Friday, March 30, 2007

Power, Authority, and Gender

“Scrubs” is a part of popular culture and so it carries with it messages about cultural ideas. Some messages are hegemonic and others are counter-hegemonic. This post will discuss the different messages about power, authority, and gender that are sent by “Scrubs” and whether they are hegemonic or counter-hegemonic.

The first hegemonic idea about power, authority, and gender that “Scrubs” propagates can be found by looking at who has power and authority in the hierarchy of the hospital. Dr. Kelso and Dr. Cox are the two characters that are most often shown as being powerful. Dr. Kelso is the chief of medicine in charge of the hospital and Dr. Cox is the “alpha male” who teaches interns how to be doctors through fear and intimidation. Both of these characters are white men so “Scrubs” contains the hegemonic message that positions of superiority belong to white men.

“Scrubs” also contains counter hegemonic ideas about authority and gender. The most notable example is the episode entitled “My Female Trouble” where Carla and Elliot are described as two strong independent women who can make men feel like little boys. In this episode, Carla’s husband, Turk, is being sued for malpractice by a former patient whose tennis game is not as good as it was before Turk performed surgery on the patient’s shoulder. The patient is upset because tennis games are the only times when he feels he has friends. Carla stands up to the patient and convinces him to drop the lawsuit and then uses intimidation to force Dr. Cox to play tennis with the patient. Elliot also stands up to Dr. Cox in this episode when she tells him that she’s no longer afraid of him, because she knows she does not need him as much as she used to. Prior to this episode it was commonplace to find Elliot crying after a critical comment from Dr. Cox so this was a major change in her character. Showing two women characters standing up to Dr. Cox is counter hegemonic because it shows that even a cocky alpha male can be stripped of his authority by a strong woman.

In this episode, Jordan’s character also sends a message about women and power, but it conforms to the idea that men are the natural authority figures and is therefore hegemonic. In the episode J.D. is dating a woman that he wants to break up with, but can’t because he can’t stand up to her, so he decides he needs the help of another woman even stronger than his girlfriend, “a real witch.” Then he asks Jordan for help. This statement sends two messages. First it depicts Jordan as the strongest woman character on the show. J.D. didn’t think, “I need a strong woman so I’ll go talk to Carla,” or, “I need a strong woman so I’ll ask Elliot for help,” he immediately went to the only woman he thought strong enough to help. The last part of his statement is probably the most troubling. J.D. says that he needs “a real witch.” He describes a woman who is strong and intimidating enough to help him as being evil. This fits into Enloe’s statement that cultural norms forbid women to be “wielders of violence,” aggression, or intimidation (Enloe 515). Jordan is so strong, and so independent that society cannot acknowledge her as admirable or even acceptable and she is labeled a witch.

“Scrubs” overall describes positions of authority as roles for men, but it does also send messages about the power of women. Carla and Elliot are displayed as strong in a positive light, but ultimately by describing Jordan as a witch because of her strength, strong women are portrayed as deviant.

Work Cited

Enloe, Cynthia. “Wielding Masculinity Inside Abu Ghraib: Making Feminist Sense of an American Military Scandal.” Ms. Magazine Sept./Oct. 1995: 514 – 522.

6 comments:

Jessie said...

Dan-
Your analysis of the competing counter hegemonic and hegemonic elements in the show was quite good. I'm impressed that you pointed out the show's "strong female character" as too strong to be admirable b/c that's a recurring theme in most media and popular understandings of women (a la Martha Stewart).
Good work!
Jessie

Anonymous said...

This post is good, but it requires more examples from sociological studies and feminist works.
You seem to put forward ideas that are founded but we're lacking material to understand them... :/

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