A Radical Feminist Analysis of the Television Series, “The King of Queens”

This is my analysis of the comedy television series, The King of Queens,” which ran in the U.S. on CBS from September 21, 1998, to May 14, 2007. It endured nine seasons. An episode guide may be found at Wikipedia:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_The_King_of_Queens_episodes

My analysis here involves feminism, socio-economic class, and the treatment of different types of women in the scripts of this show.

I chose this show because it is really very funny. In fact, it may be the funniest television comedy series I’ve seen in more than a decade. I began watching it because my mother likes it and it features several appearances by Lou Ferrigno, who I really like because I enjoy bodybuilding. In fact, the first episode I ever saw featured Ferrigno and his real-life bodybuilding wife appearing as themselves. He offers to train Doug and Kerry, but quickly becomes corrupted by Doug who is a potato chip-eating, Xbox-playing couch potato.

I don’t have television, so I saw the series on DVD sans commercials. Watching a series from beginning to end without the intrusion of commercials makes it easier to see what the writers and actors are trying to convey.

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Doug and Kerry arguing in the working-class kitchen with its mis-matched chairs and rustic furnishings.

This television series appears to be based on the old 1950’s television show, “The Honeymooners,” which, also, featured working-class couples, many of the scenes filmed in a cramped kitchen. Only instead of being set in Brooklyn, “The King of Queens” is set in Queens, New York. The fact that the series is strongly based on the Honeymooners is more than hinted at in Season 3, Episode 17, entitled “Inner Tube,” in which Doug dreams that he and his friend Deacon are Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, respectively.

The show is fun to watch for its frequent images of seedy-looking Queens Boulevard, train overpasses, and shots of warehouses and old buildings in Queens. The opening sequence features a popular, old Italian Ice shop. The actress, Leah Remini, who plays Kerry, is originally from Queens, and plays her part with a ring of authenticity.

Perhaps because this show is predicated on the old formula of the attractive, relatively intelligent woman, who is married to a fat, bumbling idiot of a husband, there is very little of feminism to find in this program. More often than not, it is a statement about how little progress women have made in liberating themselves from gender roles and from men and their demands.

What makes this show funny, in fact, what makes anything funny, is it’s relationship to reality, even when that reality is very sad.

Doug and Kerry are a working-class couple. His collar is blue and hers is pink. He works as a delivery driver for IPS (a barely disguised TV-version of United Parcel Service or UPS) and she is a secretary who gets coffee for her male bosses and does a lot of extra work at home, even though she makes less money than Doug.

The two of them have a mortgage on a house in Queens. While Doug goes to work everyday and brings home a paycheck to help support Kerry and her crazy father, Arthur (played by Jerry Stiller), who lives in the basement, he lacks any greater ambition. On the other hand, throughout the episodes, Kerry wishes to better herself in various ways, her ultimate goal is to cross the bridge and live a glamorous life in Manhattan. (If you ever saw the movie, “Saturday Night Fever,” starring John Travolta, you may remember that this was, also, the main theme. Living in Manhattan meant success.)

It is often the case, both in real life and on television, that while working class women may verbally express feminism, their ability to act on their true desires is thwarted, often by financial circumstances.  In Season 3, Episode 4, entitled “Class Struggle,” we learn that, in Kerry’s case, she was unable to finish school because she had to drop out and take care of her crazy father when her mother got sick and died. She tries to go back to college at night, but realizes that she lacks what it takes to carry it through.

In Season 4, Episode 7, “Lyin’ Hearted,” we learn that Kerry received an acceptance letter to Florida State University, but her father hid it for his own selfish motives. This is representative of how women, especially those just a generation before mine, were frequently prevented from getting an education, often by their own fathers who did not believe that women needed an education, since they were only going to get married and produce children.

Because she never finished college and she never got a degree, Kerry will never be anything more than a secretary, making coffee and answering phones for powerful men, and she will never get out of Queens. Still, she has career and intellectual ambitions, which manifest in many of the episodes.

One of my favorite episodes revolving around Kerry’s desire to improve herself is Season 8, Episode 13, “Gamblin N’Diction,” in which Kerry learns that she might have a chance at a big promotion, if she can rid herself of her Queens accent, which makes her sound not very bright and as if she’d be more comfortable “unloading trucks at the fish market” or “mixing cement.” At first, Kerry is resistant to this idea, “Do I twak so friggin’ bad?” and then she realizes, “Oh, my Gwad! I sound like Stallone!” Afterward, she succeeds in changing her accent, but spends so much time and effort doing this that she fails to familiarize herself with the job she is applying for.

In Season 6, Episode 10, “American Idle,” Kerry has been unemployed for some time and unable to find work, she decides to take some time off to pursue personal ambitions and to read “The Great Gatsby.” She ends up sitting around in her bathrobe, watching television and never finding out “what made Gatsby so great.” This episode, again, illustrates that while Kerry has ambitions, she lacks the ability to carry through. The choice of the book, “The Great Gatsby,” is not arbitrary on the part of the script writers since Gatsby is a lot like Kerry. He came from an less than fortunate background, but unlike Kerry, he took the initiative to improve himself in a very systematic way.

Since Kerry has difficulty attaining the socio-economic class she desires, she chooses the superficial window dressings of class and success over substance. For instance, in Season 5, Episode 21, “Clothes Encounter,” Kerry learns that she can purchase expensive, name-brand clothing, and return it in 7 to 30 days, depending on the store’s policy. In other episodes, Kerry over-spends on very expensive clothes, shoes and fashion accessories. She is, also, eager to be pampered at expensive spas, salons and manicurists, which are far beyond her working-class budget, but are symbolic of the life style she desires and the social class she will never achieve.

Apart from her own lack of tenacity, Kerry is held back from fully achieving her ambitions by two men: Her husband and her father.

It is as true now as it was in the 1950s that a woman has no more social standing than that of the man she is married to.

In Season 1, Episode 3, “Cello Goodbye,” we see that Kerry, who is at this time a legal secretary in Manhattan, wants to enjoy the finer things. Doug wants her to attend the local “Brother’s Pizzeria” softball league the same day that she plans to see a cello concert in Manhattan. When Doug shows up to the cello concert, but gets into a silent argument with Kerry, we see that despite the expensive, designer clothes Kerry is wearing and how sophisticated her hairstyle is, she cannot overcome her class. A middle class or upper class woman would not argue in public, gesture wildly, make faces and so on, which is why this part of the episode is really funny. Middle class women learn to mind their manners and be polite under all circumstances. They don’t make a big fuss in public places. They smile and swallow their pride. But, Kerry is working class and we see her express herself very honestly and openly as a working class woman. We, also, learn that Doug is threatened by Kerry’s ambition for a better life because this means leaving him behind. At the end of the episode, we see Kerry in a softball outfit screaming obscenities at a player from an opposing team after which Doug hugs her and says, “I love you.”

Part of what makes this series so funny is that Doug is an idiot. He has two main drives, which are for food and sex, in that order. Despite the fact that Kerry has a job in the city and works no shortage of overtime, often from home, she still has to fix meals for Doug and her father. We see her doing the laundry while Doug lazes on the sofa, shoving cheese doodles into his mouth.

In Season 6, Episode 24, “Awful Bigamy,” we see that Doug uses  Kerry,  for sex (all while she is trying to work overtime on the computer) while he uses their friend, a secondary character, named Holly, as a kitchen slave. Kerry provides him with sexual recreation upstairs while Holly cooks for him and serves him downstairs in the kitchen.

There are only three main female characters regularly appearing on the show: Kerry; Kelly, who is married to Doug’s friend Deacon; and Holly. None of these characters manifest any strong feminist characteristics.

Although, Kelly does take her two children and leave Deacon for a while in a few of the episodes. Kelly doesn’t work, at all, and they are entirely dependent on Deacon’s income and settlement money from her botched breast augmentation surgery.

The dumbest and nicest of all of the characters on the show is pretty, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Holly. She is the epitome of Hollywood’s dumb blonde stereotype. At some point, she is taken advantage of by every major character on the show, including Kerry, who uses her for her van and to fix her meals while she pretends to be sick.

While this show is very funny, there are some very disturbing messages in it, which are obvious. There are certain horrors that we are supposed to find funny, as evidenced by the laugh track that runs at the punctuation of a statement. Not only does the show normalize hyper-heterosexuality and the enslavement of women in marriages to men who are far beneath them, the writers clearly want us to laugh at things that are truly horrifying.

For instance, in one episode Kerry is overseeing a group of people at her office who are working overtime on a project. She asks each of them, in turn, why they chose to work on this project. A female character says, “I’m in a really abusive relationship right now and I need to be somewhere safe,” after which a laugh track runs and Kerry smirks into the camera. Of course, this is horrifying. Domestic violence and stalking are horrifying situations, but we are supposed to somehow find this funny, which only magnifies the horror. Of course, this is not funny to many women, like myself, who have been in real life situations like this.  I have to ask myself who would want to, not only normalize this, but try to make it seem like a humorous situation. (And, this is why we radfems are often accused of being humorless, although I can only imagine that a particularly sadistic man could find humor in this.)

On many occasions, Kerry is the subject of slut jokes. Kerry, also, calls other women sluts and whores. Here I am reminded, again, that overwhelmingly the writers of most television shows are men. If you look at the episode guide linked above, you will notice that this show’s writers are mostly men and the directors are all men.

Throughout the series, Holly is the primary subject of slut jokes. The writers set it up and then run a laugh track, so we know we are supposed to laugh at certain things.

In one episode, “Mentalo Case,” Kerry plans to buy her father a cruise for Christmas. Holly says she would love to give her father such a gift, if only she could find him – but, he ran off when she was a child. Then a laugh track runs and we are supposed to laugh. Why is it supposed to be funny that Holly was abandoned by her father as a child? I don’t know.

Holly repeatedly has the misfortune of meeting men who take advantage of her kindness, which is fodder for tasteless jokes, often set up by Kerry.  This is especially prominent in Season 5, Episode 13, “Animal Attraction,” in which Holly’s acute distress as a result of her constant abuse by men is supposed to be humorous, again, this is signaled by the laugh track.

In the penultimate episode of the entire series, part of the grand finale, Holly is heavily pregnant and the man who impregnated her has abandoned her. Again, this is made the subject of jokes, which is very disturbing and by this time that laugh track is the equivalent of a psychotic circus clown in a Stephen King movie.

Another running theme throughout the series is the idea that white women desire black dick, but cannot seem to get any. Both Kerry and Holly lust after Deacon and make jokes about sex with him or about sex with black men, in general. This is a topic I hope to explore in whole other post. There are numerous episodes in which Kerry and Holly express a desire to have sex with Deacon, but the idea is never carried through. We never see Kelly, Deacon’s black wife, lusting after other men, even in one episode where the couples swap spouses.

While this show is funny, I think it’s important to watch it – or any other programming – with your eyes wide open. What we see here are characters and ideas we are supposed to mimic based on our own sex and appearance. We, also, see many concepts and situations, which we are expected to perceive as normal or, at least, funny. What we see is a fictionalized version of the status quo. Men, mostly particularly stupid men, are in important positions and have greater earning power than women. Women are sex slaves and kitchen servants to men, whether they are married like Kerry or single like Holly.

In some ways, it tells the truth about marriage, though. In the end, Doug and Kerry, who argue constantly, end up adopting a Chinese baby while Kerry finally becomes pregnant with another child. The two are shown in their cramped, cluttered, working-class living room, miserable and stuck with each other, in one way or another – and Arthur – for the rest of their lives.

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