Thursday, November 14, 2013

Weeding Through Gender Roles

Weeds is a dark, suspenseful American comedy-drama series that aired on Showtime on August 7, 2005. The show was created by Jeni Kohan and produced by Tilted Productions in association with Lionsgate Television. The show earned Showtime their highest ratings and has received numerous awards including two Satellite Awards, one Golden Globe Award, a Writers Guild of America Award, a Young Artist Award, and two Emmy Awards.

The show is most known for its central character, Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker), a widowed mother of two boys. After her husband dies of a tragic heart attack, Nancy struggles raising her two children and supporting their current lifestyle in Agrestic, California. Agrestic, which is the main focus in the show’s popular title sequence, is famous for its similar tiled-roof houses and over-involved soccer moms. Nancy goes against the stereotypical designer wearing, child caring mother when she decides that the only possible way to maintain her families’ upscale lifestyle is to deal marijuana. This, of course, plunges her and her loved ones into pure chaos and a long, complicated string of illegal activities. Throughout the show’s eight seasons, Nancy goes through the complex drama associated with growing and selling marijuana as a high-end competitor. Her drama includes that of an ordinary housewife. She packs lunches for her kids and deals with common teenage angst. At the same time, she goes through the drama of being a dealer, such as life-threatening arguments with competitors, the risks of smuggling substances, and taking a bullet to the head by a DEA’s revengeful son.
Despite the drama, the most fascinating aspect of the show is the role of a woman heroin who is constantly failing her family. Nancy Botwin has pushed the boundaries of most mother characters that star in comedy-dramas. In most series, if a mother character is rebellious and involved in illegal matters they are usually foiled or show guilt. In the past, mothers have merely shown assistance to the main male character. In modern day television, mothers are most often displayed as heroines with a fault, able to take care of their families but often messing up in a humorous and relatable way. However, Nancy Botwin breaks all of the stereotypes used to form woman characters on television. Nancy, to say simply, is a 40-something girl in a woman’s body, allowing greed to steer her decisions and avoiding every possibility to display responsibility. Often showing too much skin, wearing shorts too short, guzzling too much iced coffee, and cursing way too much, Nancy has mastered the ability to change the image of woman and make a badass image of herself in the drug business.
Nancy’s character has often been critiqued as “the worst mother on television”. When one of her sons becomes a major drug dealer at only 16 and her even younger son kills her main competitor, it’s easy to see how she earned this title. However, what makes her so much different than famous, popular television characters like Tony Soprano? What makes her a less suited parent and a less-liked individual? Ultimately, it is her gender that makes her parenting more surprising to viewers. Although characters such as Tony Soprano have made equally questioning decisions that have endangered their loved ones, Nancy’s actions have built her an unmistakably negative reputation as a poor role model rather than a simply entertaining, misunderstood individual. Specifically, Nancy’s gender makes her character a challenging concept for audience members to comprehend. Although she is a maternal character who truly loves her children, she is not relatable like other woman on comedy-dramas. Instead, Nancy’s problems do not revolve around what will be placed on the dinner table or how she will help her children with their homework. Instead, her life is filled with decisions surrounding drug trades, dangerous enemies and other issues that are difficult for almost every mother to relate to. In the end, Nancy proves that being a strong woman does not pertain to a man's common portrayal of what a woman should be. Instead, Nancy proves that a woman can be portrayed as any image of her choosing, no matter how impossible or how little society approves of it. Her choices may be far from ethical but playing dirty is not specifically a man's approach to life, but a human one.
Unlike most television characters that indulge in rebellious activities and then realize the negativity of their actions, Nancy fails to recognize her wrongdoings. Instead, she never considers obtaining a real, steady, legal occupation or dedicating all her time as a housewife who serves her family. Instead, Nancy seeks out danger and finds absolute comfort in doing illegal and unexpected activities. The lure of the financial aspects that come from dealing marijuana keeps her from leaving the game and doing what is the safest for her family. Her spontaneous hookups with drug dealers, her on and off relationship with the law and the fact that she sells weed to young college students hints at a missing maternal attribute that almost all other mother characters have. All in all, Nancy creates a new face for mothers everywhere, suggesting that being a simple housewife and striving to complete maternal perfection is completely overrated. Nancy reveals the adventurous attributes that most housewives often keep hidden away in order to restore their good-natured reputation. It is refreshing to see a woman on television whose moment of weakness is greater than simply ruining dinner or forgetting to sign her child’s permission slip for their field trip. She may not be relatable in her drug-related actions, but it’s her moments of weakness and her frustration that make her fascinating to female viewers.
The series finale of Weeds correctly displayed how the consequences of Nancy’s actions effected her family. In the series finale, the show sped ahead a few years to reveal that Nancy had establish a well-received, famous, legal product, marijuana cigarettes known as Puff Dragons. In fact, the product is so successful that Starbucks gives Nancy an offer to buy her product. The rest of the episode focuses on her internal debate on whether or not to sell. Although the offer seems impossible to turn down, it is evident that all these years later, after failing her family time after time again, Nancy’s family has left, abandoned her to go their own ways. In fact, even her youngest son, Stevie, who was merely a baby last time we saw him, has begged to be sent to boarding school, fed up with the constant drama associated with his mother. In the end, Nancy sells the business, allowing everyone who has not been able to sever their ties, free. She’s achieved the goals she’s focused on the entire series. She became the most prominent dealer, she became rich, and she became successful due to the growing and selling of marijuana. However, as the show ends with a shot of her smoking a pot-cigarette on a stoop during a wintery afternoon, it is evident in her loneliness what she has given up.

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