Today’s top story, at least until Obama takes the stage for his first State of the Union Address, is the unveiling of Apple’s iPad, an unfortunate name choice, but it’s Apple, so who cares! Still, I will remember January 27, 2010 as the day when ABC finally canceled Ugly Betty. Yup… it happened. I had been expecting it for months, ever since they moved it to Fridays and then switched it to Thursdays. And the thing is that even though I’m writing my dissertation about Ugly Betty, I’m not sad at all. I mean, maybe I should be, because Betty and I have been through a lot, but I’m not.
The show started off big. It was the most watched new comedy of the 06-07 season. I got drawn into it because it brought together topics I’m really interested in: immigration and its myths, identity construction, and the political economy of television.
By studying Betty, I’ve learned about myths. In fact, I’ve spent too much time familiarizing myself with the myths of American immigration, getting some historical perspective, and becoming, let’s say, a little more philosophical. Now, it has come to the point where, to explain my views about Betty as, essentially, a reproduction of the myth of the melting pot, I feel the need to quote Machiavelli, Barthes, Levi-Strauss, Cassirer, and even Plato. And I’ve been asked “what does any of that have to do with Ugly Betty?” All I can say is that, in my mind, it does. In my mind, I see Betty as the little immigrant girl that could because she assimilated, and isn’t that what immigrants are told to do? Isn’t that what Emma Lazarus hoped for? Even Frederick Jackson Turner, who is not someone you think about when you ponder American immigration, believed that immigrants had to assimilate, to go through a crucible of sorts, before they emerged on the other side as full-fledged Americans.
But that was only the first season. After that, the myth faded away. It was better to focus on Betty’s love life, or lack-thereof. Romance fit the schedule a lot better. After all, Betty was opening for Meredith and McDreamy, and block programming is all about keeping it consistent.
When that happened, Betty lost me as a fan. She still had me as a researcher, but my loyalties went elsewhere, to Fringe, and to NCIS, where at least I didn’t feel sold out as much. I still watched, reluctantly, until I just could not stomach it anymore.
Now ABC is saying it wants to give fans a proper send off. They’ll probably have her marry. That’s how original Betty La Fea ended, after all, and it would be fitting for the American Betty to follow suit.
So long Betty, and thank you for the dissertation.