Sitcoms And Us Society

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Sitcoms have been part of American culture for decades and reflected, influenced and comforted US society through social change. …

Sitcoms have been part of American culture for decades and reflected, influenced and comforted US society through social change.

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  • The 60s – Magi-comMagic become a recurring theme in sitcoms to distract Americans from strife in their country and introduce new facets of society – often metaphorical.The 70s – Sex-comWith the sexual revolution underway, women had governance of their own bodies and sex become a strong element of humour.The 80s – Family-comDivorce and single-parent families were on the rise and America was adjusting to this new family, while Reagan was trying to reinforce the nuclear family of old.The 90s – Single-comThe survivors of divorce and dysfunction, Gen X took centre stage as did their mistrust for the institution of marriage, thereby making families from their friends.The 00s – Me-comTelevision and the family unit has fragmented to such a degree that today people seek out their own experiences of family – ideal or real – from the many channels.
  • Samantha’s otherness of intelligence, intuition and resourcefulness is allowed because she’s a witch.Magi-com helped Americans escape from the horrors of the 60s – JFK assassinated, Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, Civil Rights Violence.Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique likened the suburban home to “a comfortable concentration camp”.Bewitched – and other magi-coms – touches on social issues in very oblique manner. Magical women – response to burgeoning women’s empowerment; Monsters & Aliens – response to post WWII immigration from Europe.
  • Jessica is the fish out of water – a throwback to the traditional housewife a little too strung out on Valium but finding her own independence. She expresses guilt for every action she takes. Does not believe Chester is having and affair.Chester is cocky and arrogant as the Naive Fool – he feels untouchable and complacent that he is the head of the house, no one will question his actions and represents the traditional patriarchal social and governing structure of US society that was eroding due to Vietnam, civil rights successes and Nixon. The family unit is no longer ideal or cohesive. The lid is coming off suburban life and the secrets of the middle/upper classes is starting to show and take its toll on the nuclear family.Men are portrayed as traditional and foolish, women as independent but struggling to find their place in the world.Jodie is one of the first openly gay characters on US television – how people regard him becomes a running joke of Soap and points the finger more satirically back at the old views as archaic and bigoted.Multiple storylines or extended story arcs were becoming a feature of the sitcom – adopted from other genres – and would continue in later sitcoms. The reasoning was the audiences becoming more savvy. In the 70s this awareness of audience was revolutionary.
  • The dramatic rise of divorce in America signalled the end of the nuclear family as the American Dream, but not before Reagan tried to re-instil family values – a war that was seemingly waged in sitcoms more than anywhere else.Traditional shows like The Cosby Show, Family Ties and Growing Pains reframed the family in a yesteryear context of supposed middle class perfection and a father-centric household. While the non-traditional family often affected by divorce allowed Americans to take comfort in their supposed ‘failure’ to not achieve the American Dream or lose touch with it. Shows like Kate and Allie, Designing Women, Golden Girls and My Sister Sam spent a great deal of time empowering women and helping them come to terms with their new realities. Divorce was a fact of life and these shows allowed Americans to understand that there was life after divorce.Roseanne shone light on the blue-collar life of working class families and allowed for a traditional nuclear family that was mother-centric. A popular sitcom it spoke to Middle America considerably better than it’s genre counterparts like the Huxtables in their New York Brownstone or the Seavers in their sprawling two-storey suburban home.Sitcoms of the 80s spoke strongly to the failure of the American Dream and reverted – regardless of the familial comic trap – to the heart-warming “message of the week”, it’s humour seeming forced and cheesy like older, simpler times.
  • All characters in the single-com are fish out of water – characters displaced by divorce, gender rights and issues making their way in the 90s. As Generation X comes of age so to does their mistrust of traditional marriage and family as respected institutions. Thereby the comic trap has become the pseudo family – a family of supportive friends rather than blood relatives.No longer were sitcoms simpler workplace or suburban family based sitcoms, the genre was reflective of trends in society to delay marriage, choose career over family, and occasionally comment on the perils of marrying young. More often was sex a tremendous focal point of the storylines and the characters – importance to relationships, one-night stands, condoms, age differences in relationships, same sex couples, single mothers, sexual pleasure and fulfilment. Story arcs continued across episodes and across seasons.Heavy influence of Gen X as the survivors of divorce and the up-and-coming influencers of American society and pop-culture – offering a far different view of America as the baby-boomers moved out of the focus taking with them their attitudes and influence.
  • The fragmentation of the TV networks from the big 4 to cable to DVD and internet has had a huge impact on the sitcom. No longer is it the family experience for everyone, it is everyone’s experience of family – be it nuclear, dysfunctional, divorced, pseudo. The rules have changed so much about what constitutes ‘family’ that today anything goes.The comic traps are narrowcast to specific audiences – this includes the heavy saturation of tween friendly shows on Disney and Nickelodeon – or more adult-focused like Sex and the City or Entourage.In an era of each to their own, each can have their own. The sitcom is evolving to refelct the America that is contemporary to the audience and the society that takes humour from it.
  • The comic trap of a family will remain the staple of the sitcom – it’s just that today that family can be anything. An important factor to consider is the impact the internet – or primarily YouTube will have on the television sitcom. Already the idea of the sitcom has transferred well to the internet in webisode format and so niche targeted that audience size is not nearly as important as audience following. Cult texts like Red vs. Blue, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog, Robot Chicken and The Guild are the first step in the sitcoms branching out onto the internet.There will always be a place for the televised sitcom as television and the sitcom have been part of American culture for over half a century now – it just seems the content and conventions will update to reflect the status quo of US society. And through humour the sitcom will allow Americans to come to terms with their changing society and realise that change can be a good thing.
  • The comic trap of a family will remain the staple of the sitcom – it’s just that today that family can be anything. An important factor to consider is the impact the internet – or primarily YouTube will have on the television sitcom. Already the idea of the sitcom has transferred well to the internet in webisode format and so niche targeted that audience size is not nearly as important as audience following. Cult texts like Red vs. Blue, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog, Robot Chicken and The Guild are the first step in the sitcoms branching out onto the internet.There will always be a place for the televised sitcom as television and the sitcom have been part of American culture for over half a century now – it just seems the content and conventions will update to reflect the status quo of US society. And through humour the sitcom will allow Americans to come to terms with their changing society and realise that change can be a good thing.

Transcript

  • 1. Ian Thomas | Saint Kentigern CollegeSitcoms and US Society 1960-now
    3.4 | Understand the relationship between a genre and society
  • 2. Politics – Republican vs. Democrat
    Family Unit – Nuclear / Dysfunction / Divorce / Pseudo
    Civil Rights – Feminism / Racism
    Generations – generation gap / Baby Boomers / Gen X / Gen Y
    Television – broadcasting / fragmented and niche markets / narrowcasting / internet
    Sex and Sexuality – social discourse / female empowerment / homosexuality
    The Future – changing technology / internet-based sitcoms / Obama / societal change
    Post-Modernism– re-writing the rules / rejection of tradition / open acceptance
    Threads for discussion
  • 3.
    • Families watching “families”
    • 4. Familiar characters and situations
    • 5. Appeal – Common to society, grown up with them
    • 6. Humour as a tool for social engineering
    • 7. Sitcoms are common to each decade – TV staple
    • 8. Old sitcoms are social time capsules – a window into a different time/era on social level.
    Why sitcoms?
  • 9. US society sees change through non-confrontational nature of humour – catching more flies with honey than vinegar.
    Removed expectation of fulfilment of American Dream – through the latter decades, the sitcom assures US society that it’s okay to NOT fit the American Dream.
    Society influenced political/social content – Relevant and reflective of era.
    Roles – Catharsis Counselling Couching Comfort Food
    America’s relationship with sitcoms
  • 10. The 60s – Magi-com
    The 70s – Sex-com
    The 80s – Family-com
    The 90s – Single-com
    The 00s – Me-com
    The sitcom modes
  • 11. The comic trap – the family unit in whatever form.
    The fish out of water – most often women though later men. Each struggling to find their place in society amidst social change and upheaval.
    The naive fool – typically men who assume traditional patriarchal structures of social rule and family dynamics.
    The acerbic servant – the ‘other’ voice who offers ‘outside’ context.
    The Running Joke – recurring humorous ideas often satirising outmoded views and ideas of social behaviour, very audience inclusive.
    Humour – slapstick, one-liners, satire, punch-line, conflict, juxtaposition
    Sitcom conventions
  • 12. Setting the scene
  • 13.
    • Establish American Dream as cornerstone of Post WWII US society
    • 14. The move to suburbia
    • 15. Introduce the housewife as the post Rosie the Riveter ideal for women – can link to post-Noir study well.
    • 16. 1950’s Father Knows Best – taste of early sitcoms.
    Pre-60s
  • 17. The 60s | The Nuclear Family
  • 23.
    • The American Dream of white suburban middle class (Comic Trap)
    • 24. Metaphor of witch as modern woman (Fish out of Water)
    • 25. Traditional patriarchal man/husband (Naive Fool)
    The 60s | The Nuclear Family
  • 26.
    • Soap (1978-1982)
    • 27. All in the Family
    • 28. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
    • 29. The Jeffersons
    • 30. Welcome back, Kotter.
    • 31. One Day at a Time
    The 70s |The Dysfunctional Family
  • 32.
    • Class differences evident between the Tates (upper-class) and the Campbells (middle-class) for the first time in a sitcom (Comic Trap)
    • 33. Dysfunction and conflict prime source of humour
    • 34. Race and sex openly discussed – development of innuendo as a sitcom staple.
    The 70s |The Dysfunctional Family
  • 35. The 80s | The Divorced Family
  • 42.
    • Traditional family sitcoms harked back to a “Father Knows Best” era with little regard to class or gender conflict.
    • 43. Though many Americans struggled with the impact divorce had on their lives (comic trap)
    • 44. Women especially as the American Dream had not equipped them well for single life after divorce.
    The 80s | The Divorced Family
  • 45. The 90s | The Pseudo Family
  • 51.
    • Rachel is the original fish out of water – appearing in the first episode as a dripping wet bride.
    • 52. The pseudo family becomes the comic trap.
    • 53. Male and female relationships are more equal in sitcoms and society
    • 54. Sex and sexuality is open for discussion
    The 90s | The Pseudo Family
  • 55. The 00s | The Post Modern Family
  • 62. The family is now fragmented to the viewer’s own choice and experience of family and TV access.
    All forms of family exist and are treated with the same sense of humour, respect and accessibility.
    There is potential backlash with the advent of the male-com.
    The 00s | The Post Modern Family
  • 63. The future of the sitcom/TV
  • 64. Television
    • Modern Family
    • 65. Cougar Town
    • 66. The United States of Tara
    The Internet
    • Red vs. Blue
    • 67. The Guild
    The future of the sitcom/TV
  • 68. www.skc-media-studies.wikispaces.com
    www.youtube.com/user/skcmediaNZ
    thomasi@skc.school.nz
    Contact me...