Soap gets into dirt of suburbs
By Lauren Beckham Falcone
Friday, October 1, 2004

Ladies, are you leading lives of quiet desperation? Well, things are about to get a little louder, thanks to ABC's sudsy Sunday night soap ``Desperate Housewives.''
     As the buzz around the show - featuring discontented women living ``ideal'' lives in ``perfect'' suburbia - grows more deafening each day, we can't help but wonder:
     Why does everyone get so excited about shows that expose the underbelly of the American dream?
     ``Americans love to see privileged people fall, and (now) it's housewives' turn,'' said Jen Singer, author of ``14 Hours 'Til Bedtime: A Stay-at-Home Mom's Life in 27 Funny Little Stories'' (Wyatt-MacKenzie, November 2004) and creator of
     ``For the past few years, staying home with your kids has been seen as a privilege,'' she said. ``Watching `Desperate Housewives' lets working women feel relieved that being a housewife isn't what society has held it up to be. And at-home moms want to know that other housewives can be as unhappy or more so than they feel sometimes.''
     Diane Ursillo, 34, of Norwood, who has two children younger than 4, said she's looking forward to the show, but really hopeshusbands tune in.
     ``They don't understand the difference, how life-changing it is for us,'' said the former dental assistant. ``With them, they go to work, come home, have dinner. For us, our co-workers spit up or pee on us.''
     Valerie Frank of Sharon, who was an improv actress living in Boston only a few years ago, is now a stay-at-home mom, taking care of a 7-month old and joining playgroups whose members admonish her for swearing.
     Which is why ``Desperate Housewives'' is on her TiVo list.
     ``I sometimes feel desperate,'' said the 31-year-old. ``I mean, my life has struck me as hilarious lately. Within a year I got married, moved to the 'burbs and had a baby. It's a total shock. So those `Desperate Housewives' previews look pretty funny. It seems like an exaggerated version of what I think it's like to live out here.''
     April Masini, an Internet dating and relationship expert and author of the Ask April advice column, said ``Desperate Housewives'' is simply another historical swing of the pendulum between our aspiration and disgust with happy families on television.
     ``Americans love good villains that can be conquered,'' she said. ``On soap operas, cable television shows and network TV, entertainment with great villains means that heroes can emerge. Bad girls beget good girls. Punks beget knights in shining white armor. We love the underbelly shows on TV because we know there will be a hero emerging before the third commercial break. And heroes rock. Anyone who does the right thing and saves the day makes us feel good.''
     Plus, a little schadenfreude on Sunday nights is good for the soul, said New York-based Gilda Carle, a psychotherapist specializing in relationships.
     ``Schadenfreude is the German term for malicious pleasure in another person's misery,'' she said. ``That's why we rubberneck in the midst of a traffic accident - and also why we read tabloids. We may love observing perfection, but to keep ourselves from becoming depressed because of our own sorry state, we would rather know that the high-and-mighty have warts like us.''
     Masini agreed.
     ``Those characters who are worse off than us make us feel a little better about ourselves,'' she said. ``If the characters on `Desperate Housewives' tap into our own twinges, or full-blown cries for help that come from desperation, then the show will be therapeutic. We'll get to watch people in our situation and not feel so alone.''


< BACK >