The “Jackass Formula” in Television Programming
(c) 2011, 2015, Davd*
There’s a powerful, subtle irony when Feminists attack capitalism. Capitalist funding [and through funding, substantial control] of television, was one of the first major supporters of feminism and female supremacism, if in a very backhanded way. The first widespread misandric themes in 20th Century mass media were—as best one can estimate—framed, choreographed and broadcast to pander to women’s control over—shopping.
Capitalism tends to have a narrow social focus: It pays too much attention to the money and too little to the “side effects”.
As television became widespread, programming was soon guided by the Profit Motive: The programs that were broadcast were those that advertisers would pay the most to broadcast. There were some social-policy restrictions, such as “no pornography where and when children might watch”, “don’t insult people’s race or religion”; and some imprecise restrictions on violence. These restrictions probably caused more “domestic situation comedy” programs to be shown than would have “aired” without them.
Advertisers pay for television—as they pay for any advertising medium—because they expect to get more profit from increased sales, than they pay out. They aim their advertisements, and choose the programs with which to broadcast them, with shoppers in mind. Excellent television content that does not appeal to shoppers, is a “bad bet” for most advertisers.
(The iron tonic named “Geritol” [a name derived from the Latin word for old age] sponsored Lawrence Welk’s dance music programs. The people dancing were mostly grey-haired. So, we may suppose, was the viewer population, since the makers of Geritol felt that the “Welk show” sold enough seniors’-anti-anaemia tonic to justify sponsorship.)
“Domestic situation comedies” were perhaps the commonest type of programming. They were mostly free of taboo erotica; they were nominally pro-family, but they were not very respectful of husbands. Why not?—because of the money. As regular comment-poster “Rebel” wrote on the Spearhead site,
T.V. will continue to cater to women unless men start outspending women1..
Men shop less than women and have done as long as i’ve been alive. The TV programming aimed at men—sports, especially—tended to be sponsored by the likes of shaving products and beers. There’s a lot less money spent on shaving products and beer, than on all the things women buy, especially food, housekeeping supplies (they called some programs soap operas, for a reason), and women’s clothing. (Ever go through the print advertisements in “content-analysis mode”, counting up the amount of space given to women’s vs. men’s clothing?)
So who did it pay the advertiser to please? Husband or wife?
After World War II, as television was becoming common, came the “Baby Boom”. Women love babies, and prosperity enabled men to support nuclear families without their wives having to earn money. Housewives became the chief shoppers and television programming catered to them—because they were the ones who spent the most money. not men.)
As a student or junior professor in the 1960s or ’70s—i no longer remember just when—i first read the phrase “The Jackass Formula”, meaning that husbands were portrayed as bumbling fools and wives as smarter and wiser. It referred to the conventional structure of “domestic situation comedies”, and the obvious reason why television programming followed it,was that the advertisers wanted to please the main household spenders—who were wives.
Since “The Simpsons” is better known to most readers than the television programming of decades past, i’ll quote a passage i read recently about that program:
‘The Simpsons’ follows the middle-class, Springfield-dwelling Simpson family. Homer Simpson is the caring but moronic head of the household, who works at the Springfield nuclear power plant for maniacal Springfield billionaire Montgomery Burns. His wife Marge puts up with his constant hair-brained ploys which have taken the family around the world and in contact with celebrities, famous athletes, and even presidents of the United States. Lisa is a know-it-all who’s dream is to become the first woman president and save the world of all its evils. Unlike his idealistic sister, Bart is a troublemaker at Springfield Elementary, always avoiding the bullies with his best friend Milhouse. Maggie is the youngest Simpson, always sucking on her pacifier, and who regularly seems to be forgotten by her family which gives her time to explore and cause her own mischief.
[accessed 14 October 2011]
Fair characterization of men vis-a-vis women? Not at all. It would be just silly fun satire, if there were as many programs showing men as wiser and smarter, and women as silly-goofy—but are there?
Nathanson and Young (Spreading Misandry: The Teaching of Contempt for Men in Popular Culture Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001) go well beyond saying “no, there aren’t,” but they do say: Mass media content, in the late 20th Century, was strongly misandric on average. Nathanson and Young examine the ideology and influence of misandric Feminists; but do they explain why capitalist television networks and sponsors played the misandric game?
Shopping seems to provide that explanation. Cheap shots at men, sadly, seem to have made big money for television producers and sponsors.
There’s much more to misandry than pandering to the shoppers’ dollars. We can ask why shoppers—why any women, any men, would be more motivated to watch demeaning depictions of another sex, or another race,.. and to some extent better content, better chanacterizations did appeal to many. Many more, it seemed, were fooled by the Jackass Formula… or at least, entertained enough to watch the commercials.
The commercials motivated television producers and sponsors to denigrate men and call it humour2, to make misandry so common on TV as to give a sort of public legitimacy to female supremacism; until by the beginning of this century, with the lobbying of Feminist ideologues to direct it politically and legally, it had spread to real life.
* This essay was published originally on the Spearhead website in October 2011, when that site was very active. The language has remained “current as of 2011”; with some edition near the end: The focus on 20th Century television contains the basic argument, which has not changed in the past four years. It is posted here on everyman now, because access to the Spearhead site has recently been unreliable.
1. The url was “http://www.the-spearhead.com/2011/10/04/mens-issues-on-the-simpsons/#comment-111786” I did not make it a link because since Spearhead became inactive, having the link would lead many browsers to display the text, crossed-out.
2. It’s worth remembering, that a TV audience containing tens of millions of shoppers, meant at least as many millions of dollars spent on programming and advertising. Those misadric “domestic situation comedies”, were very cleverly scripted and staged. Their misandry was sly more than ugly—and men often “kid” each other somewhat similarly (but usually not “when the Ladies are present.”) What was distinctive to “The Jackass Formula”, was that there was little or no balancing “funny misogyny”—women were portrayed as better than men.