Sunday, January 29, 2017

Core Post 1 - George Lipsitz, "The Meaning of Memory"

Though Lipsitz covers a large amount of ground in exploring the ideological connotations of the subgenre of ethnic, working-class situation comedies, he does not spend a lot of time examining the implications of the generational shift at work within the programs. Along with the organization into a suburbanized nuclear family and increasing commodification of the individual, the subsequent development of a new generation of children removed from the collective memory of the 1930s and 1940s would be instrumental in the inscription of a homogenized whiteness onto the previously ethnic immigrant narratives of the older generations.

Generally, Lipsitz relates the function of children on these programs to the performance of parenting, with the acquisition of wealth and consumer goods being a litmus test for successful child-rearing. This is the case in an episode of Mama, discussed on page 363, in which the youngest child, Dagmar, expresses dissatisfaction with her father’s income, and motivates him to seek promotion. While Lipsitz no doubt indicates the significance of children in these programs, his argument ultimately centers on the narratives surrounding husbands and wives and the consequent conflicts regarding gendered labor and capital, while neglecting to investigate the function of the generational shift.

On the other hand, the relationship between generations is noted as a key difference in adapting Mama from book to television. The difficulty in adapting these working-class narratives finds particular example in the case of the eldest daughter, Katrin. In the book, her mother utilizes “her traditional cooking skills to make social connections that allow [her daughter] to pursue an untraditional career as a writer” (372). But the ideological conventions of the 1950s necessitated this narrative’s transformation, as TV’s Katrin instead learns cooking skills from her mother in order to acquire a husband and, furthermore, pursues work as a secretary instead of as a writer. Though illustrative of the strategies of “Least Offensive Programming” operating in the broadcast television medium, Lipsitz does not thoroughly follow the generational implications at work in this example.

I wish to move us in that direction. As much as these programs provided a working-through of the problems of gender, labor, and capital resulting from the shifts in modes of living, I am curious if they simultaneously, if less obviously, articulated the movement toward cultural hegemony through the interaction of children with their parents. In other words, do we find an encouragement toward an “homogenized mass society” within “the particularities and peculiarities of working-class communities” (355)? Considering the overall fracturing of urban ethnic white communities into suburban nuclear families, how can we understand the positioning of the younger generation within the context of individualized commodity? To what extent do these programs reconcile the generational shift—with its attendant loss of ethnic culture and gaining of higher education—that would actualize and normalize the social transformation from ethnic whiteness to a more homogenized mass white culture?

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