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Times have changed, and we ve gone past that Thomas. In an interview on the Black Entertainment Television Network, Danson added another argument in defense of the sketch, saying, We are a racist nation. It s time maybe we started talking Danson Proud. In other words, such humor brings unpleasant realities into public consciousness. Even academic experts offered some defense of Danson s comedy. Elise A. Williams, associate professor of English at the University of the District of Columbia and an expert on African American humor, commented that even though jokes based on racial stereotypes are particularly troublesome in a mixed-race setting, I would rather have a comedian push the truth as far as he or she possibly can Another oblique technique is to place the transgressive remarks or actions in the mouth or body of a character for ironic effect.

For instance, in All in the Family, when Archie Bunker refers to jungle bunnies, chinks, or fags, his obvious ignorance was intended by Lear to serve as a satire of racism. Audience surveys at the time of the show s initial run, however, indicated that many viewers identified with Archie s bigotry and failed to see the irony that Lear intended; they saw the show not as satire but as an outrageous expression of many viewers socially forbidden racial resentments Vidmar and Rokeach, qtd.

Similarly, the South Park children s emotional and mental immaturity and undeveloped impulse-control allow them to speak the. The adults to whom the program is ostensibly targeted are presumed to understand and enjoy the irony and satire, but such a viewer reaction cannot be guaranteed. One viewer s satire may be another viewer s secret truths. In fact, if the humor is truly outrageous, it is not properly considered satire, but merely a case of truly bad taste. Freedom to engage in such transgressive humor has even found a legal basis, most famously in the case of Larry Flynt, who was sued by Jerry Falwell for intention to inflict emotional distress.

In , Flynt s Hustler magazine ran a parody Campari liquor ad depicting the famous televangelist as intoxicated and confessing that his first sexual experience had been with his mother in an outhouse. This crude joke qualifies as transgressive rather than satirical. It was not intended as a criticism of any specific behavior of the Reverend Falwell; there was no evidence or public awareness in l of any alcoholic or sexual misbehavior by Falwell. It is better understood as misbehavior on the part of the magazine, a besmirching of a respected moral authority, like the eternal portrayal by adolescents of their high school teachers or administrators in outrageous behavior.

In the same spirit, Flynt could just as easily have decided to target Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama. Such was the understanding behind the decision in the first court s decision on the case before it finally made its way to the Supreme Court as a First Amendment case. It was precisely the general understanding that the portrayal of Falwell was not intended to be taken as truth that robbed the joke of any satirical or libelous power and made the prosecution change its case to one of emotional distress.

The unanimous Supreme Court decision reaffirmed the protection of parody as included in the recognition of the free flow of ideas. Chief Justice Rehnquist s decision stated, freedom to speak one s mind is not only an aspect of individual liberty, Jerry Falwell It is worth noting in this context that the Supreme Court decision came at a time when many of the Reverend Falwell s televangelist colleagues were being exposed for financial fraud and sexual misconduct, and such a portrayal of Falwell could have been interpreted as an accusation of guilt by association, yet the Supreme Court ignored such an interpretation.

While precedents for the outrageous comedy of South Park could readily be found in the practices of various folk cultures, the more mainstream influence can be traced to the long tradition in European societies of organized periods of anarchy and official societies comprised of common people as well as the highly educated that regularly violated, and often criticized, the standards and practices of their culture.

In Enid Welsford s classic study of the social and literary history of the fool in Western culture, she describes the phenomenon of misrule which appeared in European culture from Roman days until the Renaissance. She refers us to Lucian s Saturnalia and its description of the Liberties of December at the time of the winter solstice,. TUETH when for a short while masters and slaves changed places, laws lost their force, and a mock-king ruled over a topsy-turvy world Welsford In the first centuries of the Christian era, there were even instances of the clergy engaging in public folly, in which mighty persons were humbled, sacred things profaned, laws relaxed and ethical ideals reversed, under the leadership of a Patriarch, Pope, or Bishop of Fools Welsford In the cathedral towns of twelfth-century France, the Feast of Fools was an annual occurrence, during which even the Mass was burlesqued.

Instead of waving censers of incense, the clergy would swing chains of sausages. Instead of sprinkling the congregation with holy water, some of the sacred ministers would be doused with buckets of water. Sometimes an ass was brought into the church, and on these occasions solemn Mass was punctuated with brays and howls Welsford The celebrant would conclude the liturgy by braying three times ter hinhannabit , and the people would respond in similar fashion. The official Church, of course, persistently condemned such behavior, so that eventually people in secular associations took up the roles of seasonal fools.

Groups such as the Societes Joyeuses flourished from the end of the fifteenth to the middle of the seventeenth century. Welsford describes them as: associations of young men who adapted the traditional fool s dress of motley, eared hoods, bells and baubles and organized themselves into kingdoms under the rule of an annually elected monarch known as Prince des Sots, Mere-Folle, etc This pattern of annual interruptions of the ordinary routine, with temporary suspension of law and order, remained popular in England, with the traditional feast of the boy-bishop among the choirboys of the English cathedrals and in the Christmas Revels of the Lord of Misrule among university students, at the Inns of Court, and in the English and Scottish royal courts of the fifteenth and sixteenth century.

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In France, the holiday tradition became a permanent feature among the upper classes. What had been seen as a social safety-valve, an annual interruption of the ordinary routine, marked by a temporary suspension of law and order developed into a permanent and legal recognized institution, whose members Welsford describes the development as a change in the understanding of the purpose of a fool: The Enfants-sans-souci emphasized the idea of folly as a mask for the wise and armour of the critic.


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Their Misrule was no temporary relaxation of law and order, but a more subtle and permanent reversal of ordinary judgments. It was the wisdom of Mere-Folle to display the folly of the wise. Should the foul-mouthed children of South Park be considered our boy-bishops fools for a day or our Enfantssans-souci year-round fools? Since such comedies appear on a weekly basis throughout the year, should they be understood as a break in the week s routine or the regular weekly meetings of the global village idiots?

Can the viewing of such programming offer an opportunity for a more subtle and permanent reversal of ordinary judgments? Can such programming be truly oppositional and not just a holiday from the prevailing hegemony? Fiske s approach to the pleasure and play of television viewing seems to opt for the oppositional interpretation, describing some readings of the television texts as expressions of resistance to the prevailing norms.

He points to Lovell s study of female oppositional readings of soap operas and Schwichtenburg s account of the stylistic excessism and fetishism in Miami Vice,where it is important to render pleasure out of bounds Lovell, Schwichtenburg Fiske comments: This sort of pleasure lies in the refusal of the social control inscribed in the bounds. While there is clearly a pleasure in exerting social power, the popular pleasures of the subordinate are necessarily found in resisting, evading, or offending this power.

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Popular pleasures are those that empower the subordinate, and they thus offer political resistance, even if only momentarily and even if only in a limited terrain. Television Culture The crude language and the offensive actions of the characters on South Park seem to develop what Fiske goes on to describe as an alternative semiotic strategy of resistance or evasion As a model of such cultural resistance, Fiske uses the example of the carnival Rather it refers to the refusal.

TUETH to accept the social identity proposed by the dominant ideology and the social control that goes with it. The refusal of ideology, of its meanings and control, may not of itself challenge the dominant social system but it does resist incorporation and it does maintain and strengthen a sense of social difference that is a prerequisite to any more direct social challenge.

The Sitcom Reader: America Viewed and Skewed

Television Culture One final observation of Fiske s is particularly relevant to the comedy of South Park and other animated comedies of recent years. The self-referential nature of much of the humor creates what Fiske has called an empowering inversion of viewer relations Beavis and Butthead spend considerable time watching and commenting on the music videos typical of MTV, the very channel that carries the show. The Simpsons and King of the Hill provide frequent visual jokes about the art of animation and the existence of their characters as products of animators and not actual persons.

One of the most sophisticated examples was The Simpsons episode that took the viewers behind the show, as MTV does with Behind the Music,and interviewed each of the main characters as if they were actual actors looking for other work. This conspiracy between the creators and viewers to acknowledge the artifice of television primes the viewer to question the legitimacy of any televised versions of reality.

If the comedy of South Park can be understood as genuinely oppositional, how long can it continue? Will its ability to shock and offend be somehow disempowered and domesticated, as Gitlin maintains happened to the Norman Lear comedies of the s Prime-Time Ideology ? Will it spawn enough successful imitators, as television megahits tend to do, that eventually the irreverence, irony, and shock will become the familiar comic landscape of television?

Since Gitlin ascribes the softening of All in the Family s edges to commercial decisions, perhaps the greatest hope for transgressive comedy lies in the viewer-driven nature of cable television as opposed to the broadcast networks subservience to their advertisers. Ball and others believe that commercial-free cable television offers an alternative situation, connecting more esoteric programming with a more select but highly appreciative target audience.

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This seems to be borne out by the popularity of several taboo-breaking cable programs like Oz, Sex and the City, The Osbournes, and The Sopranos,as well as the less sophisticated revelry of WWE Smackdown. If this is the case,cable television offers viewers who delight in the violation of cultural taboos their best hope of indulging their antisocial appetites. Every week, they can join the foolish company of Stan, Kenny, Cartman, and Kyle and enjoy the carnival while it lasts.

The central concerns of the genre s characters are sex and money, and thus the form addresses the main topics of marriage, adultery, and divorce Hirst 1. These dramas are characterized by their emphasis on a strong sense of style, deportment, and a witty repartee that is used to conceal the raw emotions that lie just beneath the surfaces of the dramatic lives of its characters.

The dramatic universe of the comedy of manners is a world comprised of a vast assortment of social rules: rules for engaging and disengaging in romantic and sexual relationships, rules for marriage and courtship, rules for friendship, rules for raising one s children, rules for truth telling and outright deception, rules for conducting a dinner party, and so on.

novanermydent.tk These rules are essential to the members of these societies primarily because a person s comprehension of these rules dictates whether he or she is socially accepted within this society Greene As Hirst maintains, these rules are society s unwritten laws regulating behaviour, the dictates of propriety which, though they may differ The characters who succeed within this dramatic world are those who are the most adept at discerning these rules and manipulating them to their own advantage.

The characters in sitcoms, however, are just as obsessed and frustrated with following and often circumventing the prevailing social codes of an American middle-class civility as the characters in the English Restoration comedies of Congreve and Sheridan. In The Beverly Hillbillies, the backwoods-raised Jethro repeatedly fails every attempt to obtain a captivating career position, as well as to marry a refined woman from the city. In Seinfeld, Jerry,George,Elaine,and Kramer continuously debate a multiplicity of changing social rules and customs that constitute contemporary American society.

Because the comedy of manners genre involves the critical exploration of the social manners and mores of a particular society, it also serves as an appropriate form for social satire. In the Restoration comedies, there is usually at least one free-styled, hedonistic character who openly defies the social taboos of marriage and custom, and thereby mocks the moral rigidity of the seventeenth-century English upper-class societies.

Douglas Canfield points out that while these defiant characters and their perceived threats to the ruling class are usually neutralized at the end of these Restoration comedies, nevertheless these characters serve to reveal defects in the social-class fabric. Canfield argues that the corrective nature of the comedies social satire, ending by restoring the traditional order, often appears strained and absurd, which represents the order as socially false and hollow 1 Modern comedy of manners playwrights have used the form s social satire to highlight and expose the social hypocrisies within these closed societies.

Oscar Wilde, for example, employed the dramatic form to invert dominant Victorian values and to reveal and attack social hypocrisy Hirst 49 The act of exposing the social hypocrisies of modern societies serves as a type of social-leveling device to bring the upper-class societies down to the egalitarian stratum of the rest of the wider society. In many ways, there is an emancipatory tendency lying beneath the surface of the manners drama, an inclination to reveal and release the larger society from the social dominance of social codes and rules devised largely from upper-class societies.

Because American situation comedies feature a wide range of dramatic characters either following, struggling with, or circumventing dominant social codes and manners, sitcoms can be understood as a particular televisual form of the modern comedy of manners.

This chapter focuses on the thematic and discursive elements represented in popular television sitcoms from two distinct time periods: the s, with The Beverly Hillbillies;and the s,with Seinfeld. The central premise of The Beverly Hillbillies is that Jed, a poor Ozark farmer, accidentally discovers oil on his backwoods land while shooting at wild game. The discovery turns the poor Clampett family into millionaires overnight. A reluctant Jed is then convinced by status-conscious Cousin Pearl to move his entire clan to California for the sake of his daughter, Elly May, and Pearl s son, Jethro Marc, Demographic 45 To the horror of their neighbors, the Clampetts convert their lavish, twenty-six-room mansion into a hillbilly ghetto, complete with roaming farm animals.

The culture of Beverly Hills, and urban and suburban societies by implication, is consistently satirized as dominated and obsessed with social-climbing, money, and the latest fashion fads and trends.


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