Who hasn’t heard of the Chelsea Lately show right? The widely successful show offers an incredibly unique spin from the normal nighttime talk show we have become accustomed to with funny, middle aged, white men such as Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon, or Conan. And then came Chelsea Handler who is a complete 180 from the expected late talk show host for starters she is a woman…an attractive woman who is hilarious, a tad raunchy, and comically able to hold her own against her male peers. Chelsea is an author, talk show host, producer, and actress whose success is largely due to the fact that she seems to deconstruct the notion of what it means to be a woman and be successful. Women are typically not looked upon or applauded for being crude, loud, blunt, strong, and funny individuals but Chelsea not only embodies all of those qualities, she has made a name for herself through those qualities. Now it seems pretty cut and dry that Chelsea Handler and her show would do nothing but disrupt hegemony completely, but if you began to look closely the show doesn’t disturb hegemony nearly as much as it would seem to at face value. And in reality the show is layered with several hegemonic themes that reinforce the dominant ideas of society.
Hegemony is the power that one group holds over another group and the factors put in place to keep the groups with power in power. James Lull explains hegemony as the “dominance and subordination in the field of relations structured by power. But hegemony is more than social power itself; it’s a method for gaining and maintaining power” (33). A hegemonic theme that holds a great power in our society is this ideal standard of beauty, which is white, thin, able bodied, heterosexual, and sexually available which are all characteristics Chelsea Handler has. Being deemed attractive by societal standards is probably one of the most important hegemonic prescriptions because it is easily noticed, highly critiqued, and highly emphasized so it makes it extremely easy to marginalize groups of people who don’t fit into these categories and therefore have no power. The Chelsea Lately Show would not be as popular as it is if she wasn’t funny and traditionally attractive, think about if the show would be as successful if Chelsea (still just as funny) was African American, a lesbian, overweight, or all three. Would her show still be on the air? Would she be as accepted by the public? Would she even have a show in the first place? In the introduction of Linda Mizejewski book Pretty/Funny Women and Comedy’s Body Politics Funniness, Prettiness, and Feminism she explores this idea of “pretty funny” saying ““The major premise of Pretty/Funny is that in the historic binary of “pretty” vs. “funny,” women comics—no matter what they look like—have been located in opposition to “pretty,” enabling them to engage in a transgressive comedy grounded in the female body—its looks, its race and sexuality, and its relationships to ideal versions of femininity. In this strand of comedy, “pretty” is the topic and target, the ideal that is exposed as funny” (4).” Saying women comics have an obligation to be pretty first and being funny is just sort of like a favorable secondary trait, and you cannot be a successful funny women unless you are traditionally pretty. So even though Chelsea Handler seems to be the strong fearless late night talk show host who says screw hegemony she supports (maybe to no fault of her own) the biggest hegemonic theme in our society of being attractive, which allows her a sense of privilege and success that she might not have attained if she didn’t fit into societies standards of beauty.
Being beautiful is only half of the way Chelsea Handler and The Chelsea Lately Show reinforces hegemony, the show and the comedic style of Chelsea Handler is not a novel approach it has been used by women comics to break on to the comedy scene for years. The Chelsea Lately show infuses the idea of the grotesque and the carnivalesque woman into one late night talk show. The grotesque woman is usually associated with very masculine qualities such as dirt, filth, food, sex, and drinking making her not the object of male affection, but the carnivaleque woman fits more into normal feminine roles but often times is over the top or dramatic when on display…well don’t both of these sound like Chelsea Handler on her show and the guest women comics she has on her show. In The Unruly Woman: Gender and the Genres of Laughter Kathleen Rowe explains the grotesque and carnivalesque woman normally is laughs at herself, creates order by dominating men, maybe old and not willing to disappear, and normally has whorish or lose behavior (31). Throughout the Chelsea Lately Show it is very easy to see these themes Chelsea makes fun of herself constantly, controls and belittles Chuy, speaks on her sexual experiences, and Chelsea is almost 40 years old which in Hollywood is old. But the point is that neither of these comedy styles is new for women look at women such as Rosanne, Ellen, Melissa McCartney, Rebel Wilson, Wanda Sykes, Tina Fey…all of them use one of these styles, these styles allow women to be successful and non-threatening to their male peers which reinforces the notion that we live a male dominated society where women are allowed to succeed but not at the expense of or in favor of men. The Chelsea Lately Show at first glance seems as if it is breaking down the barriers of hegemony for women but when examined closely the show uses prescribed antidotes that have been launching the careers of women in comedy for the last decade, and these antidotes allow men to maintain their dominance both in comedy and society because it portrays women as controllable and meek and women defiantly don’t need any more of that.
Go to Arron’s Blog to see the counter argument!