University of Illinois at Chicago

The Host and the Roast: Kitchen Humor in Feminist Video Art and Pop Culture

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posted on 2017-02-17, 00:00 authored by Margot K Berrill
This project addresses questions of female subjectivity by examining video art made in the 1970s by American artists Suzanne Lacy and Martha Rosler. Their work is considered in comparison to popular culture by means of two television cooking programs The French Chef, hosted by Julia Child, and Nadia G.’s Bitchin’ Kitchen, hosted by Nadia Giosia. Each chapter in this dissertation examines the functions of kitchen humor and popular culture, and how each woman uses it in her work. This dissertation tracks the genesis of kitchen humor. A theory of kitchen humor has been developed made up of three elements that include the perturbed relationship women have with the domestic sphere as both a site of oppression and a site of resistance; the performance of domestic rituals, such as food preparation; and the use of humor, such as satire, to bring attention to the problems of socially prescribed gender normativity. Pop culture examples range from Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique to Lucille Ball’s slapstick performances on I Love Lucy, and also include formative American cook books from the pre-war era. Taking all of this in stride, feminist video artists in the 1970s used kitchen humor to grapple with the multifaceted nature of what it meant to be a feminist and used satire to advocate for change in the definition of gender roles. Key texts used in understanding the political nature of humor include Umberto Eco’s “Frames of Comic ‘Freedom,’” Mary Douglas’ “Jokes,” and Richard M. Stephenson’s “The Conflict and Control Functions of Humor.” These texts are further supported through the discussion of feminist authors’ work including (but not limited to) Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique, Hélène Cixous’ “Laugh of the Medusa,” and Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. The trajectory of kitchen humor beginning with post-war pop culture, moving through 1970s video art, and ending with contemporary popular culture shows kitchen humor to be a considerable element in feminist visual culture.



Higgins, Hannah B


Higgins, Hannah B


Art History

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Committee Member

Yun Lee, Lisa Archias, Elise Kegan Gardiner, Judith Kelly, Patricia

Submitted date

December 2016

Issue date


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