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V Absent Mothers on the Big and Small Screen in the New Millennium

Television and the Absent Mother: Why Girls and Young Women Struggle to Find the Maternal Role

Rebecca Feasey

Popular and professional ‘listicles’ routinely introduce us to ‘best’ and ‘most loved’ maternal figures on the small screen, those who authors either wanted to be or wished that they had been raised by, including Donna Stone (The Donna Reed Show 1958-1966), Marion Cunningham (Happy Days 1974-1984), Elyce Keaton (Family Ties 1982-1989) and Hariette Winslow (Family Matters 1989-1998). What is interesting here of course is the dearth of contemporary characters or titles.

Feminist media theorists have routinely commented on the ‘symbolic annihilation’ of women in the media since the term was first coined (Tuchman 1978), and while women continue to be condemned and trivialised in a diverse range of popular media texts, it is mothers who are most frequently omitted. This chapter will look at the ways in which mothers are sidelined on the small screen, and consider the ways in which the ‘missing mother’ trope of urban fantasy, telefantasy and the American teen drama present girls and young women with the message that mothers are unavailable, unnecessary and unwanted in the life and life stages of the

R. Feasey (*)

Film and Media Communications, Bath Spa University, Bath, UK e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Author(s) 2017

B. Astrom (ed.), The Absent Mother in the Cultural Imagination, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-49037-3_14

average teen. I will give an overview of those gendered texts in which mothers are absent from the outset and those that use the missing and deceased mother as a plot device, paying particular attention to the ways in which the absent mother has been acknowledged and accounted for in a range of ancillary materials, ranging from telefantasy fan writing and pop culture wikis to news magazines and humour websites. Media audiences ranging from feminist scholars to mainstream bloggers have drawn attention to the lack of supportive maternal characters in youth programming, and even a cursory glance at recent shows such as Once Upon a Time (2011-), The 100 (2014-), Believe (2014) and Resurrection (2014-) make it clear that the ‘missing mother’ trope not only continues, but has flourished since the emergence of quality teen drama, albeit within a more spectacular, fantastical and apocalyptic setting.

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