Presentation Title

It’s All in the Irony: Satirical Television Characters Teach Lessons of America’s Racial Unease

Biographical Sketch

I'm an Associate Professor of Media Studies, teaching visual literacy, semiotics, media theory, critical thinking, gender and media, and new media and political satire. I write in political economy of media and media literacy.

Type of Presentation

Individual presentation

Brief Description of Presentation

The presentation shows the specific strategies for two ironic characters in television and how they reflect attitudes to social conflict - particularly racial tension during the time the characters were popular.

Abstract of Proposal

Archie Bunker from All in the Family and Michael Scott of The Office represent very different ironic configurations that not only embody the important changes in television programming, but significantly reflect the way the American culture managed racial tension in the eras in which they were popular. Archie, placed in the family sit-com and filmed in three-camera style before a live audience, was purposefully constructed both visually and narratively as a spokesperson for bigotry; he was an outspoken and angry character who was intended to show the failed conservative ideologies of the late 1960s. Archie and his family both embody and portray the polarized conflict of racial and social tension that, in our mind’s eye, we attribute to the tumultuous 1970s. Michael Scott’s construction as a manager of a paper division in The Officealso embodies the cultural tensions of the program’s time period. The “staged” and the “real” shift in the documentary-style narrative and the direct-camera confessional; the cues instructing us to read Michael as comedic character are subtler than they are for Archie. The narrative, camera work, cast, and audience positioning offer a metaphor for racial and cultural tension of the time period when our politics tried to ignore and down-play racial discord. This is just one example how, when we teach the construction of satire, we can help students better understand the social problems it attempts to attack. This example also prompts the question: what type of satirical character and its technical construction would work today in the age of President Trump? In this answer, we may find the direct satire tropes of faux news that were ushered in by Jon Stewart and The Daily Show now extend to diverse on-line viewing platforms. They may be indicative of our fragmented culture struggling to find “truth” in satire. In so doing, satire may be moving to the realm of investigative journalism as opposed to serving as a character-driven humor.

Location

Session 4D (Habersham, Hilton Garden Inn)

Start Date

2-23-2019 8:30 AM

End Date

2-23-2019 10:00 AM

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Feb 23rd, 8:30 AM Feb 23rd, 10:00 AM

It’s All in the Irony: Satirical Television Characters Teach Lessons of America’s Racial Unease

Session 4D (Habersham, Hilton Garden Inn)

Archie Bunker from All in the Family and Michael Scott of The Office represent very different ironic configurations that not only embody the important changes in television programming, but significantly reflect the way the American culture managed racial tension in the eras in which they were popular. Archie, placed in the family sit-com and filmed in three-camera style before a live audience, was purposefully constructed both visually and narratively as a spokesperson for bigotry; he was an outspoken and angry character who was intended to show the failed conservative ideologies of the late 1960s. Archie and his family both embody and portray the polarized conflict of racial and social tension that, in our mind’s eye, we attribute to the tumultuous 1970s. Michael Scott’s construction as a manager of a paper division in The Officealso embodies the cultural tensions of the program’s time period. The “staged” and the “real” shift in the documentary-style narrative and the direct-camera confessional; the cues instructing us to read Michael as comedic character are subtler than they are for Archie. The narrative, camera work, cast, and audience positioning offer a metaphor for racial and cultural tension of the time period when our politics tried to ignore and down-play racial discord. This is just one example how, when we teach the construction of satire, we can help students better understand the social problems it attempts to attack. This example also prompts the question: what type of satirical character and its technical construction would work today in the age of President Trump? In this answer, we may find the direct satire tropes of faux news that were ushered in by Jon Stewart and The Daily Show now extend to diverse on-line viewing platforms. They may be indicative of our fragmented culture struggling to find “truth” in satire. In so doing, satire may be moving to the realm of investigative journalism as opposed to serving as a character-driven humor.