MANHATTAN, KS - For a Kansas State University English professor, television sitcoms such as "Ugly Betty" provide more than an hour of entertainment. They also offer an analysis of the Latino family structure and its increasing prominence in sitcoms during the past decade.
Tanya Gonzalez, assistant professor of English, is writing several essays that relate to Latino culture and families as they are portrayed in entertainment, particularly in ABC's former show "Ugly Betty." Gonzalez and Eliza Rodriguez y Gibson, assistant professor of Chicano/a studies at Loyola Marymount University, are co-authoring the book "The Word on Ugly Betty: Latina/o Cultural Politics on Television." The book explores themes such as feminism, masculinity and immigration.
"The book is about using 'Ugly Betty' as a way to talk about Latina studies and Latina issues today," Gonzalez said.
Since 2002 ABC has become the leading network to develop Latino comedies, Gonzalez said, noting that current or former ABC shows such as "The George Lopez Show," "Ugly Betty," "Desperate Housewives" and "Modern Family" either focus on a Latino family or feature a Latino family. Even shows such as "Lost" and "Grey's Anatomy" have included Latino characters.
Gonzalez's latest essay, "Modern Familias? ABC, Comedy and Latino Masculinity on TV," focuses on representations of Latino masculinity in contemporary television. She presented her research earlier this year at the Pop Cultural Association conference in St. Louis, and will include the research in her book.
Gonzalez was inspired by the work of Richard Rodriguez, a University of Illinois associate professor who has closely researched the history, culture and patriarchal structure of the Chicano, or Mexican-American, family.
"Because we have all these comedies on ABC, I was curious to see how families and representations of family were either changing or producing the paradigm that Rodriguez traced from the past," Gonzalez said.
"In 'Ugly Betty' the father is always wearing aprons and cooking, and doing things that typically you would expect to see the mom in the show doing," Gonzalez said. "I thought that was very fascinating, especially thinking about Rodriquez's research about the traditional notion of patriarchy."
Gonzalez found "Ugly Betty" especially interesting because it achieved an unprecedented amount of success for television adaptations of Latin American shows.
An important part of her project is an emphasis on the comedy genre of television shows. "What is it about comedy that allows us to have nontraditional representations of family?" Gonzalez said. "Why is comedy the safe place for that to happen?"
In her research Gonzalez is finding instances on television shows where male characters exhibit "macho man" qualities, and times when they don't portray such qualities. She is also using information from pioneering feminist media studies critics, such as Mary Beltran, Isabel Molina-Guzman and Angharad Valdivia.
The book also will feature one of Gonzalez's previously published essays, "Is Ugly the New Sexy? The Complexities of Latina Sexuality on Ugly Betty," which discusses how Latina femininity is represented on television. The article was published in the fall 2010 issue of the journal Chicana/Latina Studies.
Several undergraduate students have been involved with Gonzalez's research. Two students in the Developing Scholars Program, Linda Jeanette Aldana, senior in life sciences, Garden City, and Michelle Foster, sophomore in political science, Lansing, are involved this semester. Jessica Reyes, a senior in English and history, Manhattan, helped Gonzalez through K-State's 2010 Summer Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program.
"This is a very interdisciplinary project," Gonzalez said. "I'm in the English department, and I do textual analysis. Since this project is about television, it's allowing me to use research from different areas and to develop an interdisciplinary approach to the project."