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She notes that "the laughter from the women in the group led to a pretty obvious bleeding of mascara" (2006). During this uproar, a male voice from the audience piped up and said he didn't find any of it funny. A few more men murmured sounds of agreement. The man said these women were nothing more than a couple of drunks. He ended with the comment, "I don't get the joke" (2006). Umberto Eco has a theory on comedy and cathartic pleasure, "the rule has to be completely understood and, according to Eco, 'inviolable'" (2006).
For women to be able to express themselves freely without worrying if men get the joke or not is important and about time. Sex has always been a part of a discursive notion of 'fun', one with rigidly drawn boundaries which position readers in specific ways. "Men were in on the joke; women could play too, so long as they weren't frigid, lesbians, humorless feminists or ugly" (Chq 1998). Saunders had finally created women that were imperfect in the way that women could understand and identify with and thus relate. The fact that men may have had a hard time "getting the joke" proves that it was time for a woman to write some funny females who were not subject to the ideals or expectations that men had of them.
Waddell (2006) considers that to understand female indulgence and excess as a 'sad' loss of dignity fails to take into account women's desire for spectacle and transgression. These 'behind-closed-door' urges most probably constitute the archetypal pattern of the grotesque reflected in Edina, Patsy and the entire atmosphere of Ab Fab. "It's not surprising that female grotesque imagery should rise through the media as a compensatory factor for a mode of expression that has been largely repressed by the media" (2006). Saunders was demanding recognition when she created a show that was overtly sexual, gender bending, excessive and self-indulgent. She seemed to know as well that female indiscretion only lead to a greater demand for these things.
Today it is easy to think of Sex and the City as an Ab Fab knock-off. Kim Catrall, like Edina, owns her own PR firm and her best lady friends talk sex, drink plenty of cocktails and contemplate the brighter days of their youth. Women love Sex and the City (SATC) for the honesty and the heart that the female characters bring to their roles. To call the girls from Sex and the City 'grotesque' might offend fans of the show, but the Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha and Miranda have all had moments of superficiality. While you wouldn't have seen Carrie or any of the girls from SATC doing drugs like the women on Ab Fab, they have been known to be catty -- especially if there is only one size 7 of a glorious pair of Leboutins left and three women are walking towards it. This is where we see the grotesque in SATC -- in their ostentation and their vulnerability to the tawdry. But arguing over that last pair of kitten heels and spying on your ex's girlfriends are maybe not something all women have done, but they are probably scenarios most woman have considered or fantasized about. Candace Bushnell created her SATC girls by making three-dimensional women who were at once girly, deep, lovely, and capricious. Bushnell not doubt came from the same school of thought as Saunders as both creators are interested in releasing the feminine from the constraints of a man's world and giving them their own unique voice in which they can have their own desires.
Why do audiences -- mainly women -- find these type of characters so pleasing to watch? Saunders took her Ab Fab characters to an outrageous level, but not so outrageous that women could not see themselves in them anymore -- likewise with Bushnell and Sex and the City. Women identify with both, even though most would consider Patsy and Edina a bit crazy and even though most would consider Carrie Bradshaw's shoe allowance preposterous.
American television executives worried that Ab Fab -- and especially the wrecks of characters, Patsy and Edina -- had no redeeming qualities, yet around this same time, Joanna Lumley was signed by Proctor and gable to advertise Fairy Glazeguard (Slide 1996). Advertising agencies discovered, contrary to what American television executives thought, that "Lumley's appeal ranged from the middle-class to the middle-ages, from working-class consumers of alcohol to yuppies with their cellular phones" (1996).
While discussing Sex and the City, it should also be noted that Sarah Jessica Parker, like Jennifer Saunders, produced the show that made Carrie Bradshaw a name everyone knew. Parker executive produced later episodes of Sex and the City and is an executive producer on both films. Both Parker and Saunders have clearly shown that women are just as capable of making meaningful and popular entertainment with women who maybe behave 'inappropriately' at times when they should be acting like 'responsible adults' (Rhodes & Westwood 2008).
There is a very common and orthodox set of values and expectations that tell us what women in their forties should be like: they should have proper jobs and/or be good mother; they should behave 'reasonably', putting others needs ahead of their own (so long size 7 Leboutins). Edina and Patsy (and the SATC girls as well) represent a sort of rebellion against and transgression of these stereotypes and values, by acting selfishly, doing whatever they want whenever they want, and making no attempt at being a responsible, 'appropriate' adult (whatever than means). Edina is an awful mother whose daughter, Saffy, has had to pick up her mother's slack, maturing before her time to make up for her mother's immaturity. There is a role reversal seen in Ab Fab with Saffy and Edina that is a fresh and hilarious take on the mother / daughter dynamic. While there isn't any doubt that watching these older women make a mess of their own and their families' lives is funny, one can't deny that the show's success signifies that a lot of women could identify with the 'bad mother' (2008). Kirkham and Skeggs (1998) suggest that Ab Fab offers the viewer, but more importantly, women, in general, the pleasure of both transgressing feminine ideals of beauty, motherhood and proper behavior. They both exceed the norms of femininity, which again, leads one to believe that these depictions are easier for real women to identify with, rather than unnatural ideals of femininity and womanhood.
Saunders' Ab Fab wasn't just a way to alternatively see women, even though it appears that was its main objective; it also explores a number of social and economic contextual themes. Kirkham and Skeggs (1998) argue that Edina and Patsy represent aspects of Thatcherism with their "bullish, selfish and hideously materialistic" behavior. The critique of material values of Thatcherism is seen in nearly every single episode. A "lack of collective values is arguably central to the Thatcherite project and its evangelical individualism, and this is accompanied by an economic rationalism in which business imperatives are paramount and the pursuit of profit a valorized instrumental goal" (1998).
The emphasis on profits at all costs is taken to its limits in Ab Fab in the Romania baby episode, where Edina imports Romanian babies and works on the sales angles available as if they were simply another commodity. This lack of values, this corrosion of ethics, values and community is made explicit against the characterization of the daughter Saffron, who is used to represent a caring 1990s student into ecology and social issues, 'Mum', Saffron says in a moment of exasperation, 'people don't get more interesting the more money you spend' (Rhodes & Westwood 2008).
Saunders' apt talent to take important issues in the world and bring them to light in a funny yet meaningful way is perhaps her greatest talent. She is considered one of Britain's foremost comediennes and she is thought of as a business woman in her own right, breaking through the world of male dominated television sitcoms in Great Britain (e.g. The Office, Blackadder, etc.). Saunders was able to use her gender as well as gender-specific topics as a way of freeing women from the mold that television sitcoms such as Are You Being Served created.
Ab Fab is smart and aggressive at the same time and this is due to the talents of Saunders and Lumley. It takes a very impressive actor to be able to play these types of characters without being judgmental of them or portraying them as simply stupid -- for that they are not. While the earlier episodes tend to offer "bold brushstrokes in characterization designed to produce maximal comic effect, nuances in the characters' personalities emerge over the course of the series" (Lavery 2009). And once again, it must be noted that while neither…[continue]
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