The Influence of Essentialst Attitudes Portrayed in the Modern Day Sitcom on the Views and Beliefs of Modern Society

9 September 2016

The Influence of Essentialst Attitudes Portrayed in the Modern Day Sitcom on the Views and Beliefs of Modern Society. Throughout its long history, the sitcom has been commonly understood to define the cultural norms of modern society through such comedy techniques as satire and irony. Like modern society, certain characteristics of the sitcom have evolved over time, while others have remained consistent. The evolution of the sitcom coincides with the generational shift in attitudes of society towards certain beliefs and values.

So, it would seem that there must be some sort of correlation between the evolution of the sitcom and that of society, as if one is the cause of the other. * * While this can be safely said about the effect of society in shaping the structure of the sitcom, whether the modern sitcom has a significant effect on the views and beliefs of society is debatable. This essay will demonstration that, although the modern version of this genre contains essentialist themes and characters, it does not promote essentialism and therefore does not negatively influence society.

The Influence of Essentialst Attitudes Portrayed in the Modern Day Sitcom on the Views and Beliefs of Modern Society Essay Example

From the fifties to the eighties, sitcoms have adhered to a rigid structure involving a live studio audience and certain unchanging characteristics that would define the genre. They also conveyed a very apparent moral code. In the 90’s, Seinfeld’s seemingly non-existent moral code would see it labeled by some as “apolitical or nihilistic“ (Gencarella 2005,390). However, even if these aspersions were true, it would not necessarily follow that the audience would agree with these moral values and thus accept them as normal behavior.

In any case, Gencarella (2005) argues that, although the four main characters do show an extent of self-interest, their moral behavior does not reflect the teachings of the show. Issues of race, gender and politics are still addressed but are presented in a different way than they were ten to forty years ago. * The ingredients of a successful sit-com consistently involve strong, sometimes iconic characters, which often represent stereotypes. Recent sitcoms have challenged and broadened the idea of traditional stereotypes.

For example, Gencarella (2005,394) argues that the four main characters of Seinfeld represent four distinct political stereotypes: the individualist, the hierarchical, the egalitarian, and the fatalist. The way these political stereotypes interact with each other and their community have no doubt contributed to the comicality and thus the success of the show. * Unlike the 2005 sit-com The Office (American version), Seinfeld does not consistently display essentialist traits in its characters. It conveys essentialist themes through satirical situations involving essentialism.

This is none more evident than the following example (“The Yada Yada”), which Gencarella (2005,398) also uses to describe the egalitarian nature of Kramer: * Jerry: Those people can be so touchy. * Kramer:“Those people. ” Listen to yourself. * Jerry: What? * Kramer: You think that dentists are so different from me and you? * They come to this country just like everybody else in search of a dream! * Jerry: Kramer, he’s just a dentist. * Kramer:Yeah, and you’re an anti-dentite! * Jerry: I am not an anti-dentite! * Kramer:You’re a rabid anti-dentite!

Oh, it starts with a few jokes and some slurs – “Hey denty! ” Next thing you know you’re saying they should have their own schools! * Jerry: They do have their own schools! Jerry Seinfeld is clearly representing an essentialist point of view towards dentists. The absurdity of the situation, however, entails that this essentialist view is not being endorsed; rather it is being exposed in a ludicrous fashion. It shows the absurdity of prejudice and racism. This draws comparisons, as Detweiler (2012,730) explains, to Randy Newman’s defense of his controversial song Short People.

The song criticises short people in an essentialist manner, describing them as having small voices and little beady eyes. Randy Newman explains, “that by choosing an object of prejudice so absurd, he might expose the absurdity of all prejudice…” * In the case of The Office (American version), Michael Scott is blatantly and shockingly racist, sexist and prejudice. The perception that the audience recognizes this view as essentialist, which is the basis of its humor, reinforces the idea that the text does not endorse this kind of behavior.

As Detweiler (2012,730) describes, this is further broadcast by the occasional ironic facial expressions, to camera, of Michaels Scott’s colleague, Jim Halpert. Through the clever use of irony it sets an example of how not to act. * Due to the satirical and ironic nature of the sit-com, the question of whether the inclusion of stereotypes and essentialist views warrant a critique as a conclusively essentialist text depends solely on the audience’s interpretation of the text. The writer’s intention here is irrelevant.

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