Thursday, March 30, 2017

Core Response 3: Genre (Week 11)

I found the idea of the dual texts that Jane Feuer alleges that Sirk films (and by extension, the kind of hour long serials that Feuer is talking about) possess to be most interesting in the articles. The primary text (narrative level), intended for the mass audience to simply entertain and delight; “the melodrama, pure and simple” (Feuer, date: 6). As well as the secondary text, which seeks to complicate and subvert the conservative dominant ideology that these serials appear to espouse both through Brechtian distancing techniques inherent in the form and at the level of the narrative.

This is particularly interesting to me because the clear bias (that at least Feuer alludes to) toward the informed and knowing audience rather than the mass audience, the pure fans of these television shows, seems simultaneously counterintuitive and increasingly obvious to me. Counterintuitive because the producers of these kinds of television programs are not only aiming “above” their loyal fan base to a “knowing” target audience, but the loyal fans in question are only receiving half of the intended message of these programs and the producers of them are fully aware and complicit in this gap of knowledge. Not to harp on my fascination with the “rupture”, but it greatly interests me that these programs knowingly propagating contradictory messages (based on the existing biases held by different audience members). Obvious, when one considers the Brechtian techniques utilized by these programs and the magnified, bordering on the absurd, stylization of these programs.

I think that the efficacy of these techniques and the “winking” attitude that the creators of these programs possess is most visible when screening an episode of Dynasty to a room full of Masters and Ph.D. level television academics and writers. I think that a certain amount of enjoyment from the part of the “knowing, informed” audience comes from the absurdity of the text, for example when the two matriarch characters (I’m not going to learn their names) fight in slow motion the pool for two full minutes before storming off, with the camera fixed on each of their asses, we know not to take the drama of the scene seriously which allows us to forgive the flaws of the show and “enjoy” the primary text in all its absurdity.

It’s actually kind of brilliant of the producers of Dynasty. They elicit attention from both the “mass audience” who regard the drama in all its seriousness and elicit attention from the “knowing” audience who regard the dramatic tension with a ridiculing gaze.

My supervisor in undergrad wrote about this stuff a lot. Dr. Alexia Smit… Look her up, ya’ll.

1 comment:

  1. I’m with you in appreciating the idea of multiplicity of textual levels, and of the potential fragmentation of audiences along interpretative lines! I really liked the the way in which you applied it to our classroom screening of the Dynasty episode :) I would like to add a comment in close relation to this: Feuer argues that while 70s’ American serialized melodramas like Dynasty and Dallas, do not perform visual excess in the sense fifties family melodrama used to, their „opulent” mise-en-scene can be framed as a sort of upper-class excess that „objectifies” the economic and moral excess of the narratives (p8, p5). In Feuer’s observation, unlike in films like Douglas Sirk’s, the visual and the narrative levels do not work against each other, which would enhance the potential for reading the text against the grain. I would like to reflect on this "opulence” of the mise-en-scene and the general upper-class context of relevant melodramas (the class politics of which, according to Feuer, seems to be undecidable based on the texts alone, see p16). Quite expectedly, this "opulence” taps into various, potentially contradictory desires, affects, and ethical commitments on the viewer’s part. On the one hand, it offers an "escapist” fantasy of wealth and material abundance the vast majority of the audience does not stand a chance to get even close to (unless as part of the service industry, assigned to which is the maintanence and enhancement of the extraordinary comfort and luxury of the very few)—so the show can offer, through a very distant and very temporary vicarious identification, the enjoyment of certain unattainable goods and pleasures of material beauty and high-class consumerism. Alternatively, such fantasmic glimpses into the opulence of the upper-classes may (falsely) reinforce the viability of the American Dream, and furthermore, motivate individuals to try and attain similar levels of material abundance. On the other hand, as Feuer’s article also refers to, the very "amorality” (compared to dominant middle-class norms) of the characters, and their troubles and unhappiness provide certain affective potentials that are ambiguous themselves: the viewer can feed their sense of cross-class hostility and/or ideas about class conflicts, nurture a sense of moral superiority, or find some consolation in the idea that rich people may not be better off altogether after all, which may facilitate or mitigate political feeling and the potential for class consciuousness and activism. All in all, yet again, we can see how a text, in its ambiguity and complexity, can appeal to a wide range of audiences for different reasons, and incite different effects.

    And thanks for the reference to your former supervisor’s work: I have found numerous articles by her on affect, intimacy, and (reality) television—they would definitely be useful for the final project for this class that I currently have in mind ^^