Monday, April 27, 2015

Marriage, Feminism, & Friday Night Lights: Critiquing Popular Culture

Critics, commentators, and viewers have attributed the success and social impact of FNL to many factors. Yet the one factor that is repeatedly mentioned and pointed to as the corner stone of the successful show is the realistic portrayal of the marriage between Coach Eric Taylor and his wife, Tami. There is an honesty and transparency in their relationship with each other. They love and respect each other even when they don’t like each other.
While many examples of marriage and married couples on TV perpetuate a patriarchal society that places women in submissive role and adheres to submissive rules often ensuring that her husband will prevail and showing women as accepting such a role, it is important to showcase the examples of TV marriages and women who challenge the patriarchal societal rules in TV. But also to take it one step further and identify what those traits are and how they affect (positively or negatively) the TV marriage and its portrayal.
The purpose of this analysis is to identify Tami Taylor’s attitudes about the roles and rules of women in a patriarchal society and how this modern approach affects her marriage and what we can learn from it.


            Every once in a while a TV show comes along that captures the attention of a wide demographic of viewers like FNL. Regardless if you are a football fan or not, all types of viewers make up the FNL audience.  Lauded by critics for its emotional range of character development, the intimate shooting style (creator Peter Berg used hand-held cameras when shooting in order to ensure a more realistic scene) and sober storytelling, FNL holds its place in pop culture as one of the most accurate and relatable depictions of life (as a teenager and as adults – married and single). Using the Dillon Panthers football team as merely a contextual element, FNL is less about football and more about marriage, families, and coping with the not so glamorous realities of life. FNL has been brave and bold enough to explore issues of race, socioeconomic status, sexuality, and marriage without making overt politically polarizing statements on the issues. Rather, FNL handled them with a delicacy and humanity that encouraged the audience to relate (dare I say, cheer?) for the character faced with their decision. These characters are flawed; they are imperfect. But it is their imperfection that made them so real and drew audiences to them.
FNL is an anomaly among network and cable television. Its viewership peaked on NBC at only 6 million and narrowly avoided cancellation almost every season after striking a deal with DirectTV to split the costs and distribution rights (Elena Fernandez). With the exception of a few of the main characters, essentially a new cast of teenage characters where brought for the final two seasons allowing for growth and change of the series, much like life. And yet, it still has managed to attract a fan base that that continues to grow due in large part to binge watching via Netflix. This is not a stereotypical teenage soap opera dipped in excess and opulence. Its impact on pop culture is its relatability. Gender roles in marriage are flipped on their heads. Families fight. Marriages are stretched. The dialogue is real. And the silences are full of raw emotion.
Critics, commentators, and viewers have attributed the success and social impact of FNL to many of these above mentioned factors. Yet the one factor that is repeatedly mentioned and pointed to as the corner stone of the successful show is the realistic portrayal of the marriage between Coach Eric Taylor and his wife, Tami. There is an honesty and transparency in their relationship with each other. They love and respect each other even when they don’t like each other. And they are a real, honest to God team. “Where other TV series tend to focus either on the bickering or the saccharine, "Friday Night Lights" has thrived on nuance, creating domestic moments that simultaneously reflect adoration and frustration; tenderness and sarcasm; respect and fatigue” (Elena Fernandez). A rarity in episodic television. They are on equal footing in their marriage as portrayed in the show. Neither of them holding more weight or clout against each other.
Taking it a step further, that equality in the marriage can be attributed to Tami’s rejection of most of the typical gender rules and roles placed on women in a patriarchal society on TV. She offers her opinion and expects to be taken seriously. She takes a stand but always does so in a graceful manner. She supports her husband and his career, but doesn’t lose track of hers. This is a departure for many female leads in TV portrayals marriages.
While there certainly is a lot of commentary online about FNL, particularly Tami Taylor as an individual and Eric and Tami’s marriage, there is little academic literature or analysis examining the show or its specific themes relating to marriage. However, there is literature that examines the role of married couples and marriages on TV, specifically on sitcoms, reality TV, and in film.
Some research suggests that even today, situational comedies still adhere to a patriarchal display by positioning women intellectually superior yet restrained by the husbands male dominance (Walsh, Fursich & Jefferson, 2008, p. 123). The article uses the TV shows Everybody Loves Raymond and King of Queens as examples, but it there are a variety of sitcoms that perpetuate this as well including Rules of Engagement and Traffic Light.  Taking it one step further, its suggested that “[P]atriarchal ideology is so embedded in everyday discourse that it becomes normal to audiences and its presence goes easily unnoticed” (Walsh, Fursich & Jefferson, 2008, p. 126). “Male and female television characters are portrayed in stereotypically gendered masculine and feminine fashions, and gender roles are prominent in male and female intimate relationships portrayals…[with] the male character exhibit[ing] more dominate behaviors and less submissive behaviors than the female” (Holz Ivory, Gibson & Ivory, 2009, p. 186). In regards to reality TV it approaches marriages as a “an example of normative gender expectations…and a patriarchal primer for love and marriage” (Frank, 2007, p. 94). In her book I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies, Jeanine Basinger “describes the trend that has marked movies for the past 40 years: the lack of interest in married life” (Taylor, 2014, p.45) due to the fact that Hollywood was “incapable of imagining a dramatically interesting marriage, they kept only the ritual” of weddings (Taylor, 2014, p. 45).
While many examples of marriage and married couples on TV perpetuate a patriarchal society that places women in submissive role and adheres to submissive rules often ensuring that her husband will prevail and showing women as accepting such a role, it is important to showcase the examples of TV marriages and women who challenge the patriarchal societal rules in TV. But also to take it one step further and identify what those traits are and how they affect (positively or negatively) the TV marriage and its portrayal.
The purpose of this analysis is to identify Tami Taylor’s attitudes about the roles and rules of women in a patriarchal society and how this modern approach affects her marriage and what we can learn from it.
For this analysis I will be looking at the character of Tami Taylor using a radical feminist perspective and will examine traits including her behavior, speech, and tone and what affect they have on the outcome of the 3 specific conflicts (1 from the first season, 1 from the third season, and 1 from the fifth and final season).  How would a radical feminist critic read the conflict/scene? Does it support or challenge the traditional patriarchal TV mold?  Is it empowering to women? Is it repressive to women? How does it positively or negatively affect her relationship with Eric and their marriage?
In order to view a text through the lens of feminist criticism, we must have a solid understanding of its foundation. Deanna Sellnow with her book The Rhetorical Power of Popular Culture: Considering Mediated Texts and Barry Brummett and his book Rhetoric in Popular Culture both provide a clear understanding of feminist criticism. Barry Brummett argues that feminist criticism “tries to explain how such inequality is created and perpetuated through popular texts” (Brummett, 2006, p. 171).  And Deanna Sellnow asserts that the “Feminist perspectives do not claim that men oppress women” but “rather, the hegemony (dominate ideology)—which is reinforced and reproduced by both men and women—simultaneously empowers men and oppresses women…who do not behave in stereotypically gender appropriate ways” (Sellnow, 2010, p. 139).
In her book, Sellnow offers several approaches within feminist criticism including liberal (inclusion of women in traditionally male dominated industries), Marxist (focusing on economic equality), cultural (promotion of feminine skills and behaviors that are of equal importance to men), and radical feminism (which assumes that inequalities and oppression stem from how the system creates men and women differently) (Sellnow, 2010, p.. 143-145). A radical feminist  critique is achieved by looking at the way popular texts perpetuate (or refute) the notion of patriarchy dominance and will thus be the specific lens for this analysis.  
While there are a few examples of strong female characters and their marriages, most of which are featured in TV dramas (see Abbey and Jed Bartlett from The West Wing, Elizabeth and Henry McFord from Madame Secretary) this example from Friday Night Lights seemed to be the most unique because of it’s setting, which I would argue, is the most realistic situation. FNL is set in “middle/normal” America in small town Texas. Eric and Tami Taylor have professional jobs that are relatable to more of the audience. I would safely argue that more people can relate to being a high school football coach or counselor than would be able to relate to a Harvard educated thoracic surgeon, or CIA analyst/Secretary of State, NSA spy/theology scholar, or president of the United States. FNL  looks, feels, and discusses issues that the everyday family is dealing with, including money, raising kids, daycare, etc, which is why I opted to use this as my text.
In addition, the unique setting for the stories. At first view, the viewer or critic would look at a show centered on a highly masculine, male dominated, and aggressive sport as perpetuating the patriarchal stereotype. Not so. Another reason, a friend of mine said that she wanted to be just like Tami Taylor which surprised me (this before I had seen the show). I had equated the TV character with the passive wife from the 2004 movie of the same title. I was curious as to why she would think she was interesting.
Friday Night Lights originally aired on NBC then DirectTV from 2006 to 2011 but has been recently released on Netflix for a second round of fan adoration.  The show is based in fictional Dillon, a small west Texas town obsessed with their high school football team, the Dillon Panthers. The show uses its backdrop to explore issues and story lines involving family, race, class issues, teenage relationships, sex, and marriage, to name a few. While the series has several lead characters, primary focus is given to Coach Eric and Tami Taylor’s marriage and family.
The Taylor family consists of Eric and Tami, teenage daughter Julie, and new baby Gracie (who arrives at the beginning of season two). Eric Taylor is the patriarchal figure of the show not only for his family, but also for  his football players as well. In many cases, he steps in and acts as a father figure for three of his players whose fathers who have either passed away or skipped town. He serves as the traditional male role model and primary care taker of his family. Eric Taylor is portrayed on the field as a stereotypical macho football coach who runs a tight ship and does not tolerate defiance on his field. Off the field, he is a deeply committed husband and father who is often looking to his wife, Tami, for support and guidance.
Tami Taylor is the matriarch of the family and it is cemented early on that she is also the cornerstone of her family and moral center yielding great strength, power, and conviction for them. She establishes herself as an equal partner in her relationship with Eric; not one to be dismissed or reduced. In her role as high school counselor, and later principal, she is portrayed as very nurturing and motherly to her students. She is progressive as well often encouraging her daughter and female students to look beyond high school, boys, and relationships to focus pursuing their dreams. She is decision maker both in her professional life and her domestic life with Eric.
In an episode from season 1, Best Laid Plans, Eric is offered and accepts a job as a coach at fictional college TMU. Initially, Tami requests that he not accept it without talking to her. Upon his return he indicates that he accepted the job because if not, he risked losing the offer completely. Even though Eric has gone against her request, Tami lets him enjoy the moment as he recounts it to her in their kitchen. However, her facial expressions and body language give the viewer the sense that she isn’t ready to accept the decision as final as it will alter her professional life and the life of Julie.
At a later scene in the episode, Tami proposes to Eric the compromise of she and Julie staying in Dillon so Tami “can continue her work with the kids and Jules can finish high school and get some closure” ("Best Laid Plans"). Eric refutes it immediately. Tami pushes him to reconsider. They engage in a civil but tense argument both arguing their position before Eric walks out of the room.
At the conclusion of the episode, Coach and Tami are in there bathroom after a night out and again address the issue of the new job for Coach Taylor. As Coach embraces Tami and a protective bear hug he begins with “Are we done fighting? I love you.” Tami responds in kind and you can begin to see them settle in as she listens to Eric. “I love you. I respect you. I am sorry for the way this went down, but Austin is going to be good to this family.” Tami responds, “I know it is. But baby, I’m not going to Austin.” (“Best Laid Plans”).
Initially, in the conversation it feels as if Tami might to acquiesce to Eric and his insistence on moving the family for his job, regardless of her concerns and her work, which would follow the tradition patriarchal TV mold. But, she doesn’t. She recognizes what it means to Eric but she doesn’t sacrifice her world for his. A feminist reading would acknowledge that Tami is challenging the traditional patriarchal mold and rejects the rules that she should be submissive and agreeable to the decision made by Eric. It empowers Tami as a women and puts her in the position to be a subject and equal decision maker in their marriage rather than just an object in it. But what is unique about Tami’s declaration is the manner in her delivery. She challenges Eric but doesn’t minimize him or his needs in the process. She recognizes that it will be difficult and not ideal, but she reaffirms her commitment to their relationship without minimizing her role in it. She is bucking the system without hurting her marriage. In most TV portrayals for marriage, challenging the hegemonic ideology can often put a marriage in trouble.
In the episode, “The Giving Tree”, Tami is pushed into the position of having a discussion about sex with her teenage daughter. Upon discovering that Julie and her boyfriend are having sex, Tami navigates the delicate waters of sex in a way that is empowering for her and her daughter. In a very non-confrontational and supportive talk, Tami asks Julie if her and her boyfriend love each other, if they are using birth control, and what kinds. Tami then tells Julie “And just because you are having sex this one time you don’t have to have it all the time. And if it ever feels like you’re being taken for granted aren’t enjoying it you can stop anytime…” (“The Giving Tree”).
In this conversation with Julie, Tami has demonstrated that 1) women are not to be objectified by men and that Julie can decide for herself when and under what circumstances to have sex and 2) Julie has equality her relationship with her boyfriend. A radical feminist would argue that what Tami did is talking with Julie was challenge the patriarchal ideology that the role of women is to be objects to men. Furthermore, Tami handled the conversation in a non-shaming manner. She didn’t punish Julie for it. She didn’t cast any negative or destructive attitudes about sex. And she made sure Julie knew that she wasn’t disappointed. This is empowering to women, especially young women, because it challenges the negative treatment of women and sex—which is often perpetuated by the patriarchal ideology.
Tami demonstrates, again, the equality that women should have and are entitled to in their relationships. While this scene is not taking place between Eric and Tami and doesn’t have immediate impact on their relationship, it is Tami’s belief about equality that impact the manner in which she sees herself and how she acts in her marriage—as an equal partner to Eric. This philosophy that she shares with Julie reinforce Tami’s commitment to equality (physical equality, emotional equality, equity in making decisions) in all relationships. This position is not often taken or celebrated in TV marriages. Often times it’s a lopsided relationship with one dominating (usually the male) the relationship in TV patriarchy.
In one of the final episode of the series “Texas Whatever” Eric and Tami are at an impasse on their future plans. Tami has been offered a job as Dean of Admissions at a small private school in Philadelphia and Eric has been offered to coach the “super team” from Dillon and East Dillon high schools. Both are portrayed basically as the brass ring for their careers.
When Tami approaches Eric about the job, he is stunned and short with her. She handles the interaction with grace and just wants to get Eric to be able to talk about it without completing ruling it out. In a later scene when they revisit the discussion, Eric does apologize for his initial reaction admitting that he is having trouble wrapping his mind around it. Tami tries to frame the job in Philadelphia as an opportunity “for us to evaluate how we make decisions as a family” (“Texas Whatever”). Finally, in frustration, rather than give in to Eric, she simple states, “I have been a coach’s wife for 18 years. Every decision we have made has been based on your coaching career” (“Texas Forever”).  Again, here is Tami challenging the patriarchal ideology by not giving in. She is not going to accept that because he is the male that his career, his goals should trump hers. Again, in a later scene when the Dillon Boosters show up at the Taylor home to discuss Eric’s role as the future coach, Tami, refusing to give in, looks at Eric and quietly whispers, “18 years.” (“Texas Whatever”) before graciously offers her uninvited guests some ice tea.
For feminist critics, this is the most pivotal moment in the series for Tami. The viewer knows how committed to Eric and their family she is, but she is not going back down about her desire to take the job. She essentially isn’t going to let Eric off the hook because it serves the traditional male/female roles best. Again this challenges the patriarchal system and the roles of women in relationships. If she takes this job, it will signal a flopping of gender roles in their marriage; she will become the primary breadwinner and the role of primary care taker will shift. Not that Eric wouldn’t work, but her career would become the focus of their marriage and future. While this might put stress on their relationship, it doesn’t signal the end of it.  Eventually, Eric sees how much this means to Tami and the series closes out with them in Philadelphia.
In those moments between Eric and Tami discussing their future, while it was never hostile, the viewer could feel the tension and the difficulty of the decision they had ahead of them. Tami handled the situation with grace and respect which was empowering for her character. I found these final moments to be such a stray from traditional TV portrayals and challenged the typical TV marriage. Tami positioned herself as an equal. She demanded equal decision making and again takes herself out of the role of traditional object and placed herself in the role of subject. Yet again challenging the traditional ideology.

FNL is a popular text that defies much of what is portrayed on current TV and challenges the stereotypically male/female relationship. Tami Taylor is on equal footing and equal partner in her relationship with Eric. They are neither inferior or superior to each other. Neither is dominate over the other (while there is give and take, neither is predominately in control of the other). The character of Tami Taylor turns traditional gender roles on their heads will remaining equally committed to her husband, her family, and her goals. Tami shatters and rejects the roles demonstrated by other TV marriages and models a modern approach to relationships and gender—one of equality and commitment to each partner. We live in an era where TV and TV characters are often emulated as role models. We learn from them, we root from them, and we replicate their behavior. From a feminist perspective on patriarchal ideology in TV marriages, Tami Taylor stands out as a groundbreaker and one who isn’t going to submit to traditional gender roles and seeks and equal, balanced, and most accurate portrayal of marriage. 

Desperate Housewives and Devious Husbands: A Feminist Look at the Men of Wisteria Lane

            Desperate Housewives was a hit show on ABC running for eight seasons from 2004 to 2012. The show focuses on the fictional town of Fairview, and more specifically on a street called Wisteria Lane. Over the course of eight seasons, the characters experience a quiet suburban life complete with murders, house fires, medical emergencies, and a whole host of other ‘typical’ things housewives might experience in their day-to-day lives. The intrigues and drama in each episode drew in millions of viewers each week.
Plenty of research has been done on the women of Wisteria Lane. Susan is the girl next door who always has good intentions but sometimes makes a mess of things. Bree is the homemaker who can always be counted on to have a clean house and a home-cooked meal on the table. Lynette is the woman with a career and professional aspirations who can also juggle a husband and six children. Gaby is the typical, beautiful, rich, spoiled housewife. These women have been analyzed up one side and down the other, but not much has been written about the husbands of these desperate housewives.
             This paper seeks to explore how the men living on Wisteria Lane both reinforce and refute traditional gender roles. There are several men who make appearances on Desperate Housewives, but only four of them will be analyzed. These men are the husbands of the four main women on the show: Mike Delfino, Orson Hodge, Tom Scavo, and Carlos Solis.
RQ1:   How do the men of Wisteria Lane exemplify traditional gender roles?
            RQ2:   How do these men break the mold of traditional gender roles?
            Each of these men will be analyzed individually through a feminist critique lens. First there will be an examination the ways in which the men demonstrate traditional gender roles, then the instances where they do the opposite of what traditional gender roles might denote as manly. Finally, there will be a ranking of most to least traditional man in the Desperate Housewives universe.
“Desperate Housewives is a balanced mixture of drama, comedy, soap opera and mystery, giving rise to conversations on topics such as love, marriage, surface appearances, human interaction, gender roles and the dark underbelly of suburbia” (Di Gregorio, 2006, p. 63). This show has become a pop culture hit because of its wide range of topics. It has entertainment value for many different types of audiences. Although this show depicts sensationalized events, they all point to very traditional roles and values.
During its course on air, Desperate Housewives pulled in around 25 million viewers each week. Finding out how and why this show continued to attract viewers requires the show to be set within a larger sociocultural context. “Drawing on representations of women, gender stereotypes, and generic technique from a range of literary filmic, and televisual sources, Desperate Housewives plays on the past and its audience’s existing cultural knowledge as a means through which to access and interrogate contemporary social convention” (Hill, 2010, p. 163). Using the audience’s knowledge allows the show to both down-play and exaggerate certain instances of traditional and nontraditional gender roles.
            Feminism seeks to describe the taken for granted roles of men and women (Sellnow, 2013, p. 139). These roles can include beliefs, behaviors, values, and duties that are traditionally prescribed as either ‘male’ or ‘female’. Historically, men have been granted more power and opportunities. Feminism focuses on identifying the inequities and trying to rectify them so that both genders can have equal opportunities. 
As mentioned above, this paper will use a cultural feminist perspective to analyze Desperate Housewives. This show is a perfect canvas for this type of critique, but instead of focusing on the four main female characters (Susan Delfino, Bree Hodge, Lynette Scavo, and Gabrielle Solis), the paper will examine their husbands (Mike, Orson, Tom, and Carlos, respectively).
A feminist critique has several different perspectives. This analysis will specifically employ the cultural feminist perspective. This branch of feminism “seeks to promote as valuable the socialized skills, activities, behaviors, and viewpoints that have traditionally been defined as feminine and, thus, trivialized” (Sellnow, 2013, p. 150). Historically, certain things have been seen as a gender specific activity, behavior or viewpoint. Over time, this way of thinking has become ingrained in a culture’s collective way of thinking.
Although Sellnow speaks of actions being inherently female, there must be an opposite. If something is exclusively a female thing to do, then there must be things that are exclusively male things to do. This paper describes culturally male things to do as seen in Desperate Housewives.
Desperate Housewives originally aired on the ABC channel. However, this artifact was retrieved first through Netflix. When the show was removed from that platform, it was received from Hulu. All eight seasons of the show were aired on ABC and then posted on both streaming platforms. The show concluded in 2012. Then there was a three-year gap between the series finale and when this article had been analyzed. 
            Traditional gender roles for men include working out side of the home and making more money at their jobs than their wives. Men also should be present in their children's lives, but are not the primary care-givers. The preferred method of entertainment is sports and cars, but not classical or opera music. Traditional men have staunch morals and wouldn't dream of struggling with substance abuse, stealing, having extramarital children, or committing murder.
Mike Delfino                                                           
            Mike Delfino married, divorced, and then re-married Susan. They have a tumultuous relationship full of ups, downs, secrets, triumphs and ultimately sorrow. Mike was introduced in season one and then was murdered in season eight.
            Mike conforms to traditional male gender roles in a number of different ways. He is a hard worker that does manual labor for his job as a plumber. Plumbing is a largely male dominated profession and requires a vast knowledge of a building's network of pipes. Mike can often be seen with the other men on the Lane enjoying a basketball game while eating game-day snacks. Sports entertainment appeals to men's natural competitive nature. Finally, Mike is a positive role model for Susan's daughter, Julie, especially after Julie's father's death. Mike also strives to be a caring father to his two sons, Zach and MJ.
            However, Zach is a child born out of wedlock to a woman named Deirdre. This woman and Mike had relations years before he met Susan, but Deirdre and her habits will always plague Mike. It was during Mike and Deirdre's time together that the couple got addicted to drugs. When a police officer comes to detain Deirdre, Mike throws him off a balcony, killing him. These are some of the instances when Mike contradicts the mold of traditional male gender roles.
Orson Hodge
            After Bree's first husband's death, Orson Hodge begins to court her. In season three, the couple gets married. They seem to be a compatible couple, and they remain married until season seven when they divorce. They briefly rekindle their flame in season eight, but it doesn't work out.
            Although Orson doesn't have children of his own, he is supportive to Bree's son, Andrew, and daughter, Danielle. He even offers to help Bree raise Danielle's baby as his own. Rising to the occasion of being a good father is what men are traditionally expected to do. When he comes home from work, he expects a clean house and a delicious meal on the table, tasks Bree is more than willing to do. Eventually Bree's joy of homemaking turns into a lucrative career, and it makes Orson feel threatened and insecure of his own career as a dentist. Traditionally, a man measures his value by his ability to take care of his family, so when his wife's career began to flourish, he felt threatened.
            In an attempt to regain some control of his life, Orson developed a habit of stealing small knick knacks from his neighbors' homes. This type of habit is an anomaly in traditional gender roles. Another unusual element is Orson's preference for opera and classical music over sports and competition. He has also caused physical harm to his friends and neighbors: he was the driver in two separate hit-and-run incidents, one of which lead to the death of the pedestrian.
Tom Scavo
            Tom and Lynette Scavo are the only couple on Wisteria Lane to remain married for the entire series. The Scavos had their fill of lovers' quarrels, mostly because of Lynette's domineering personality. Although they were briefly separated during season eight, they came back together in the end.
            The couple moves to the Lane when Tom buys his pregnant wife a house. This a very gallant and masculine thing to do and fits right in with a man's typical gender role. In that scene, Lynette is pregnant with twins, and before long, three other children are born to this union. Tom is a large presence in his children's lives, he tries to relate to them and be open to their deepest secrets. When Lynette lost one of her babies, Tom remained strong for her and the rest of the children through that difficult time. Tom also owns his own business: a pizzeria. The restaurant is successful for a few seasons before Tom decides to sell it. This type of entrepreneurship and creativity is in line with a man's gender roles.
            What isn't in line with traditional gender roles is Tom's inability to settle down in a career; first he worked in advertising, then he opened the restaurant, and he briefly went to school pursuing a degree in Chinese, but he eventually had to drop out. At one point, when he was between jobs, Tom tried his hand at being a stay-at-home father while Lynette pursued her own career. A man assuming the roles and duties of primary caregiver and homemaker is the opposite of traditional. In the end, Lynette and Tom conclude that his homemaker skills are lacking, so Tom returns to the workforce. It is then discovered that he has an illegitimate child with a woman from his pre-Lynette past. For a man to have no idea about a child he fathered is not a part of a man's typical gender role.
Carlos Solis
            Carlos Solis saw Gaby at a runway fashion show. He knew immediately that one day she would be his wife. Eventually he proposed, she accepted, and they were married. Gaby was adamant that she would never have children, so Carlos moved her to the suburbs to help persuade her. Over the course of the series, Gaby cheats on Carlos which eventually leads to their divorce. In a later season, Carlos and Gabby decide to get remarried and have two children.
            Carlos is the traditional bread winner of the marriage. So secure is he in his ability to provide for his wife and kids that when Gaby finally offers to pay for a meal, he flat out refuses saying that it's his job to pay for everything. Like many typical marriages, Carlos's mother, Juanita, and Gaby do not get along, and Carlos is often caught in the middle. He usually takes his mother's side. This reverence for his mother occurs often when depicting men in their traditional roles. Eventually Gaby and Carlos are going to be parents, but when Gaby miscarries, Carlos is there for her emotionally. Gaby goes on to have two healthy children, and Carlos is the doting father and staunch disciplinarian.
            As for the instances when Carlos refutes traditional gender roles, he has killed a man before. One night, Gaby was being attacked by her abusive step-father, Alejandro. In an act of protection, bravery, and self-defense, Carlos hits the step-father over the head with a candlestick. The action was only meant to knock Alejandro out, but it killed him instantly. This event was never reported to the police and drove Carlos to drink out of guilt. Eventually, Carlos went to rehab for alcoholism. After completing his program, Carlos had a new-found appreciation of his wife and daughters. This enabled him to take the back seat to Gaby for once: he helped her create her own website which eventually turned into a television show. 
            After analyzing all the ways in which the men of Wisteria Lane reinforce and refute traditional gender roles, it can be concluded that the men can be ordered thus:
1.      Carlos Solis
2.      Orson Hodge
3.      Mike Delfino
4.      Tom Scavo
Where Carlos shows the most instances of demonstrating traditional male gender roles and Tom shows the least amount. Carlos is the husband who is least willing to let his wife take the wheel: after she ends her career as a model, Carlos doesn’t want Gaby to get another job. He’d rather have her stay at the house to raise their two daughters. Once Gaby does start a new job and has the money to help out around the house, Carlos says that having her pay for anything makes him feel uncomfortable.
Tom has shown his willingness to ‘share the pants’ in his marriage to Lynette. He lets his wife make major household decisions, discipline the children, and dictate his future. In several examples during the show, Tom has an idea for a career change, and Lynette gives her opinion, which will eventually sway Tom’s own thinking.
For future research, it is suggested to include other men on Wisteria Lane for consideration. Most of the housewives have had multiple husbands: Rex Van de Kamp (Bree’s first husband), Trip (Bree’s third husband), Karl Mayer (Susan’s first husband), Victor Lang (Gaby’s second husband), and Paul Young (the late Mary Alice’s husband). There are other men on the Lane as well, including gay partners Bob and Lee, various boyfriends, and other minor characters.
Another interesting line of research might look at the children, both male and female, of Wisteria Lane. How are they affected by their parents’ decisions on gender roles? And as a younger generation, how has changing social norms on gender roles mold their opinions of what a man or woman is traditionally supposed to do, and how they are traditionally supposed to act? Since their fathers are on the extreme ends of the traditional spectrum, predicting Juanita and Celia Solis’ and the Scavo children’s (Porter, Parker, Preston, Penny, and Paige) potential views on gender roles would be most interesting.
Looking at the big picture of Desperate Housewives, we can see that although the men exemplify traditional gender roles, they are often able to assume other roles and lay down the traditional ones. This largely has to do with the era in which the show is set; today’s era and a few years into the future. In this period of time, there has been a great push for gender equality both at the work place and in the home. Today’s social norms are reflected in the series.
If the show were set or filmed in the 1950s or ‘60s, perhaps the men would have more traditional gender roles and be less willing to drop those roles and assume traditionally female gender roles.
Slowly, but surely, the world we live in is changing. Women and men are becoming more and more equal in several areas of life. Women can have a job and run a household; men have those same opportunities. Women can now make important choices about her home, her career and herself, where before, those decisions were left up to her husband. As the world changes, we see those values shifting in popular culture. Desperate Housewives is an artifact that exemplifies society’s changing values and norms.

Di Gregorio, L. (2006). Disconcerting Truths: Uncovering the Values in Desperate Housewives. Screen Education, (43), 62-65.
Hill, L. (2010). Gender and Genre: Situating Desperate Housewives. Journal Of Popular Film & Television, 38(4), 162-169. doi:10.1080/01956051003749491
Sellnow, D. D. (2013). The Rhetorical Power of Popular Culture: Considering mediated texts. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. 
A Marxist Critique of DirecTV Commercials
Hannah Bany
Southern Utah University

            This critique of Rob Lowe’s DirecTV commercials analyzes some of the tactics used by DirecTV to convince its audience to switch to DirecTV.  In the commercials Rob Lowe plays himself along with a quirky alternative Rob Lowe.  The real Rob Lowe has DirecTV and is meant to be superior while the alternate Rob Lowe has cable and his meant to be laughed at.  Through a Marxist lens, the separation of classes (those who have DirecTV as being the dominating class and those who have cable being the oppressed class) was looked at and several strategies for effectively conveying the intended message were identified.  They included emphasizing the differences in looks, life choices, wealth, relationships, and being favored.  DirecTV uses its commercials to provide the oppressed with an opportunity to appear as though they have moved up in society by switching to DirecTV.
A Marxist Critique of DirecTV Commercials
            Popular culture is a key aspect in a culture’s values and development.  In American culture, it has had a profound impact and helps to maintain the status quo.  Television commercials are no exception.  However, some commercials reinforce the power structure ideas identified by Marx and continue to promote a pronounced separation between classes.
            Sellow ( ) defines a neo-Marxist perspective as one that helps to expose the assumptions about who ought to be empowered within society.  Popular culture can have a large part in reinforcing these assumptions by portraying such relationships as normal.  Upon hearing the term “Marxist perspective” some may tend to think it simply refers to communism and other negative aspects commonly associated with Marxism.  However, it is merely looking at the unequal power relationships within society.  A frequent ideology present in American television is one that involves the class system, or at least what some tell the public the class system ought to be.  It is difficult to turn on the television and not see some sort reinforcement of such a class system on nearly every program.  Further, television commercials do a good job of playing messages that encourage this ideology as well. 
            Many television advertisements tell viewers that by buying or using their product or service they can become a member of a higher class.  A prime example of this behavior is actor Rob Lowe’s ten commercials for DirecTV in which he plays himself in addition to a fictional version of himself.  In the advertisement what can be considered the real Rob Lowe has DirecTV and is depicted as being better than the fictional version of himself who not only does not have DirecTV but also has a less attractive appearance and negative qualities that are meant to ostracize him.  While these advertisements are meant to make the audience laugh, they also attempt to make those with basic cable feel like they are less than others who have DirecTV and offers the opportunity for them to better themselves by switching to DirecTV.
Literature Review
            Classes are made up of people who all hold similar occupations and socioeconomic statuses.  One’s role in society offers him a certain amount of freedom or restriction depending on where he may fall.  Therefore, there is always a struggle between the classes.  At times, this struggle may escalate to outright conflict and violence when the oppressed class becomes too dissatisfied with how they are treated (Nazir, 2013).  Thus, it is important for the ruling class to successfully impart their ideologies upon the oppressed class in order to keep the order; effective communication is essential to the circulation of existing societal practices (Ekman, 2012).  This practice is done through hegemony.  However, unlike other forms of power, hegemony is not attainted through force, but rather by coercing others via common sense (Schneesweis, 2005).  The ruling class makes the rules and then leads the lower classes to follow them.  Institutions (like the media) are a primary source of setting these rules.  The repressed class can submit to the standards set by the ruling class sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously as well as sometimes willingly and sometimes unwillingly (Nazir, 2013).  However, no matter what the set standard is, it usually works to ensure the powerful remain powerful.
            Another strategy used by the rule makers is to alienate the oppressed.  Alienation comes from feeling oppressed and powerless in situations that people cannot personally control (Nazir, 2013).  People are sometimes able to move between classes because the alienation comes from the organization of society, and when citizens are able to understand they are being constrained they are better able to do something about their situation.  Class relations impose constraints upon people, but these constraints are not necessarily permanent (Snedeker, 2012). 
            Sellnow (2010) said that “popular culture texts are contained within and constrained by hegemony, so critics ought to examine them as they reflect as well as perpetuate hegemony” (p. 118).  Television is a very powerful tool and the United States frequently tries to act as the ruling class and lead other cultures to follow them through the use of popular culture artifacts.  Several studies have focused on the impact American television has had on developing cultures and found they do help to reinforce the beliefs and ideologies of American culture (Schneesweis, 2005; Leslie, 1995).  The media is the one of the most substantial ways in which the powerful are able to dominate other classes and project their views on them (Ekman, 2012).  Further, because many television industries are privatized, the dominant groups are able to promote their ideals on television (Leslie, 1995).
            However, the dominated population are often hungry for a way to join the dominators and gain power for themselves.  For example, when the United States’ economy went downhill in 2008 and 2009, viewership for the television show The Real Housewives of New York City increased (Lee & Moscowitz, 2013).  As people were losing money, they enjoyed judging such a wealthy lifestyle that they were not included in by watching it on reality television.
            Materialism is an important aspect of neo-Marxism.  Materialism explains how the ideas and customs of a society come from the observable practices related to material wealth (Sellnow, 2010).  Thus, there can be a pressure on the oppressed to want to join those who are able to flaunt their wealth.  Valuing self-enhancement can lead to an increase in materialism (Killbourne & LaForge, 2010).  This pressure to conform and enhance oneself can be placed on the oppressed through advertisements.  As such, low-income families have been shown to be more vulnerable to advertising efforts (Chaplin, Hill, & John, 2014). 
Further, low self-esteem can induce materialism (Chaplin & John, 2007) and materialism can promote social isolation and lead to loneliness in those who don’t perceive themselves as having wealth.  But, obtaining more possessions doesn’t actually decrease the feeling of loneliness (Pieters, 2014).  Materialism is often reproduced in the form of advertising (Semmler & Bobby, 2013) and such advertising can have an indirect effect on the way people perceive it influencing others (Ranxi & Chia, 2009).  People are made to think they should be materialistic and when consumers engage in materialism, they often actually believe that it will lead to “life transformations” as a result (Richins, 2011).
            The materialism that people experience and the use of television to promote it is arguably a very effective means of letting everyone know which class they do belong to and which class they ought to belong to.  DirecTV’s advertisements featuring actor Rob Lowe are no exception.  Each of the ten commercials DirecTV released features the actor living his glamorous celebrity lifestyle and is compared with an alternate version the actor depicting him living in a type of alternate reality.  The ten alternate Rob Lowes are: Peaked in High School Rob Lowe, Meathead Rob Lowe, Overly Paranoid Rob Lowe, Scrawny Arms Rob Lowe, Crazy Hairy Rob Lowe, Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe, Super Creepy Rob Lowe, Total Deadbeat Rob Lowe, Far Less Attractive Rob Lowe, and Poor Decision Making Rob Lowe.  The difference emphasized between the two is that the real Rob Lowe has DirecTV while the alternate form of Rob Lowe has cable. 
            The purpose of the advertisements is to contrast the differences between those who have cable and those who have DirecTV.  The format of all the commercials is very similar.  They begin with Rob Lowe introducing himself to viewers and stating that he has DirecTV.  Then, the alternative Rob Lowe character walks on screen and introduces himself with his title (such as Total Deadbeat Rob Lowe) and states that he has cable.  Then, the real Rob Lowe and his counterpart take turns throughout the commercial speaking.  The real Rob Lowe will say something positive about DirecTV and then the counterpart will say something that he does typically related to or as a result of him having cable, but sometimes he will say something completely unrelated to television just to give the audience an opportunity to gawk at him.  For example, Super Creepy Rob Lowe states that, “My cable’s out so I’m down at the rec center watchin’ folks swim,” while the real Rob Lowe is laying in a comfy looking bed watching his reliable DirecTV with his dog (DIRECTV, 2014).
Essentially, what DirecTV is saying is that people who subscribe to cable have the negative qualities portrayed by the alternative Rob Lowe characters and are less than those who subscribe to DirecTV.  Each alternate character that Lowe portrays encourages that audience to not want to be like them and then offers them a way to not be grouped in with the inferior Rob Lowes by switching to DirecTV.  This is done through the use of several stratgies. 
The first involves looks and attractiveness.  Just with many of the titles of these characters alone, the audience is made to feel as those with cable are not as good looking as those with DirecTV.  Not only is there a character out rightly named “Far Less Attractive Rob Lowe,” but there are also names like “Scrawny Arms Rob Lowe” (who does indeed have arms way too tiny in proportion to the rest of his body) and “Crazy Hairy Rob Lowe” (whose body is completely covered in long dark hair).  In addition to these characters whose names already suggest they are not what the average person would consider good looking, all of the characters have appearances most would consider odd.  Overly Paranoid Rob Lowe has a long pony and thin mustache, Peaked in High School Rob Lowe wears a letterman jacket face and a haircut too youthful for his age, Poor Decision Making Rob Lowe has his name tattooed on his forehead, and Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe wears his pants well above his waist; just to name a few.  These outrageous appearances when contrasted with the real and arguably handsome Rob Lowe cause viewers to see those with cable as less attractive and by subscribing to DirecTV they are able to fit in with good looking people (who presumably also have DirecTV).
DirecTV also uses these advertisements to polarize the life choices of those who have cable and those who have DirecTV.  For example, Total Deadbeat Rob Lowe is heard saying that his children are their stepfather’s problem now and has surgery in a hotel room and Peaked in High School Rob Lowe works at a fast food restaurant.  Instances like these throughout the advertisements gives the audience the allusion that people with DirecTV have better lives.  In between the instances showing the alternate Rob Lowes, the real Rob Lowe is shown in much nicer places doing things like yoga or relaxing on a nice sofa. The alternative Rob Lowes seem to have more problems than the real Rob Lowe.  They are shown waiting around for cable companies or struggling with finances or having to take the bus.  Meanwhile, the real Rob Lowe is shown being carefree as he relaxes and watches DirecTV both alone and surrounded by others.  Rob Lowe’s choice of subscribing to DirecTV is depicted as being superior to the fictitious Rob Lowes who chose cable.  The audience can then infer that people make better choices and are more carefree when they have DirecTV. The real Rob Lowe even encourages the audience to make better choices and offers them a way to do so by switching to DirecTV by ending every advertisement urging the audience to not be like the alternative Rob Lowe and to upgrade to DirecTV.
In a similar sense, these commercials present the message that those who subscribe to DirecTV have better relationships.  Just as Total Deadbeat Rob Lowe has appeared to pawn his children off to their stepfather, Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe is afraid of a girl (or a guy) coming to his house to fix his cable, and Crazy Hairy Rob Lowe only gets stares when trying to impress women in a bar.  In contrast, the real Rob Lowe is seen in many of the commercials throwing parties and having a good time with his friends.  Within the commercial, the real Rob Lowe seems to be well liked, while the other Rob Lowes are stigmatized.  This is also true for how the viewing audience is meant to feel towards the two characters.  The audience is drawn to the real and handsome Rob Lowe while they laugh at the alternative character and judge his abnormal qualities.  Further, none of the alternative Rob Lowes appear with friends or family members which sends a message of those who have cable are lonely while those who have DirecTV are popular and have friends over frequently.
Another point made by DirecTV is that people with DirecTV have more money and nicer things.  The real Rob Lowe is featured in large and clean modern houses with big screen televisions and other nice things or a lovely outdoor area with a television.  The alternative Rob Lowes are typically featured in darker and dirtier spaces or with outdated furnishings.  While the places the alternative Rob Lowes are featured in are actually much more representative what of homes look like, when contrasted with the fancy house Rob Lowe is seen in, they appear undesirable.   The message DirecTV is trying is send involves persuading people that they will appear to have nicer things when they switch to DirecTV.
The commercials also present the message that when people choose to subscribe to DirecTV they can be like a celebrity.  Rob Lowe is handsome and famous and well-liked.  Many people desire these qualities and by Rob Lowe appearing in the advertisements surrounded by what appears to be a great life, viewers can covet what he has and by switching to DirecTV they come a little bit closer to being like Rob Lowe.  In addition to simply being like a celebrity, having DirecTV allows one to be judged by his peers in a positive way.  The alternative Rob Lowes are all portrayed in a way that the audience can’t help but judge them negatively.  When the characters talk about thinking there are listening devices in cheese or being unable to use public restrooms, they are placed in the outgroup.  All the while the real Rob Lowe is being admired for his positive qualities, which are meant to include choosing DirecTV.
Overall, the advertisements are meant to show that powerful people have DirecTV and the audience can join them and share in that power when they subscribe to DirecTV.  The advertisements show how the ruling class have DirecTV while the inferior class only have cable.  The focus of the commercials is not to tell the audience about all the wonderful aspects of DirecTV, but it instead focuses on showing the negative qualities not of cable, but of those who have cable.  The audience leaves not so much remembering all the positive points made about DirecTV, but rather remembering the weird stuff the alternative Rob Lowes did and are left with the message that they shouldn’t be like that.  The advertisements also play to the materialistic ideals that many hold.  DirecTV shows the audience how they can move up in society by upgrading their television service.  DirecTV specifically uses the word “upgrade” making it sound better than cable.
The strategy DirecTV uses is interesting in that it encourages people to join the upper class that holds the power.  Even though merely changing television providers doesn’t really move someone between classes, it offers people the illusion that they have moved up in the world.  It offers them a brief reprieve from the loneliness they may be feeling by offering a chance to have something a celebrity has.  The desire to feel included and shake the repression the higher classes burden the lower classes with can be momentarily quenched with the offer having the same television provider that the famous and handsome Rob Lowe has as a part of his fabulous life.  However, it still works to show the differences between the classes and undoubtedly gives the power and glory to the dominating class.

Chaplin, L. N., Hill, R. P., & John, D. R. (2014). Poverty and materialism: A look at impoverished versus affluent children. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 33(1), 78-92.
Chaplin, L. N., & John, D. R. (2007). Growing up in a material world: Age differences in materialism in children and adolescents. Journal of Consumer Research, 34(4), 480-493.
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Snedeker, G. (2012). Culture, alienation and social classes. Nordic Journal of English Studies, 11(2), 189-200.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Finding Hope In Christian Music: A Music Perspective

Julie Gillins

Southern Utah University

April 25, 2015

 Finding Hope In Christian Music

Life can be trying at times. The stress and trials of life can be more than a person can withstand. When times become overbearing it is important to replenish your spirit to help make you through the tough times. Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) offers the hope needed to remember you are not alone or that God’s tender mercies are with you no matter the situation. A study, From Where We Stand: Exploring Christian Listeners’ Social Location and Christian Music Listening, took a look at reasons listeners engage in Christian music. The reason for listening “was ultimately to connect with God” (Williams & Banjo, 2013, p. 206). Listener experienced a safeguarding of their faith and beliefs. Christian worship should be participatory and not a spectator sport (Gooliff, 2009, p. 255).”  This strengthened their relationship with God. There was a enjoyment with the supporting of their beliefs and it gave them a reinforcement of their lifestyle. Finally, listeners experienced “comfort, consolation and relief”. Ultimately, it is this connecting with God that brings solace to the soul and hope to endure. They also felt this gave them an alternative influence. Secular music brought negative feelings and influence which added to an already negative environment. Christian music counteracted the negative and brought in a positive, calming effect (Williams & Banjo, 2013, p. 210). It is this influence of hope that makes the pop culture of Christian music intriguing and bring a social significance in their messages.
If music can communicate, it is important to understand how the message is transferred. As in all communication, symbols are used to understand the message. In music, there are discursive symbols which are the words and nondiscursive symbols which are the music’s intensity and release patterns that communicates the emotion side of the artifact. It is the rhythms that invoke the emotions to symbolize another side of the message of the song. The illusion of life perspective examines both facets of the rhetoric, both conceptual and emotional, to see how they work together to transmit the meaning. This perspective examines the interaction between both to determine if the communication is congruent. Analyzing the lyrics, virtual experience, and the music, virtual time, music communicates an illusion of life through these dynamic interactions (Sellnow, 2014, p. 117). This essay takes two CCM songs and compares them using the illusion of life perspective to identify the similarities of hope in each.


            The song, “Worn”, is a snap shot of seeking redemption. Although there is the emotion of hope in the song and music, redemption does not find resolution in the song. The song was written on a whim. The lead singer, Michael Donehey, coming late to an appointment at the studio and walked through the door and told the group they were going to write a song, and it is going to be titled, “Worn”. The thought came to him after his second baby was born and he said every morning his wife would turn to him, grabbed his arm and say, “I am so worn out.” He felt for her, it had been quite a while since they had gotten any slept. In addition, he had a friend who had been really offended by something he had done and he was trying to resolve the huge misunderstanding. Thinking to himself, he wanted the situation with his friend to be redeemed and he needed his wife to feel renewed. Mike goes on to talk about a sermon he heard. The preacher talked about “the idea that earth is laid out like a garment and there are places where it’s worn through and the work of Christ in redemption is over you weaving the fabric area” back together. Donehey continues relating the sermon explaining this is God’s social justice, forgiveness, love…shalom” (Wally Show, 2013). Here are the words of the song, Worn.

I'm tired,
I'm worn,
My heart is heavy,
From the work it takes to keep on breathing.

I've made mistakes,
I've let my hope fail,
My soul feels crushed,
By the weight of this world,
And I know that you can give me rest,
So I cry out with all that I have left.

Let me see redemption win.
Let me know the struggle ends.
That you can mend a heart that's frail and torn.

I want to know a son can rise.
From the ashes of a broken life.
And all that's dead inside can be reborn
Cause I'm worn.

I know I need,
To lift my eyes up,
But I'm too weak,
Life just won't let up.
And I know that You can give me rest,
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win,
Let me know the struggle ends,
That you can mend a heart that's frail and torn.

I want to know a song can rise,
From the ashes of a broken life,
And all that's dead inside can be reborn,
Cause I'm worn.

And my prayers are wearing thin
I'm worn even before the day begins
I'm worn I've lost my will to fight
I'm worn so heaven come and flood my eyes

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart that's frail and torn
I want to know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that's dead inside can be reborn
Yes all that's dead inside will be reborn
Though I'm worn
Yeah I'm worn.

This song uses both intensity and release musical elements. The rhythmic structure moves back and forth from slow to fast intense according the message of a broken life to and then intense pleadings of let me see redemption win. The harmonic structure also moves between with consonant and dissonant tones as the song moves through his plead for heaven to come and flood his eyes and asking for reborn. Yet, he surrenders to again the mellow claim he is worn.
As he talks about being wearing thin, the melodic structure is smooth and descending. As he implores “let me see redemption win”, the music ascends with short held tones to accentuate the pleading.  The phrasing follows the melodic structure with accented and crescendos as he begs for answers to his pain. In the beginning and as he withdraws from pain, the phrasing is connected, smooth and soft with ritardando when expressing he is worn. The song starts out with just a piano instrumental and song verse of pleading more instruments are added with the end verse the song is accompanied with instruments of a full rock band. The Paralinguistic cues found in lyrics convey a tired soul who is earnestly pleading for redemption to find resolution from the struggle and pain he is experiencing in life.
The beauty of the song is how the illustration of life is used to convey the life experience of a person whose heart is heavy and prayers are wearing thin. From this feeling he is seeking for solace from his pain. Yet, as the emotion is voiced, he knows there is redemption and has hope that he will find it. The song has poetic illusion as the past is viewed as he voices his desperation and seeks for redemption.
The ballad Worn “acknowledges our human frailty and the rest that awaits in our heavenly Father’s arms…Yet even in the midst of struggle, fatigue and alienation---all emotions every human battles---the songs celebrate the sovereignty of God in every aspect of our lives” (NRT Media, Inc, 2015). The beauty of this song reveals though there are struggles in life, God still provides for us as we look to Him.

Blessings” by Laura Story was written after almost losing her husband to a brain tumor in 2006, Laura Story’s song “Blessings” was written as a reminder that God remains faithful even when things don’t turn out the way we expect them to. “Life is filled with things you don’t expect, but the Bible tells us to respond by trusting God and continuing to worship Him,” she said. “God has grown us up, deepened our faith, our awareness of our great need for Him as a savior, daily. We knew it before, but we didn’t see it.” The song ended up earning her a Grammy for Best Contemporary Christian Music Song in 2012 and in addition to touching millions of lives musically, Laura went on to write a 30-day devotional book based on the song. Consider the words of the song, Blessing.

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace.
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep.
We pray for healing, for prosperity.
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering.

All the while You hear each spoken need.
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things.

'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops.
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights,
Are what it takes to know You're near?

What if trials of this life,
Are Your mercies in disguise?

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear.
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near.
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love.
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough.

And all the while You hear each desperate plea.
As long that we'd have faith to believe.


When friends betray us, when darkness seems to win.
We know that pain reminds this heart,
That this is not, this is not our home.
It's not our home.


What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst
This world can't satisfy?

And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise?

            A simple piano accompaniment compliments the lyrics of Blessings. The result is a congruent message displayed in the song. As the lyrics examine our simple life prayers, “We pray for blessings, we pray for peace…” contemplation is given to where are God’s mercies, “Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things.” Although the simplistic music is present, the paralinguistic cues are very adequate in portraying the emotion. As the song builds, words sing of trials in life and come to a resolution through the realization that our heart’s pain reminds us there is a higher purpose for this life. This rhetorical ascription is illustrated as the music and lyrics build together to bring this resolution. At this point the listeners rejoice understanding these trials are blessings. The song is a ballad conveyed in the release patterns of the song. Dramatic illusion is found when trials in life are experienced; yet, in the future God’s tender mercies will be discovered. Laura Story uses her music to create a virtual time and the lyrics portray a virtual experience bringing an illusion of life perspective in Blessings.
As Sellnow wrote, “Mediated popular culture texts communicate to and for us regarding what we believe we ought to and ought not to believe and do during every waking moment” (Sellnow D. , 2013, p. 4). We get bombarded with mediated pop culture everywhere we look. Selecting what we want in its influence helps to build richness and strength to our souls. Such as these two Jesus-centered songs, they bring hope in life and understanding that God’s grace is sufficient no matter our journey in this life. If music can communicate, it is important to understand how the message is transferred. Understanding what CCM’s influence is can bring hope that makes the pop culture of Christian music intriguing and bring a social significance in their messages.  In this essay, two songs have been presented that have a significant message of hope. So, as life can be trying at times, it is important to replenish your spirit to help make you through the tough times. Consider Jesus-centered music to boost your spirit.


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