To what extent can it be argued that situation comedies “package existing norms and beliefs for audiences” (Selby & Cowdery 1995)? “Why do we need to laugh, even to the extent of inventing comedy over and above that which we can discern with ordinary life?” (Crisell 2006. p120) This question posed by Crisell sums up the type of comedy that is present in most sitcoms, hyperbole’s of everyday life situations.A situation comedy (sitcom) is a setting and a group of characters that can be used with a comic narrative where the situation usually remains open so that it is available for future disruption. The sitcom uses a setting and characters that are believable but adds the twist of them encountering exaggerated problems with exaggerated consequences. However, it is important for the popularity of the sitcom that the beliefs and opinions of the viewers are catered for and this is where “existing norms and beliefs” (Selby ; Cowdery 1995) are followed. Sitcoms use these contemporary ideologies constantly in their bid for popularity and will continue to do so as long as they continue to be aired.It has been argued that sitcoms are always “using a formula so ‘transparent’ that they could stand in for ‘indigenous’ programming for the local audience.
” (Creeber 2001. p.65) Creeber is suggesting that although the sitcom could be based in a different country or situation that one might encounter, the way in which it is made and written allows a variety of audiences to enjoy it. The way in which it can do this is that sitcoms play on stereotypes a lot and a stereotype, being what it is, is understood by the majority of the audience.Comedies rely on the beliefs of the audience and changes to cater for constantly altering accepted norms. Although exaggerated, there must be at least a portion of truth in a stereotype in order to have some currency. These stereotypes, if presented correctly can give the audience a sense of ‘now’, since they are constantly accommodating contemporary beliefs, which could be a reason for their popularity.
The sitcom uses a convention that is evident in all forms of the media. This is Roland Barthes’ idea of an equilibrium being had which is then disrupted to make disequilibrium and then reformed again. The sitcom uses this because most of them present a problem to the characters at the beginning of the episode which then follows the narrative throughout as the characters try and fix it, thus forming the equilibrium again. This is used to keep interest for the viewers and allows the characters to use their stereotypical beliefs in relation to the problem that has been posed to them.
The creators of a sitcom are able to use many different situations and still follow the hegemonic belief of a society, “There were monster families (Munsters), vampire families (The Addams Family), witch families (Bewitched), alien families (Third Rock from the Sun)” (Creeber 2001. p.66) and yet their popularity is steady not due to the outrageous situations but due to the understanding that they all have similar, if not the same ideologies to follow.Freud said that “The two fixed points in what determines the nature of jokes – their purpose of continuing pleasurable play and their effort to protect it from the criticism of reason – immediately explain why an individual joke, though it may seem senseless from one point of view, must appear sensible, or at least allowable, from another.” (Freud 1976. p.
181) What Freud points out here is that although the situation in some of these is outrageous, as long as the beliefs that they hold are tangible (existing and accepted) then acceptance can be given by an audience.The popularity of the sitcom has been said to be because of its “ideological flexibility” (Creeber 2001. p.70) and because it is “the perfect format for illustrating current ideological conflicts while entertaining an audience…
even including political reversals to accommodate changing social and political norms.” (.ibid) It is clear that sitcoms thrive of the views of their target audience and use them as the basis of what the characters say and do. Haven said that “shows must exhibit international appeal ‘before anything moves forward’ (Schapiro 1991 p.
29) in domestic production.” (Allen and Hill 2004. p.442) The way in which it will gain international appeal will be to play on the beliefs that are held by all of the possible audience, which consists of stereotypes and beliefs that will be held by all.There are endless combinations of possible situations for sitcoms to be in but there are two main themes that sitcoms have which are the workplace and the family.
Of course there are others such as ‘gay’ and ‘queer’ sitcoms and unruly women but these can be categorized in one of the two main aforementioned themes. In workplace sitcoms, as in soap opera, the majority of events are possible in everyday life but not with the same intensity.Some even push the realms of surrealist by either the setting or a particular character that could be considered unusual or eccentric. Workplace sitcoms seem to be based largely around sexual chemistry rather than about the actual occupation. This is because in ‘real life’ sexual partners are often chosen from the workplace; therefore the sitcom yet again follows ‘real life’ norms to attract the audience.When it comes to a sitcom taking realistic, everyday situations and exaggerating them, the ‘unruly women’ sitcom is best known to do this. “The term [unruly women] describes an icon of a grotesque female whose excesses break social boundaries”. (Creeber 2001 p.
68) These social boundaries being the beliefs that are held by the society in which the sitcom will be shown. Examples of the sitcoms where these unruly women are from are Rosanne and Absolutely Fabulous. The excesses that these women represent are fat for Rosanne and excessive make-up and strange clothes for the Absolutely Fabulous women.
These characters are created to be this way in order to go against the social acceptance and therefore bring attention to them.Sometimes sitcoms can fall into a number of categories and these are usually considered to be called hybrids. These are when conflicts can arise between work and home and the sitcom shows scenes at both.
‘Friends’ is an example of this showing the characters not only in the home/family situation but allows the audience to glimpse into the workplace of each of the characters. The reason ‘Friends’ falls into the family category even though neglecting to be a genetic family is that the term ‘family’ in the sitcom sense is used loosely. It refers to a group of people who live in close proximity and engage emotionally with each other, as often happens in everyday life with neighbors.