TV Tropes Tuesday: TV Tropes: Family Relationship Switcheroo

Family Relationship Switcheroo is a trope where it turns out that a family relationship is not what one thought it was.  There can be many variations, but the most common is when it is revealed that a person grew up believing that his or her mother was his or her sister and his or her grandmother was his or her mother.  Actor Jack Nicholson experienced exactly that, never learning the truth until after his mother and grandmother died.

This is something that happened a lot in the past.  Until a few decades ago, it was considered shameful for a girl or woman to be pregnant out of wedlock.  Very often, it would be a family secret.  Not only that, it was common for girls and women pregnant out of wedlock to be sent away to special homes for the duration of the pregnancy, while their mothers would pretend to be pregnant.  Another reason for such an arrangement is that it was common for unwed mothers to be forced to give their babies up for adoption; many girls and women, not wanting to lose their children chose to simply be the older sister to their children rather than the mother; another reason to avoid adoption was the fact that in those days, it was rare for non-white babies to be adopted.  This stopped in the 1970s when birth control pills became widely available, when abortion was legalized, and when premarital sex/cohabitation became more and more socially acceptable.

Today, it is common for children born to teens to be raised by their grandparents, but there is no dishonesty about the relationship.  However, this trope still happens sometimes in real life.  I wouldn’t be shocked if a conservative politician were to do this in order to preserve his or her family image.  However, sometimes there are sinister reasons for this trope to happen in real life; that reason would be to cover up sexual abuse and incest.  Tragically, that might be the most common reason nowadays.

There can be other types of relationship switches.  One might be if a woman were to cheat on her partner with his family member, meaning that his child could biologically be his brother (if she cheated with his father), nephew (if she cheated with his brother), or cousin (if she cheated with an uncle or cousin).  Anther variation is if a man cheats and fathers a child and the child is raised as the man’s nephew/niece.  Yet another variation is a child being raised by an aunt, believing that the aunt is his or her mother.

Some examples in fiction:

  • In the Australian soap Home and Away, Charlie is revealed to be Ruby’s mother, born after Charlie was raped. Charlie’s parents raised the baby as their daughter. When Ruby finds out, she goes ape about it, before finally forgiving Charlie for the deception.
  • A major arc on Moesha involves Dorian discovering that his uncle, Frank, is really his biological father, born from a relationship he had while he was separated from his first wife. His mother was thus really his aunt.
  • On The Parkers (a spin-off of Moesha, above), Nikki is shocked to discover (on a family trivia game show, no less) that she was adopted. Her biological mother turns out to be her aunt.
  • Desperate Housewives : Bree hides the pregnancy of her teenage girl and pretends to be the mother of her grandson.

Some examples in real life:

  • Jack Nicholson’s “older sister” was really his mother while the woman who was allegedly his mom was actually his grandmother. His real mother did it because she had sex with a man (both were unmarried) who ended up leaving her and she didn’t want anyone to know that she was an unwed mother (both Nicholson’s grandmother and mother died before he found out this family secret). In a height of coincidence, he learned this just as Chinatown — in which he starred — was about to open in theaters.
  • The same was true for:The Guinness Book of Records refuses to accept many well-known historical claims for “oldest mother to successfully carry a child to term” out of suspicion that they were examples of this trope.
  • Eric Clapton
  • Bobby Darin
  • David Campbell. His real father was Jimmy Barnes, who would go on to become an Australian rock icon.
  • Ted Bundy suspected for years that his older sister was in fact his mother, finally learning it for a fact in 1969. Even worse, she might very well have been his sister after all, given the heavy, yet unproven speculation that he was the result of Parental Incest between her and his grandfather.
  • Bayard Rustin.
  • Jaycee Lee Dugard’s two daughters, (ages 15 and 11) by her rapist and kidnapper Phillip Garrido believed their whole lives that Jaycee was their older sister and that Garrido’s wife was their mother. They had to find out the horrible truth after the police finally caught and arrested Garrido.
  • Upon the announcement of her candidacy for Vice-President of the United States in the 2008 elections, rumours began to circulate that Gov. Sarah Palin was actually the grandmother of her youngest son, and that his oldest sister was actually his mother. Subverted, as the rumours were soon proved completely unfounded. Her eldest daughter, Bristol, would later get pregnant out of wedlock, but the Palins decided to be public about it.
  • In the Middle Ages it was not unusual for popes to have illegitimate children (such as Pope Alexander VI‘s children, Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia) that they bestowed favors upon, although it was considered gauche to publicly acknowledge their paternity. Instead, they were referred to as “nephews” or “nieces” of the pope. This is the origin of the term “Nepotism“.
  • In 1939, a then-5-year-old girl from Peru named Lina Medina was taken to the hospital for a tumor in her belly. During the examination, it turned out that she was pregnant (she had gone through puberty at an unusually early age). She gave birth via c-section to a young boy, but was told her whole life that he was her younger brother. It is not known who his father was; Lina’s father was jailed on suspicion of incest, but he was released for lack of evidence, and Lina herself wouldn’t say who had done this to her. She lived a pretty normal life otherwise, and later married and had another son (this time one that she actually knew was her son.)



TV Tropes Tuesday: TV Tropes: McLeaned

There are many circumstances where a character on a TV show or movie series may leave.  The reason may have to do with the needs of the story.  Especially in TV shows, an actor is often cast for short time, and they are written out once their purposes are fulfilled.  Other times, a character leaves the show because of real-word circumstances, such as the actor’s death, most tragically, or because the actor does not want to be involved with the show anymore.  Sometimes, a character is written out of a show by being killed off; there are many reasons for killing off a show, but here, I’ll discuss two reasons:  the actor is more than likely never going to return to the show, and so he or she is killed off to provide some major drama to the plot; the other reason is that the relations between the actor and the network/producers are poor, and therefore, the actor is fired, and their character is killed off in order to make certain that the actor can never return.  This is known in the industry as being McLeaned.

This trope was named after the actor McLean Stevenson, who left M*A*S*H, which resulted in the death of his character Colonel Henry Blake.  He was killed off because he wanted to leave the show.

Other examples include:

Valerie Harper, best known for playing Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moor Show and its spinoff Rhoda, starred in the 1980s sitcom Valerie.  She constantly battled the show’s production company, Lorimar, and network, NBC, over salary disputes, and supposedly over creative control as well. Harper was fired from the show and and her character was killed off.  The show then changed its title twicy, first was Valerie’s Family: The Hogans, and finally, The Hogan Family.

Another noteworthy example is Charlie Sheen in 2011.  After erratic behavior and major conflicts with producer Chuck Lorre, Two-and-a-Half Men ended its season early.  After more bad behavior, Sheen was fired from the show, killed off, and replaced by Ashton Kutcher.

Finally, is an example from one of my favorite shows, Desperate Housewives.  In season 5, Nicollette Sheridan who played the sultry Edie Britt, was written out of the show and her character was killed off.  The reason behind her dismissal was disputed by those involved.  Sheridan claimed in a lawsuit that the show’s creator, Marc Cherry, slapped her in the face when she asked him to clarify a line in the script, and that she was fired when she complained about to network, ABC.  Cherry countered that the alleged assault was a light tap to demonstrate her character’s actions in a specific scene, and that the decision to kill her character off was made months before the alleged assault, and was due to things such as unprofessional behavior on her part.



Use of Language in Desperate Housewives

This is another assignment for my Concept of Human Communication class.  We had to write about an episode of a TV show and talk about how the characters use language in various aspects such as gender/cultural contexts, wordplay, and so on.



Desperate Housewives is one of my favorite shows because of its interesting characters, intriguing storylines, and its combination of dark, over-the-top melodrama and high, almost campy comedy. For this assignment, I will discuss the use of language in the episode entitled “Mother Said.” The episode has several uses of language that serve the plot through comic effect and the creation of dramatic tension. The main plot of the episode is that everyone has various issues surrounding the upcoming Mother’s Day holiday.
Syntax is a very important part of the show’s comedy. In general, the characters use their words to make a point and sometimes in a clever way.
Several functions and purposes are fulfilled through language. Much of it is comedic. For example, Ellie, the tenant renting one of the rooms in the house owned by Gabrielle and her husband Carlos is actually a drug dealer, but claiming to be a tattoo artist. She walks her client downstairs. Gabrielle asks to see the “tattoo.” Ellie points out that the “tattoo” is “down south.” Gabrielle feels awkward, and the client soon leaves. That was all played for laughs.
With grammar, there does not seem to be a great variety. The grammar is largely and fairly proper, though it does not sound clinical, dry, and to quote someone I heard “like someone reading out of the dictionary.” The only uses of figurative and other non-standard language are the child of one of the characters saying “I call the computer,” and Susan’s mother-in-law Adele (who is a Southerner with a strong Southern accent) using the word “ain’t” and double negatives in her speech.
Semantics is used in a few notable scenes. For instance, Bree is arguing with her husband Orson, a dentist. He wants to take her grandson, Benjamin, whom she and him were raising as their own son before she kicked him out for running over her friend’s husband with a car, to a carnival. She remarks that she wouldn’t want Benjamin to be around while Orson is giving to Edie (a neighbor and a friend of Bree’s with whom he shared a brief, drunken kiss that they immediately regretted) dental exam with his tongue. This use of language is funny because it gives a new meaning to the term dental exam. Later, she tells him that if he wants to take someone to carnival, he should take Edie with him, because she can give him “three throws for a dollar,” an innuendo referring at once to a carnival game and a sexual act.
There is quite a lot of biased language in the episode. Much of it is due to the prejudices and conflicts that the characters have with each other. One example is when Susan’s Southerner mother-in-law refers to the Civil War as “The War of Northern Aggression.” This indicates a bias against the North, and the view that some Southerners have that the Civil War is the fault of the Northerners. Another example of biased language is not said outright, but instead implied. Bree is angry with her friend Edie because Edie kissed Bree’s estranged husband Orson, though they immediately regretted it. Bree talks to one of Edie’s clients (Edie is a real estate agent). The woman and her husband are considering a house and Edie goes inside the house with the husband; Bree is walking buy and strikes up a conversation with the woman who is tending to her baby. The woman asks Bree if the neighborhood is safe, and Bree tells her that although the neighborhood is safe Edie is not; the implication is that Bree told the woman that Edie has reputation and penchant for being promiscuous and making romantic/sexual advances on other women’s boyfriends and husbands. The clients immediately end their business with Edie. Yet another example of bias comes when Adele is confronting Susan about the fact that Susan is not doing much to sustain the household. She makes references to Susan’s “drawings.” Susan has written and illustrated children’s books and claims that she makes money off of them but they apparently have not sold as well as they used to, not to mention the fact that Susan has not published any new ones in the past the few years. Adele asks how much children’s books pay, and Susan sheepishly searches for something in one of her lower cupboards. The scene illustrates how man mothers-in-law are biased against their daughters-in-law. Adele mocks Susan and belittles her good-faith attempts to be good wife to her son; apparently, she believes that that Susan is not quite good enough for him.
Context is always important with language. It tells one a lot about one’s beliefs, attitudes, situations in life, and so on. One example in this episode involves Lynette and her husband Tom and their conflict with Tom’s child from a previous relationship, Kayla (whose existence Tom was unaware of until about two year prior to the events of the episode). Kayla has been doing cruel things to the rest of their children, and showing no remorse for it. A therapist tells them the Kayla’s behavior is because she does not feel loved by Lynette; when asked by the therapist if she loves Kayla, Lynette admits that it is hard for her to love Kayla given how she entered their family. The therapist suggests that Lynette and Kayla forge a bond by spending as much time together as possible. Tom agrees with the advice. Lynette then asks the therapist to ask her if she loves Tom, in the situational context of her thinking that spending time with Kayla is a bad idea. This clearly illustrates Lynette’s contempt for her stepdaughter. She would much rather have as little to do as possible with Kayla, which given how she Kayla as treated her half-siblings is understandable. Another example of context involves Katherine’s interactions with her abusive ex-husband Wayne; this would be relational context. Wayne returned after many years to forge a relationship with their daughter Dylan. However, Katherine is concerned for Dylan’s safety and wants him to be far away from her. Wayne insists that he has changed. Katherine, using her wit and trying to call Wayne’s bluff says that Dylan is not Wayne’s daughter because she cheated on him. Katherine then goes on to say that she was afraid years ago of how he would react to the infidelity; with a smile on her face, Katherine tells him that she is longer afraid because Wayne has “changed.” Clearly, Katherine is being sarcastic about claiming that she believes that Wayne is now a good man. This was an attempt to get Wayne to leave her and Dylan’s life for good. Overall, the context of their conversation was about how despite years of having no contact with each other, Katherine knows that Wayne has not changed at all, and therefore, she mocks his false sentiments.
There is a fair bit of language styles differing based one’s social group. For example, Adele, Susan’s mother-in-law, as mentioned above is heavily influenced by her Southern American heritage. Her She seems to at first conform the stereotype of elderly Southern women being very warm and affectionate, which is evident when she meets Susan for the first time, hugs her, and compliments her appearance. She believes that the Civil War was instigated by the North and calls it “The War of Northern Aggression.” In addition, she also expresses her opinions of what a wife should be: “a maid in the living room, a chef in the kitchen, and a whore in the bedroom.” This speaks to Adele’s rather old-fashioned views, which are not necessarily uncommon in the Southern United States. Also, as mentioned above, to contrast, Susan is somewhat opposite in personality to Adele. She is more passive and quiet. She is also sensitive to Adele’s abrasive comments about her. Susan does try to defend herself against her mother-in-law’s criticisms, but Adele refuses to accept her daughter-in-law’s excuses and explanations.