Monday, January 23, 2017

Core Post: Week 3

In Newcomb and Hirsch’s essay on “Television as a Cultural Form” and Todd Gitlin’s piece on the hegemonic ideology of TV, the authors take opposing stances regarding the possibility of meaningful dissent and debate on television. For Newcomb and Hirsch, (network) TV provides a public forum in which popular issues are staged, examined, and debated, reflecting the pluralism of American politics. In contrast, Gitlin believes that TV entrenches hegemony by assimilating opposition into the dominant ideology. Newcomb and Hirsch argue against the conventional ways that we derive meanings from texts in which a narrative imparts some moral lesson. Rather, they contend that “the rhetoric of television drama is a rhetoric of discussion” (566), so the very fact that ideological problems are raised and discussed matters more than whatever position a narrative's conclusion may be taken to endorse. This is an optimistic argument that I want to be convinced by. However, I am unable to look past what I see as the sit-com format’s inherent conservatism. No matter how virulently issues are debated, the narrative restores the status quo—the situation. Dissent is always aberrant and ultimately quelled. While the sit-com’s situation may slowly transform over time, as Newcomb and Hirsch insist it does, this is precisely how hegemony works under liberal capitalism. As Gitlin explains, it “changes in order to remain hegemonic” by domesticating opposition (263). So while I love Parks and Rec, it delivers, as Hendershot admits, a fundamentally centrist message (211). Its utopianism towards compassionate debate and liberal-pluralist coexistence rings as desirable today, in an era immobilized by polarized politics. However, the progress enabled by such a model occurs at the same rate as the sit-com situation’s development, which is hardly sufficient for those demanding substantive change.
Perhaps a more optimistic take on this problem can be found in the relationship between representation and reality. Gitlin suggests that these televisual worlds are “not so much fictional as fake” (262). Like the cinematic musical, they offer nonviable and utopian solutions to actual social problems. This process is fake and not fictional because it reproduces the palliative logic that, in actuality, is mobilized in response to many problems. Newcomb and Hirsch make a similar observation regarding M*A*S*H, noting that “we remain trapped, like American culture in its historical reality, within a dream and the rhetoric of peace and with a bitter experience that denies them” (567). This common ground indicates that while TV may not be capable of sustaining radical critique, it can accentuate the ideological paradoxes that structure life under neoliberal capitalism. In this sense, it also suggests that the sit-com may be a surprisingly realist form.


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  2. Parks and Recreation tried to assuage the needs of multiple viewers by providing characters like Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson. There something to note about content that tries to address everyone, yet through this tactic, the content becomes diluted. Like Sasha said, the program is “hardly sufficient for those demanding substantive change[s]”. Hendershot addresses this by stating “viewers tend to gravitate to content that matches their preexisting interests” (206). If the tv spectator wants something that is edgier or more radical, they will find it. Hendershots article also explains how Parks and Recreation added characters specifically from the alt-right and left groups like Marcia Langman. This is a function of comedy to find humor in incongruity and superiority ( a la Freud’s Theories of Comedy). In the safe space of comedy, acknowledgment to issues will be made. The key word here is safe.

  3. Structurally, Parks and Rec is more serialised than it is episodic, and less of a sitcom, more of "mockumentary” style. It maintains saccharine optimism throughout, however, this is radically different from its first season. Rather than being "a retort to the Right by insisting that government is a positive force that provides necessary, basic services” (Hendershot, 206) - the first season of Parks and Rec seemed to be a grim reality of the ineptitude of government. The producers responded to the criticism it received for its dead-pan, bleak sense of humour, and when season 2 comes around we are faced with an entirely new show. Similarly, it reinvents itself in the last season - it situates itself half a decade into the future, the convivial relationship between Leslie and Ron is ruptured, and they aggrandise this by giving in to their polarising political views (which, previously, they were able to gloss over). In comparison to All in the Family, Parks and Rec is like a nuanced, detailed, ever-evolving story. All in the Family is relentlessly unchanging between episodes - Archie Bunker lives up to his name, a man so rooted and entrenched in his views, that even after 200 episodes across 8 years, he is stuck in his Groundhog Day mentality - to maintain the status quo. Ultimately, the fact that Parks and Rec underwent this face-lift isn’t exactly political, but it does reveal itself to be less of the “sitcom” format that the articles discuss.