A type of sitcom that is becoming more and more popular is the ‘gay’ and ‘queer’ sitcom. In most cases, this type of sitcom works in a slightly different way than that of the family sitcom for example.
The family sitcom usually starts with a highly-flavored ideological principle that slowly exhausts itself, whereas the gay sitcom usually starts quite ambiguous until the characters’ ‘camp’ humor dominates.’Ellen’ is such a sitcom and stereotypes have been used in it to present lesbians as some of the audience may be unable to understand the ‘camp’ humor. Some humor about lesbian lifestyles is used in Ellen that might not be followed by heterosexual viewers so stereotypes are used for such an audience. When these stereotypes are gone against then problems can arise. ‘Frasier’ is such a sitcom where this has happened since the two lead heterosexual characters are presented differently from the accepted norms of society. “Many well-meaning heterosexual viewers find it offensive that Frasier and his brother Niles are considered ‘queer’ because of their feminine tastes and preferences for opera, fine wine, designer clothing and the like. They consider this to be stereotyping and ask: why cant a man be heterosexual and effeminate?” (Creeber 2001 p.71)The characters of Frasier and Niles are not the stereotypical single male and because of this, people have assumed that they were homosexual.
This goes to show the extent that stereotypes are used in society today. As soon as something is different from the norm then issues arise. On top of this, Frasier and Niles are what can be considered to be the ‘New Man’ which is a straight male who can show an effeminate side. It is a relatively recent development in theories of masculinity and shows that ‘Frasier’ is following contemporary beliefs in ‘real life’, that a straight man can still be effeminate and masculine.When looking at gender in sitcoms, it can become clear to what extent they follow the beliefs of the contemporary society.
The way in which sitcoms represent women has followed the position of women in society. “…feminism was initially bent on illuminating the egregious inequalities caused by worldwide gender systems in constructing women as the subservient category to man in the gender binary”. (Allen and Hill 2004 p.
378) Up until the impact of feminism in the 1970’s, it is obvious that the majority of sitcoms had leading male characters such as ‘Dad’s Army’ and ‘Porridge’. Women at the time were more likely to be part of an ensemble cast (where the lead character is a group rather than one person) however, recently women have been in more leading roles in sitcoms reflecting women’s stance in society.Due to the work of feminists, the media in general has changed the way that women are presented and therefore sitcoms too. However, even though the positions that are given to the men and women in sitcoms may have changed, stereotypes are still followed. A male secretary for example, in a sitcom is likely to have feminine traits. ‘Less Than Perfect’ for example features a secretary called ‘Kip’ who shows effeminate traits such as constantly checking his appearance and an interest in fashion.
Furthermore, the boss in a workplace sitcom, even if it is a woman, is likely to have masculine traits and characteristics. These stereotypes are held on to because that is what the viewers want to see as it is what they know and understand.It seems clear that sitcoms “package existing norms and beliefs” (Selby & Cowdery 1995) in order to gain an audience as it are these beliefs that the audience want to see reiterated. The sitcom does not always follow these beliefs rather than use them to emphasise the difference between the commonly held ideal and the character that the sitcom has created. Nevertheless, the beliefs held by society at the time are used in sitcoms.Whether these beliefs are presented through characters or gone against by the idea of exaggeration through other characters, it is still the known stereotypes that are being used in order to create the sociologically ideal character, or the obscure counterpart.
The extent to which sitcoms “package existing norms and beliefs” (Selby & Cowdery 1995) is high because even when it is not creating characters using the stereotypes, it is making a character using the stereotypes as a basis to go against the beliefs that society holds.ReferencesAllen, R and Hill, A (2004) The Television Studies Reader. London. Routledge.Creeber, G. (2001) The Television Genre Book.
London. British Film Institute.Crisell, A. (2006) A Study Of Television: Thinking Inside the Box.
Hampshire. Palgrave MacmillanFreud, S. (Dec 1976) Complete Psychological Works of Freud. New York. WW Norton and Co LtdSchapiro, M. (1991) ‘Lust-Greed-Sex-Power: Translatable Anywhere’, The New York Times.
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