Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Core Response 1: Alternate Applications of Mellencamp

I was really taken with Patricia Mellencamp's "Situation Comedy, Feminism, and Freud" and, upon finishing the essay, started considering other sitcoms that demonstrate what she refers to by dint of Baudrillard as Gracie Allen's "instantaneous deconstruction of the dominant discursive code". The analogue I arrived at most immediately was Abed from NBC sitcom Community. Although analysis of this character unfortunately eschews the feminist angle of Mellencamp's writing, I think there's something interesting to be found in how the introduction of diegetic postmodernism transforms the viewer's relationship with the program. For those unfamiliar with the show, Abed's gimmick is that he is an obsessive consumer of moving image media and, presumably as a result of an autistic spectrum disorder, incessantly frames the events of this sitcom as exactly that - a sitcom. The continual presence and action of this character offers a challenge, an "instantaneous deconstruction" to the "dominant discursive code" of sitcom assemblage, and because of his insistence on the archetypal dimensions of his study group's travails, they often find themselves impelled to act in ways that corroborate or deny his worldview. Abed has to share the stage with six other significant characters and thus does not wreak the degree of linguistic havoc that Gracie does, but episodes centered around him tend to deal with dramatic situations that arise from his inability to extricate himself from the fabric of the "imaginary" show he's on.

Gracie has a foil in George, who, though often flummoxed by his wife's absurd behavior, is usually able to provide a cool-headed explanation for it at the end of the episode. Troy, Abed's best friend and de facto translator, fulfills no such function; instead, as a similarly voracious pop culture junkie, he often willingly participates in or acts as a complicating agent for Abed's insistence on an existence totally defined by media. George's exertion of a regulatory patriarchal authority takes place outside the confines of the fiction and thus, arguably, is paratextual; it serves to restabilize the audience after a half hour of Gracie's semantic antics. Troy's joyful in-show participation in these deconstructive actions, however, serves as a reminder of the extent to which media and popular culture simultaneously fill and influence our lives. No one in the show is above it all like George, nor are we, even; the responsibility is on us to keep up with Abed's world by calling on our knowledge of these dominant televisual codes. The clip below doesn't refer to sitcoms, but it at least demonstrates Abed's performed knowledge of Batman and Troy's self-imposed reciprocation of said performance.

This is to say nothing of the homoerotic subtext in the Abed/Troy relationship, but bringing that up is a really good way to get 90% of Community fans mad at you. :(

1 comment:

  1. Great post Drew! Do you think anyone could ever actually serve as the straight man in Community? Not even Joel McHales character really fills that role. I thought about how Jim in The Office functions as the straight man in contrast to Michael Scott- in that the mockumentary also always leans towards him as we see him give the shrug or looks over to the camera - similiar to Ben Wyatt in Parks and Recreation too.

    Abed and Troy is an interesting example to talk about Mellencamp's ideas - especially the always meta Abed, whose knowledge is relatable to similiar fanatics. It's also interesting to think about Community as an ensemble sitcom that shows the close friend group as family unit over the traditional family sitcom.