a feminist expression must be done through the use of exploitation. “Springeresque” violence is being used in this scene to evoke the comic relief that it ultimately expresses. This episode is merely using the exploitive aspects of female violence, disguising it as humorous with the musical aesthetics that accompany it. Jason Lee’s character is not demonstrated in any negative depiction for his decision to choose a pregnant Joy over Jesse and, in essence, encourages the stereotype of the poor pregnant woman. Smith’s analysis of Joy’s victory in eliminating the judgments of a woman transgressing traditional feminine roles is hopeful in that achievement, but it somehow feels contrived. It contributes too much to the intention of the writer of the episode and does not take into consideration other aspects of the storyline that may have influenced this situation on the show.

  • I think that this article makes very valid points about this scene being one that can be viewed as a step forward in changing the conventional views of women characters. The most important point, which i feel Mrs. Smith covers well, lies in what the women are fighting for. The female fight, as a symbol in movies and shows, has always been one which puts men into the context too: either men watch with sexual interest, the fight is over a man, or a man is somehow implied. In this way the female fight has always been one which is objectified to fit into menns views and desires of women. This fight, as described by Mrs. Smith, does an excellent job of, if not removing the man, at least putting him in the farthest corner of the story. This fight is more about two women and their takes on life. Jesse seeks retribution, joy wants to survive outside the conventional labels of single mother and whore. In essence this fight is about women trying to assert themselves and their identities apart from how they are viewed in relation to men. I agree with mrs. Smith’s argument, then about how this is a step forward in the portrayal of woman charcters.

  • I have never watched My Name Is Earl before just for the reason that it is not my kind of show. When looking through the pictures I immediately saw Jamie Pressely leading me to have a biased opinion of what the show would be like. I found the catfight to sound a little bit ridiculous and “Springeresque” because of the reason they were fighitng in the first place, over money, men and possessions. The article states directly that earl looked disgusted during joy and jesse’s fight unlike most male characters who become turned on to the thought of two women battleing it out, which is nice but unrealistic. The wedding ring Joy flashed to Jesse in the flashback from six years before was from Earl, so, that leaves him to be his own entire issue in the catfight between the two girls. I found the gold teeth to be very significant to the scene because they represented the good versus evil aspect as well as wealth and freedom. When Joy knocks Jesse’s teeth out I felt like she was trying to show that she did not need a man like Smith was trying to say. She was wearing Earl’s boots which show her need for male companionship and protection while she knocks Jesse’s teeth out showing that she can take care of herself and that she is not a whore. Jesse on the other hand does push ups after the fight showing that she has not been beaten by Joy. although Smith is trying to prove that Joy challenges typical female stereotypes, I feel that she does not because of the way that she fight and the reasoning behind her want to fight Jesse. She is fighting over Earl regardless of the fact that he was not the main reason that caused the catfight. She may have thought she won the fight because she knocked Jesse down but she is still a joke because she fought for the wrong reason and remains the boyfriend stealing whore.

  • (con’t.) Debbie Smith also makes a good point about Earl finding the fighting “non-erotic”, which is different from the cultural stand point. In other medians, the show would have gone the other way and portrayed it as sexy but this showed the need to get away from these kinds of stereotypes.

  • My Name is Earl as a normalizing agent

    While My Namy is Earl operates under the pretense that it is condemning the stereotypical bad behavior of lower class white Americans, I find that in making such behavior humorous it actually serves to normalize it. After all Earl is a guy that everyone can relate to (right?) and he isn’t portrayed as being a degenerate…not that he is… but the show as a whole deliberately elevates Earl making the women seen “catfighting” his inferiors.

    While it certainly is important for middle America, (or the ill-termed “heartland” as some people like to refer to it) to have a voice in main stream media My Name is Earl is a rather uninspiring representation of middle America, and the it presents a picture that acts to keep the underclass middle Americans in their traditional roles—undermines the position of women in society.

  • Debbie James Smith

    I appreciate all the feedback on this piece. It is interesting to read the divergent perspectives on this episode as well as my arguments. In putting together the longer piece this article is taken from, I compared and contrasted catfights from Coffy, Dynasty, Seinfeld, commericals (Bud Light) with Earl in an attempt to determine how this form of tv conflict was intersecting with other forms of popular culture. This also included looking at the role of comedy to facilitate a discourse on class issues in shows such as Absolutely Fabulous, Roseanne and Grace Under Fire. In addition, I was particularly interested in the role of bounty hunters as portrayed in the new reality show Dog, The Bounty Hunter, and think that Jesse represented a critical response to a show that dipicts the humiliation of an under-class for the purposes of tv entertainment. Interestingly enough, as with talk shows like Springer, Dog provides an opportunity for one group to achieve their 15 minutes of fame and another group the opportunity to confirm their middle class values. Also, I think the writers use stereotypes such as that played by Joy/Jesse to initiate discourse on often dismissed stereotypes. I do not suggest that the show does this consistently well – I do not quite agree with the development of Catalina’s story arch in season 2 for example – but I am interested in the ways in which the writers attempt to explore (I am partial to season 1 here)different possibilities for these characters to discuss class, race and gender.

  • someone has posted on this thread using my name?

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