Early in our research stage, our group decided to explore the representation of women in comedy. Specifically, we were interested in NBC’s Saturday Night Live, as it has been continuously airing for decades, and thus, allows us to compare and contrast the ways women were portrayed in the mid-1970s and how they are depicted now. Initially, all our research was about Saturday Night Live, but we quickly realized that there simply were not enough peer-reviewed articles about that one show! After expanding our search to late-night comedy, we read several pieces regarding the male dominance of late-night comedy shows in general. With this in mind, we brought those ideas back to SNL. Instead of exploring simply numbers of women on the show, we honed our focus on more specific aspects of female representation on Saturday Night Live. We will distinctly direct our research toward women of minority races and female characters with different sexualities. On a broader note, we will look for the way women are presented in the first season and identify any change in those patterns in the most recent season.
Our specific research question is listed below:
How have women, especially those of minority races and different sexualities, been represented on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, and how have these roles changed as the show’s seasons have progressed? Has the correlating portrayal of women noticeably changed over the duration of the show’s airing?
Since Saturday Night Live is currently airing its forty-fourth season, and most seasons are comprised of over twenty hour-long episodes, it would be impossible for five people to watch and analyze every episode. For that reason, we will concentrate on the inaugural season and the most recent complete season of the show. Not only does this allow us to go into depth on a smaller amount of episodes, but it also gives us the chance to see stark differences in the ways women are represented on the show forty years ago versus now. The content of our research is important because society has changed drastically in the past forty years, and comedy is an excellent reflection of society. Thus, evaluating the evolution of characterizing women on Saturday Night Live will paint a broader picture of the changing ways women are treated in society.
To answer our research question, we will approach each episode in Seasons One and Forty-Three with a series of specific questions regarding the orientation of jokes on the show when they involve women, how cross-dressing is used in the show (whether for comedic effect or as an acknowledgment of lifestyle choices), ways in which politics are presented regarding women, and critical reception of the show by female analysts. We will also delve into the representation of non-heterosexual characters on the show, and the corresponding change in society’s view of the LGBTQ community in the 1970s and in the 2010s. Additionally, we will explore quantitative data concerning the number of women credited in each episode, and we will further break those numbers down into guest hosts, main cast members, crew members, etc. Once we have compiled substantial data from both seasons, we will compare the two seasons and explore the changes that occurred over forty years of Saturday Night Live.