Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Core Response 2: Cultural Interpreters

Lauren Tyler 

In “Television as a Cultural Form,” Newcomb and Hirsch reference Marshall Sahlins in their assertion that “Those who create for such media [television, film, magazine…] are…“hucksters of the symbol.” They are cultural bricoleurs, seeking and creaking new meaning in the combination of cultural elements with embedded significance. They respond to real events, changes in social structure and organization, and to shifts in attitude in value” (563). They further describe writers, producers and programmers as “cultural interpreters”(563). 

I agree with the concept that television producers and writers are “cultural interpreters.” Modern television is heavily influenced by news and cultural events. One of the more recent examples is Tina Fey’s portrayal of Sarah Palin on “Saturday Night Live.” One of the most iconic lines from Fey’s portrayal of Palin was “I can see Russia from my house.” In Fey’s memoir “Bossypants,” she explains that her caricature of Palin was so well-regarded that many people became confused as to what Palin said in real life vs. what Fey made up. 

Modern television consumes news and cultural events and retools/reinterprets it as material for comedy, satire and social commentary. Presidential debates and snafus are lampooned on late night talk shows and by comedic hosts such as Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. Futhermore, shows such as “Father Knows Best” have been rendered obsolete by shows like “Girls,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” “Sex and the City,” “Broad City,” and more, which can all be considered shows that disseminate a very pro-feminist, empowered message about women being free to try and experiment with different things the way men do. Although we’ve made strides in regards to representation in sitcoms addressing social and political ideas, television as a whole remains very static and homogenous. 

In Gitlin’s “Prime Time Ideology: The Hegemonic Process in Television,” he writes that “It is far easier for production companies to hire writers to write for standardized, static characters than for characters who develop” (254). I think this can be expanded to include writers of color as well, meaning it’s much easier to hire writers of the majority than the minority. One of the complaints about modern shows like “Girls” is how homogenous they are. For instance, one of the biggest controversies surrounding “The Mindy Project” is that other than Kaling herself, there was only one other woman on the writing staff and no people of color. Kaling defended this as her personal choice to hire who she found funny; however, it speaks to a larger issue. If mostly white male writing rooms are what’s considered funny and safe, it leaves little room for a minority writer to break through, leaving content static and unexplored. I believe in order for television to progress as a form of cultural interpretation, more diverse backgrounds have to be represented and heard behind the scenes. 

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